Word of the Week: Lithobraking

Have you got an unmanned space vehicle that that needs to safely reach the surface of a celestial body? Yes? Well you’ll need lithobraking. That is if you have no parachute, crappy rockets and the thing you want to land on has very little gravity. Lithobraking is essentially using gravity to slow your space craft […]

Sidney Pinsent
20th November 2017
Image: NASA

Have you got an unmanned space vehicle that that needs to safely reach the surface
of a celestial body? Yes? Well you’ll need lithobraking. That is if you have no
parachute, crappy rockets and the thing you want to land on has very little gravity.
Lithobraking is essentially using gravity to slow your space craft so it doesn’t blow to
smithereens on impact. Using their crappy rockets they line the probe up so
incoming angles are made shallow enough so it skims graciously across the surface, a
glancing blow if you will. All this sounds quite clever but essentially it’s crashing in
space.

Hollywood would have you believe probes are placed like a cherry on a cake when
landing. Instead, the best brains in the world came up with the bright idea to cover
the probe with gas filled balloons and crash. The 1966 Soviet Luna 9 moon probe
was the first use of lithobraking in space travel and is considered the first ‘soft’ moon
landing, while the American were still wasting their time and money on rockets. In a
new wave on cost cutting, it’s rumoured Ryanair are considering introducing
lithobraking on continental flights.

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