67 votes

Why can't they just drop a solar winch down from a shuttle and have planes fly up and clip things on?

Because space isn't about going high; it's about going fast! For example, in a 400 km orbit (like ISS) you need a speed of about 27,500 km/h or 7.66 km per second. So if you would extend a ...
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  • 12.2k
64 votes

Would it be practical to catch a rocket's exhaust to reuse it as fuel?

Like any perpetual motion machine, it won't work. In this case, there are two major reasons. First, your "send back fuel" arrow is pushing mass forward; every action has an equal and ...
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64 votes

Why doesn’t NASA build its rockets using graphene?

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of graphene is at 2 or 3 as far as I can tell. And that is TRL as related to making very tiny stuff. Anything used to build a structure for aircraft or spacecraft ...
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  • 1,977
54 votes
Accepted

Could a space colony 1g from the sun work?

Interesting but no, it wouldn't work for the same reason that astronauts in the International Space Station, other space stations, or orbiting shuttles or capsules do not "feel" gravity with respect ...
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  • 148k
52 votes

Are there any greater risks of traveling significantly faster to another planet?

The biggest risk on a flight to Mars is cumulative exposure to radiation, so a 1-2 month flight would actually be much healthier for a crew than a 7-8 month flight. I don't know of any risks that ...
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49 votes
Accepted

Why isn't SpaceX constructing the Super Heavy launch mount on top of the water?

Salt does all sorts of unpleasant things to just about every building material humans use. Hot salt spray, such as you'd get from a rocket launch, is even worse: spraying something with hot saltwater ...
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  • 11.5k
47 votes
Accepted

Why aren't air breathing engines used as small first stages?

Take a look at the SABRE engine. The goal is to achieve single stage runway liftoff/land to/from orbit with a hybrid engine capable of breathing air at low altitude but switching to stored oxidizer ...
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  • 17k
44 votes

Why aren't air breathing engines used as small first stages?

Systems that do this exist and more are being introduced. It's just that they hide their appearance and look somewhat different to what would be expected from what you describe. Orbital Sciences ...
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39 votes

Why doesn’t NASA build its rockets using graphene?

Besides the fact BradV pointed out that we don't have the technology to do this yet, the fact is that graphene on a macroscopic scale would not perform as well as the numbers you cited suggest. All ...
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  • 6,943
37 votes
Accepted

Exactly why does Starship need to be this big for interplanetary travel?

A lot of launch costs are independent of rocket size. It's no cheaper to clear the flight path for a smaller rocket, for example. It also takes a lot longer to do 10 launches instead of one large ...
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37 votes
Accepted

Could an electromagnet be used to raise the apogee of a satellite orbiting Earth?

You might like to take a look at Electromagnetic Tethers. A spacecraft moving through a magnetic field (such as the Earth's) can deploy a long, trailing wire and run a current through it. This will ...
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  • 700
36 votes
Accepted

Would a grinding machine be a simple and workable propulsion system for an interplanetary spacecraft?

The main engineering challenge in implementing your proposal is that in order to be competitive with a chemical rocket engine, the grinding wheel must rotate at an extremely high velocity. A typical ...
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  • 476
33 votes

Would a duct tape spacesuit be practical?

If the suit would be useful, it has to be inflated. Which is definitively not how it looks like in images. If you could manage duct tape to hold the inner pressure for a moment without rupturing and/...
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  • 1,781
30 votes

Could sheets of stacked graphene be used as part of a heat shield, since its melting point is 3000k to 5000 K

For a non ablative heat shield you need a material with a very high melting point and a very low thermal conductivity. It should not burn in hot air. Unfortunately graphene seems to have a high ...
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  • 46.1k
29 votes

Why doesn’t NASA build its rockets using graphene?

Many processes being used to make graphene only yield small and irregularly shaped flakes with a lot of defects. The size of those flakes is barely enough to render them visible for the naked eye, and ...
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  • 708
28 votes
Accepted

Rocket flywheel instead of battery/generator (crazy idea)?

A flywheel is so efficient because it is big and heavy, both of which you don't want to add to a spacecraft. As for spinning an existing component, the only parts of a rocket that really have any ...
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  • 14.6k
27 votes

If someone built a vacuum tunnel through the atmosphere, could you have an orbit with a sea level perigee?

No, unless your structure is located directly on the equator and your satellite follows a perfectly circular orbit, atmospheric "orbits" aren't possible, even in a vacuum tunnel. Because the ...
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  • 14.6k
26 votes

What are the biggest challenges for high altitude rail-gun launch systems?

What you're describing is (more or less) the StarTram "gen 1" design. The reference design has: 40 tonne unmanned cargo projectile, 25 tonnes of payload, ~2 m wide, ~13 m long. A 130 km maglev ...
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26 votes
Accepted

Why is it not concerning from a cost perspective to have so many engines on Starship?

Economy of scale, strictly. SpaceX focuses heavily on streamlining and automation of production of these engines. High up-front cost, but low unit cost per engine once the process is perfected. The ...
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  • 52.4k
26 votes

Why is it not concerning from a cost perspective to have so many engines on Starship?

Because with current technology, the greatest part of expense in building a rocket motor is not the individual construction, but the research needed in the design of it. And it is simpler, easier and ...
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25 votes
Accepted

What would be necessary in order for us to achieve a single stage to orbit, reusable rocket?

I am referring to rockets capable of taking supplies and humans to other planets. For an interplanetary single-stage rocket with tens to hundreds of tons of payload capability, no existing propulsion ...
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23 votes
Accepted

Could one actually make a grain silo rocket?

Since the term "grain" is already in use in the solid rocket context, I'm favoring the term "cereal". Cereals contain about 66–76% carbohydrates -- mostly starch (55–70%) plus some ...
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22 votes

What would be necessary in order for us to achieve a single stage to orbit, reusable rocket?

Rockets are basically devices which exploit Newton's Third Law, for every force there is an equal and opposite force. By throwing mass out the back as fast as possible this imparts an equal force that ...
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  • 7,376
22 votes

Would a higher air pressure on the ISS or elsewhere make it easier to "swim" in microgravity?

Would a higher air pressure on the ISS or elsewhere make it easier to “swim” in microgravity? Yes! But what's really important is the density, so instead of pressuring "normal air" you can ...
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  • 148k
21 votes
Accepted

Can a rocket refuel on Mars from water?

It absolutely could! First of all, water can be split in to hydrogen and oxygen, which can be enough to launch a rocket. Hydrogen requires a very low temperature, and the rocket engine doesn't have as ...
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  • 118k
21 votes
Accepted

Terraforming Mars using a combination of aerogel and GM microbes?

The underlying aerogel scheme seems to have some serious fundamental flaws: Aerogel is extremely expensive, and you need enough to cover a significant portion of a planet. Aerogel is extremely ...
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21 votes

Why is an inflatable balloon inside a fuel tank not used to prevent fuel from "sloshing around"?

They do! Many propellant tank, especially those required to work in zero-g environments, do use just such a bladder-inside-a-tank for the fuel. Typically monopropellants for thrusters. It completely ...
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20 votes

Why aren't air breathing engines used as small first stages?

There are two major barriers: one is that thrust-to-weight ratio of jet engines is pretty poor (2 J58s massing more than 15 times what 9 Rutherfords do), the other is that it's hard to make an engine ...
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20 votes

Can you Hoverslam without going vertical?

Unlikely to be plausible. During belly flop descent the forces placed on the horizontal Starship are distributed over the windward side very evenly. The cylinder walls represent the majority of the ...
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  • 6,377

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