In a conventional air launch, the
rocket separates from the mother ship and fires while still horizontal, pitching up under full power. But the launch loads are more severe, requiring heavier structures, and the wings add weight. Sarigul-Klijn's Trapeze-Lanyard Air Drop, or t/LAD, rotates the ship to the vertical by keeping its nose attached to the carrier plane with a tether and a trapeze-like mechanism for a second after the drop. "I was astounded that you could get this booster to do a 90-degree turn and just kind of hang there in space," Coleman said after the tests. "I mean, this thing just dropped straight off. It didn't roll, yaw, anything. It was like it was elevating straight down. I was very surprised at how stable the whole system was."
Raymond Sedwick, associate director of the Space Systems Laboratory at MIT's Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics and a consultant to NASA on spacecraft design, thinks t/Space has the right stuff. "I have to agree with their
capsule approach, based on heritage and simplicity," he says. In other words,
good old-fashioned space capsules have been flying since the early 1960s with few problems. Sedwick also likes t/Space's air-launch scenario because it allows NASA to move the launch point above or around bad weather or to pursue a more ideal launch trajectory, and it gives astronauts a fighting chance to survive a
rocket misfire or other launch emergency-they'll just separate the capsule from the booster and land with their parachutes as they would for reentry. Overall, Sedwick says, "I would say that they are thinking about all the right issues. It's just a matter of whether or not, at the end of the day, things will pan out as they expect" in terms of NASA's interest.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.