Romanian Group Attempts Moon Mission With Giant Balloon

by Nancy Atkinson on November 17, 2009

ARCA balloon attempt.  Credit: ARCA
The first attempt to send a rocket to the Moon via balloon hit a snag on Monday. The first test of the Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association’s (ARCA) balloon-launched rocket (or “rockoon”) ended in failure when the “inflation arms” used to fill the balloon became entangled in the balloon itself. The arms had to be cut, and the operation – which required the use of a large naval frigate — was curtailed. ARCA hopes to compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, and intends on using their unusual rocket system to send an equally unique spherical lunar lander to win a $30 million prize.

Rockoons were tried and then abandoned by the US in the 1950s because they blew off course in windy conditions.

ARCA’s European Lunar Explorer (ELE) is a simple design. The super-huge balloon carrying a system of three rockets will soar to about 11 miles (18 km) up. Then the first two rocket stages will fire and boost the system into low Earth orbit, and use the final stage to boost it to the Moon. The ELE will then travel to the moon and deploy its Lunar Lander, which resembles a knobby rubber ball that uses its own rocket engine to ensure a soft landing. Watch their video of how it all will work below: (If nothing else, watch it for the great music!)

On Monday, the Romanians loaded their prototype moon-balloon rocket onto the a large Romanian naval frigate, the Constanta, which took the entire crew out to the launch site in the Black Sea.

But as the balloon started to inflate, the inflation mechanism arms got tangled, and the entire operation had to be abandoned. The giant black balloon collects heat from the sun instead of using burners like hot-air balloons normally use, so it needs to launch during the day.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE challenges participants to construct a delivery system that will get a rover to the Moon, where the robot has to drive for about 500 meters, take high-resolution pictures of its surroundings, and then send them back home.

Undoubtedly, the ARCA team will try again.

See the images from Monday’s launch attempt.

Google Lunar X PRIZE

Source: Nature Blog

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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