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Shuttle launch from a blimp

9 Aug 2008
Progress: Concept

Seriously. NASA should tie their rockets to blimps and use a balloon to get them up the first 30 miles.

You'd save fuel on cutting through 30 miles of atmosphere, which is a lot. Launching from that height may be difficult to operate from ground control, but it would save a HUGE amount of fuel. With most of the air resistance gone you could just cruise your way onwards on fairly small thrusters.

The first thing people think about is that the rocket wouldn't launch up, it would just push down on the blimp platform. It wouldn't, or at least it wouldn't for very long. When a rocket is stationary in space, and turns its thrusters on, it moves. It's not pushing against anything. When a rocket leaves the ground, the ground doesn't have to be there. If it was only moving because it's pushing itself away from the ground, the moment it leaves the ground it would stop.

The second thing that comes to mind is the blimp surviving. Even if it didn't survive the launch, it would still be cost effective. If it was filled with hydrogen, yes, you'd have to be careful it didn't ignite as the shuttle leaves, but at that altitude there's less oxygen about anyway. But aside from that, it wouldn't be hard to get the blimp home intact. If the rocket hung down from it, and launched sideways, any affect on the blimp would be rotating it, not throwing it about. The shuttle could detach immediately, or at 90 degrees, leaving it facing the right way. I don't know what's best, but I'm sure it's possible.

The third thing that comes to mind is cost. Let me put it this way: NASA are considering building an elevator into space. A tower up to the height of a satellite because it'll be cheaper than shuttle launches at the moment. A blimp, especially a reusable one, would be nothing compared to that.

Indeed. My only second thought with this idea is that air resistance isn't everything. Once you're out of the atmosphere, gravity is still well over 90% of its strength on the surface. It's that you have to fight against, especially considering that geostationary orbit is at around 26,000 miles.