ARCA successfully launches the first Romanian space rocket, via balloon. Credit: ARCA

Moon Balloon Has Mostly Successful Test Flight

Article Updated: 26 Apr , 2016


A Romanian team aiming to send a rocket to the Moon via balloon successfully launched a test flight of their Helen 2 rocket, sending the first Romanian-made rocket system to 40,000 meters above the Earth. The Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA) team is vying for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, and tested the balloon/rocket system (sometimes called a ‘rockoon’) which launched from a Romanian naval frigate from the Black Sea. While the balloon and rocket worked great, the parachute and recovery system failed. But the team met their main objectives and were ecstatic.

A Romanian naval officer celebrates with a member of the ARCA team after the rocket fired successfully. Credit: ARCA

ARCA has a simple, “green” design. For getting the Moon, a super-huge balloon will carry a system of three rockets to about 18 km (11 miles). 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 lander, the European Lunar Explorer (ELE) resembles a knobby rubber ball that uses its own rocket engine to ensure a soft landing. They consider their system to be green, as the rocket engine operates exclusively with hydrogen peroxide

The Helen rocket is lifted into the air by the balloon. Credit: ARCA

The balloon ascent took 40 minutes, bringing the system to an altitude of 14,000 m, at times raising the system at 120 km/h. When it reached that altitude, the flight controllers on the naval ship lit the rocket engines for 30 seconds, bringing it to 40,000 meters. From flight data transmitted to the control centers of ARCA and the Romanian civil aviation authority (ROMATSA) the team was able to confirm the successful flight trajectory, which had an error of only 800 m from the center of their safe trajectory.

A payload on board the capsule took pictures from the top of the trajectory.

An image sent down from the capsule from about 40,000 meters. Credit: ARCA

But at the capsule’s reentry, the parachute did not open, and a ship sent to try and find the capsule in the water was not able to find and retrieve it. But the ARCA team said they didn’t look for it for very long, since most data were transmitted by radio telemetry and satellite and recovery isn’t an objective of the Google Lunar X Prize Competition.

However, they were able to complete the successful launch of the first Romanian space rocket, as well as their first flight of the Google Lunar X Prize Competition. They also verified their rocket stabilization system, and reached the highest altitude ever by an object designed and built entirely in Romania.

In November 2009, ARCA’s test flight hopes were dashed when the balloon’s lines became entangled during inflation and had to be cut, and the test curtailed.

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

Watch a video animation of the test flight:

See more images of the test flight at ARCA’s Picasa page.

Source: ARCA

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7 Responses

  1. Lawrence B. Crowell says:

    I think this is a crazy way to launch a rocket.


  2. pink says:

    It makes sense to me- which is more expensive, a balloon or rocket fuel? ^^

  3. ND says:

    They’re a post-communist country. Enjoy their crazy ways. If it ends up working, even better 🙂

  4. RUF says:

    Congrats to Romania!
    It does seem a strange way to launch a rocket.
    What does the color of the rocket matter?

  5. TheSorcerer says:

    Hello I am Daniel from Romania. Just wanna say HI to America. I saw America on TV =)) .

    I didn’t knew we have ships that big at sea. I only saw 2 motorboats and 1 boat with pedals last summer there at the Black Sea. Maybe we just borow this one from Bulgaria and put the name “CONSTANTA” on it, … and the pedals of course.

    I think this balloon is the most technologically advanced thing in Romania!!, it even has some text on it!, and is GREY, omg we love grey here, all our buildings are grey.!

    I love this project, althought I’ve very worried about my safety cause you see … I live at the 10th floor in a flat and I’m on the top of the building, and when that rocket will fall back it might fall in my apartment and ruin my refrigirator. Well it won’t be such a waste becasue it’s not working anyway. But I’m already looking for a job and maybe next year I will buy another one. Maybe ARCA gives me another one from Bulgaria…

    Very spectacular launch anyway: boat -> balloon -> rocket (wow, the whole science is here!). I think it would be even more spectacular if the boat was sitting on a Bus! What do you think?

    Man, don’t laught, our president was a ship driver so I guess he got involved in the project, and you know how things are when you are president … people like you and they put a boat on the project for you. He also like alchohol so I have a little idea about what powers that rocket.

    Question: are we first on the moon? I think we are first! Nobody can beat us man!!! Not even one day earlier.

    Bad ass rocket !!!


    Reply to RUF: brown color of the rocket means: “damn!!, this thing fles like “sh*it”!!!


  6. lacalaca says:

    Congrats to ARCA from another Central-European!

    But a 40 km-heigh launch is a bit short to be called a “space launch”. Reach the Kármán-line first, guys, that’s where space starts! And don’t promote this test as actual spaceflight. Or ask your fans not to do so.

  7. Fulbert says:

    I say you’re not in space until you’re in orbit;-) But I’m very happy for them anyway, and hope soon to see the plot of that “Romanians in Space” videogame come true!

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