Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reusable Space Vehicle Lands, But Where?




The thing about a reusable space vehicle is, one has to be able to find it after it lands back on Earth.


But on Friday, Russian space engineers continued to roam the snow-bound plains near the city of Orenburg in off-road vehicles, in what has become a drawn-out search for the accelerator block of the new reusable Soyuz-2 rocket.


Both the block, which is dubbed Fregat (Russian for "frigate") and its satellite demonstrator - launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome earlier this week - were equipped with special reentry shields, designed by DASA of Munich.


DASA is trying to develop a reusable launch vehicle, which would be more cost-efficient than regular rockets.


Fregat and the demonstrator returned back to Earth on Wednesday, after reaching an orbit of some 600 kilometers.


The shield inflated shortly before their reentry into the atmosphere and then functioned as parachutes to lower their freight gently back to Earth in the Orenburg region, according to Sergei Derevyashkin, a spokesman for the Strategic Missile Forces.


However, both the demonstrator and Fregat had their signal transmitters malfunction, which seriously hinders the search, said Derevyashkin whose force monitored both the launch and reentry.


One search helicopter managed to located what looked like either the demonstrator or the Fregat on Thursday, but it was unable to land nearby due to strong winds, according to DASA spokesman Robert Zell.


Stormy weather kept helicopters and planes grounded again on Friday.


But clouds should clear in the Orenburg region on Saturday, and Zell said that might allow engineers of Russia's Lavochkin Scientific Production Association, who designed Fregat, to resume their airborne search.


A retired officer of the Russian Strategic Missile Forces said in a phone interview on Friday that at least one An-24 plane, equipped with a powerful metal detector, as well as two Mi-8 helicopters, will be engaged in the search.


Should the demonstrator and Fregat be found, DASA will fund testing of its reentry technologies in another launch of the Soyuz-2 rocket, Zell said in a statement.


The DASA spokesman said this technology, if successful, might be later used to send capsules with cargo back down to Earth from the International Space Station now under construction as part of a multi-national team effort.