War is Boring takes a look at zero2infinity’s plan to launch small satellites aboard rockoons (rocket balloons):
Balloon-launched rockets, or “rockoons,” sound crazy. Rocket scientist and entrepreneur José Mariano Lopez-Urdiales agrees. “Sometimes crazy is good,” he says. “If it sounds normal, everyone’s doing it.”
He’s getting two start-ups off the ground. Bloon want to take passengers into near-space for much less than other space-tourism companies. Zero 2 Infinity hopes to offer low-cost space-launch services.
But if you want to launch a small payload on your own, using a rockoon might be the way to do it. Launching from high altitudes simplifies rocket engineering, and frees designers from most aerodynamic problems, Lopez-Urdiales says.
The rocket’s shape and engines can be a lot simpler, as there’s no need to dead-lift the rocket against gravity or power through thick, sea-level air.
You don’t need thin, inefficient fuel tanks designed to knife through the air under great strain. Instead, you can use toroidal tanks shaped like tires, which are lighter and easier to recover.
Engineers can optimize the rocket engines for vacuum conditions, instead of having to work at both sea level and high altitude. That means simpler design—with vacuum sucking the propellants out of the tanks.
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