Elon Musk teases SpaceX's "X-Wing" grid fins

No, this doesn't mean that SpaceX's next spacecraft will be a starfighter from Star Wars. After all, these hypersonic grid fins make the Falcon 9-R look nothing like the almost iconic rebel ship. They do, however, still play a pivotal role, no pun intended. These fins are designed to help control and steer the rocket during its return trip from space. This will hopefully ensure that the craft will be able to land safely even on hard ground and survive to fly another day.

Elon Musk envisions a space-faring industry where rockets are not discarded, if they don't happen to be totaled on reentry, every time we send one to space and back. In other words, reusable rockets. But a big part of the solution relies heavily on making the rocket survive its landing on its trek home. That is why SpaceX has been obsessing over reentry and landing innovation, part of which is this x-wing style fins.

These fins are arranged in a cross position, or x-wing if you will, which gives it its name. The fins stow away when the rocket launches and then deploys during reentry. Each fin can be controlled separately and each can rotate on roll, yaw, and pitch axes. Musk notes that it is quite similar to the fins on the Falcon 9-R found in the video below, but they would be larger in comparison.

SpaceX has not yet noted when the next test flights will commence, though given the explosive ending that the F9R got last August, it might not be too soon.

In the meantime, there's another tidbit that Musk is teasing its SpaceX fans. The company is also building an autonomous spaceport drone ship that will serve as an off-land landing site for returning rockets. This port makes use of thrusters from deep see oil rigs and spans 300 x 100 feet. 170 feet with wings expanded. The rigs will serve as refueling and landing stations for reusable rockets in the future. The thrusters enable it to hold its position within 3 meters even during a storm. That would make it an ideal landing spot for reentry away from people, animals, and structures that may be harmed in case things go awry.

SOURCE: @Elon Musk

VIA: TechCrunch