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NASA tests rotary wing space capsules

Posted on Sunday, 28 October, 2012 | Comment icon 4 comments

Image credit: NASA

NASA is investigating the possibility of using helicopter-style rotary blades for capsule re-entry.

Aside from the now retired Space Shuttles, the only way for astronauts to return to Earth from the International Space Station is via an approach that has them hurtling through the atmosphere inside a small capsule at high speed before being slowed down by a parachute. This method works, however it's lack of control means that it is far from an ideal solution.

To combat this, NASA has been testing out the idea of using helicopter rotary blades on the top of a descending capsule to improve its maneuverability. "You can land gently and you can land where you want; you donít have to land out in the ocean," said Jeff Hagen. "Compared to a parachute, you get a soft landing and you get a targeted landing."

"NASA engineers are testing out a new version of an old idea: fitting rotary wings to a space capsule for a helicopter-like re-entry method."

  View: Full article |  Source: Wired

  Discuss: View comments (4)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by 27vet on 28 October, 2012, 17:36
The challenge will be the re-entry phase and transition to subsonic speed during which the blades must be stowed. They will have to figure out a way to keep the blades out of the airflow and then deploy them when the craft is going slow enough. The flying part should be fairly straightforward.
Comment icon #2 Posted by pallidin on 28 October, 2012, 18:33
I see this as a million dollar experimental project which will be cut from further budget, due to lack of true viability.
Comment icon #3 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf on 28 October, 2012, 19:33
As Saru's original post says, this is an old idea being reinvestigated. A company (now bankrupt) called Rotary Rocket solved many of these problems back in the '90s. The even made 3 test flights of their "Roton" vehicle in 1999. Source:
Comment icon #4 Posted by ROGER on 29 October, 2012, 9:09
As I recall this prototype was very unstable and was very hard to see the ground to fly by sight. They also played with a Para-glider type parachute that showed promise , but was dropped as the leaders didn't like the idea. And didn't the Roton also have a capsule spin that was hard to control ? I'm working from memory here.

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