An intrepid bid by a group of Romanians to get to the moon via balloon has ended in failure, at least for now.
The non-profit Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA) really does want to reach the lunar surface using a balloon. As ever, I’m obliged to point out that this is no joke, nor is it an act of pure insanity—balloons can be used to hoist a rocket above much of the atmosphere and thus save fuel. The US experimented with this strategy in the 1950s but eventually abandoned it in favour of more traditional concrete and steel launch pads.
ARCA is taking the rocket-balloon concept (known officially as a “”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rockoon">rockoon") a step further by using the system to hoist a series of rocket motors tied together by cable. This “nunchuck staging” saves them the trouble of dealing with complicated staging rings and fairings, but it hasn’t been tried before, so far as I can tell.
Unfortunately, the rocket never got a chance to prove itself. The Romanians got as far as loading a prototype of their moon-balloon rocket onto the Constanta, a Romanian naval frigate, which took the entire crew out to the launch site in the Black Sea. Yesterday, they attempted to fill the balloon with hot air, but shortly after they started, they ran into a snag. The “inflation arms” used to fill the balloon became entangled in the balloon itself. One-by-one the arms had to be cut, and by late afternoon the entire operation was abandoned (the balloon uses heat from the sun to gain altitude, so a night launch isn’t an option).
So dreams of flying the old red-gold-and-blue on the moon are delayed for now. But I’m willing to guess that ARCA will try again. Until then, we can all enjoy an inspirational video showing how their system is supposed to work:
And more photos of the launch attempt are here.