Elon Musk unveils Mechazilla, a launch tower that ‘catch’ the Super Heavy

Never short of ideas or technological innovations, Elon Musk is also considering very seriously using the Starship’s launch tower to recover, or rather “catch” the Super Heavy stage before it lands on earth. firm when it returns to the ground. An interesting idea but it still has to be realistic.

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Unlike the main floor of the Falcon 9 which returns to land on the ground using landing legs, the Super Heavy could be caught in midair, just a few feet off the ground! Two days ago, Elon Musk shared on twitter a video showing the Starbase launch tower being construction at its site in Boca Chica, Texas. 122 meters high, this tower already has a nickname: “Mechazilla”. It has the particularity of having mechanical arms that can close or open at different altitudes. They will be used as “grips” to catch theSuper Heavy stage before it hits solid ground and hold it a few feet off the ground. These arms will also be able to pivot, allowing them to reposition the stage on the launch pad. But that’s not all. Their great freedom to movement will also allow them to recover a Starship positioned nearby so as to install it on the Super heavy.

The mass and precision of the return, main difficulties

This is the theory. In practice, this will be anything but easy. If the idea seems simple, its implementation is very risky. In SpaceX’s scenario, the stage returning from its mission will have to approach the tower as slowly as possible, without crashing into the ground, in order to be picked up by the two arms that will grab it (closing around him) until the support supports of the stage rest on the top of the arms. These supports are not to be confused with the ailerons used for the attitude control of the stage during its return to dry land. With a mass of more or less 100 tons, the launch tower will have to be sufficiently anchored in the ground and robust to hold at arm’s length and in theair the floor. Another difficulty, and not the least important, is that the accuracy of the return must be centimetric, otherwise the floor could hit the tower!

That said, there are obviously several advantages to using such a mechanism. First, it saves the Super Heavy from using a landing leg system, which saves mass and cost of the system. Then, it also avoids having an additional crane for all the maneuvers and lifting and positioning operations of the SuperHeavy and the Starship. Finally, this mechanism makes it possible to considerably reduce the delays in the return to flight of the Super heavy. Elon Musk estimates that his launcher could be ready to fly in just under an hour!

Note that ArianeWorks, the ADF/Latesys group and the University of reindeer are working on the smart catcher concept which consists in catching the launcher a few meters before touching the ground using a system of cables which would enclose it in a sort of polygon.

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