How to make rocket landings a bit
No one should underestimate how difficult landing a booster rocket is, let alone onto a robot barge that’s sitting in the ocean. The booster has to decelerate to a landing speed on a hatful of fuel, then maintain a fixed orientation to the deck while it descends, all the while counteracting the dynamic effects of a tall thin flexible airframe, fuel slosh, c of g changes, wind and finally landing gear bounce when you do hit. It’s enough to make an autopilot cry.
But do we really have to do it the hard way? Naval rotary wing aviation (e.g. helicopters) have been successfully landing onto small platforms that are pitching, rolling and heaving all over the place using good old human Mk1 pilot’s for years. So how do they do it? Simple, they take the pilot out of the loop in the final moments of landing. There are various systems, some more sophisticated than others, but they all provide a ship/aircraft detention system that allows the aircraft to get within a safe distance then relies on a locking/latching system to mechanically trap the aircraft to the deck. No fuss, no expensive messes to clean up, or accident reports to file.
I’ve provided some pictures below of one example of a deck lock system, and to my knowledge systems something like this have been in use in one Navy or another since the late 1960’s. So perhaps the way out of the current situation is to make an end run around the problem.
Hope the suggestion helps. 🙂
Postscript 21 Jan 2016
Well, the latest attempt to land on a a drone barge was (again) spectacularly unsuccessful. Closer but still no surprise. So how about it @SpaceX, maybe it’s time to think about alternatives?