back to article NASA extends trial of steerable robo-stunt kite parachute

NASA will soon be testing high-altitude parachute systems that let astroboffins land valuable scientific research payloads from altitudes of 60,000 feet. The technique, using parafoils – cellular aerofoils of the same sort used to make high-performance stunt kites – will, so NASA hopes, allow it to recover scientific …

  1. AIBailey

    "Edge of space technology"?

    The Karman line has traditionally been used as the measure of where space begins, and that's pegged at 100 km above ground. The US however tend to use 80 km as the transition point. Either way, 60000 feet is barely 18 km up, so not even a quarter of the way there.

    1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: "Edge of space technology"?

      Lets just say that this particular edge is really blurry

    2. TitterYeNot

      Re: "Edge of space technology"?

      "Either way, 60000 feet is barely 18 km up, so not even a quarter of the way there."

      Strictly speaking you're correct, but 60,000 feet is well into the 'space equivalent zone', so for low speed objects the atmosphere is so thin that you may as well be at 300,000 feet for all the difference it makes, therefore it's a good enough test for 'edge of space' tech.

  2. macjules Silver badge

    Watch out NASA

    Amazon will probably nick the patent for a high-altitude delivery drop from their airborne warehouses.

    1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

      Re: Watch out NASA

      Yeah, but then you have to return the chute and packaging back to Amazon...

  3. Neil Barnes Silver badge

    steerable aerofoil parachute

    I think the word for which they are seeking may be 'paraglider'.

    We expect an accuracy competition pilot to land within a handful of centimetres of the target...

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: steerable aerofoil parachute

      Yeah, it struck me as odd that kept going on about stun kites. They are controlled from the ground and a couple of 60,000' control lines are going to be a tad unwieldy. As you say, what they are designing is a paraglider or, for that matter, little more than a present day steerable parachute but with a "robot" pulling the cards instead of a person.

  4. lglethal Silver badge

    Like a stunt kite?

    Wow they are going to need some REALLY long guide ropes for those kites!!!

  5. Nik 2

    Not really a stunt kite

    The term 'stunt kite' usually refers to the super-agile delta-shaped kites which perform stunts whilst controlled by a relatively static human.

    The inflatable aerofoil kites which are used by people performing stunts on surfboards are known as power kites.

    Nice use of the technology though.

    1. Ian Michael Gumby Silver badge

      Re: Not really a stunt kite

      Almost at the level of a grammar or spelling nazi. :-)

      1. Nik 2

        Re: Not really a stunt kite

        I'm offended by your suggestion, sir.

        This is proper, old fashioned pedentry, and nothing less. ;-)

  6. magickmark
    Paris Hilton

    All in the best posssible taste

    Well if it were released on the 14th Feb it could be a Cupid Stunt Kite?

    With all due respect to the late great Kenny Everett

    For our 'merican cousins:

  7. Jimmy Mercury

    "the brainchild of Airborne Systems of New Jersey"

    Didn't NASA already come up with this during the Gemini program back in the 60s?

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: "the brainchild of Airborne Systems of New Jersey"

      NASA's early 60s projects were Rogollo wings (which evolved into hang gliders and delta kites) and were for the Dyna-soar project, not Mercury/Gemini.

      Dyna-soar was part of the manned space plans which included the Sea Dragon launcher (600 feet long, built from 8mm submarine steel in a shipyard, 100% reusable, no turbopumps (engine pressurisation via liquid nitrogen boiloff). The engine bell of the launcher would have been large enough to completely cover a Saturn V first stage)

      Stunt kites (actually power kites, only the smaller ones are stunt models. Anything bigger than 1.8 metres simply can't manouevre quickly) are a derivation of parafoils, not the other way around.

      I built a few Rogollo wings as a teenager when interested in kites. The advantage over Deltas was that having no rigid spars meant they were easily compactable (useful in a returning capsule) - but that also meant they were susceptable to crosswind gusts collapsing them at inopportune moments when close to the ground - not the greatest thing to happen when carrying a manned capsule, and that's why normal parachutes + water landings were used throughout the US manned programs. I did build one with inflatable spar pockets and it worked very well, but having something like that would be far too risky for spaceflight (if the pockets didn't inflate you're back to the same problem as before).

      1. VictimMildew

        Re: "the brainchild of Airborne Systems of New Jersey"

        Minor point: That's Rogallo, after Gertrude and Francis Rogallo who invented what they called a 'parawing'. They were the subject of some of my early kite experiments, too.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re:Sea Dragon ...

        Sea Dragon - awesome idea:

  8. Buzzword

    Slow fuse movement

    How long before this innocent civilian technology is laden with explosives and co-opted for military use? "Look Fahiq, there's a beautiful balloon in the sky. Uh-oh, it's coming right for us!"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Slow fuse movement

      Yes, but you'd have to add £50,000,000 to the price of each one, y'know, because errm, it like cost lots for a kite.

  9. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    "So, what job do you do?"

    "I'm with NASA."

    "Cool! Are you a rocket scientist?"

    "No, I, uh, fly kites..."


  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Nice to see work from the Aeronautics side of the house.

    The first A in NASA

    Improving recovery accuracy is one of those "enabler" technologies that should multiply the utility of experiments by getting the results back to the lab faster and hopefully leave the equipment in better condition to be reflown, a key benefit of balloon and sounding rocket development programmes.

  11. pkoning

    It was quite some years ago that there were reports of remote-controlled or automatically steered parafoil type parachutes, carrying cargo right to a target. As Neil Barnes points out, skydivers (sports parachutists) generally land within a few meters of their target and "accuracy" competitors routinely nail it within centimeters.

    In any case, this is not exactly new, and I wonder why it is being described as novel.

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge


      In any case, this is not exactly new, and I wonder why it is being described as novel.

      Because there's no human controlling the kite.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      not exactly new ...

      indeed it is not, even unmanned / autonomous (and written up in El Reg, but not so easy to find)

  12. richardcox13


    > steerable aerofoil parachute to bring the payloads back to earth

    Presumably with some sort of anti-AI to avoid the tendency to head towards the densest woodland within range. One assumes this is an evasion tactic.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Trees

      Yes, me desperately need to invest heavily in anti-arbroeal technology. Are there any grants going?

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Trees

      "One assumes this is an evasion tactic."

      Yes. It evades hard contact with the ground if the 'chute isn't working.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Wondering if there's an eventual use case for a Martian lander with this model. I know that the think atmosphere on Mars causes problems with traditional parachutes, maybe this model would be more practical.

  14. phuzz Silver badge

    No so new.

    Back in the 1960's NASA did look into a steerable parachute for landing the Gemini capsules, called the Rogallo wing. This looks like a computer controlled version of the same.

    The US military have also been testing steerable parachutes for airdrops.

    1. Graham Marsden
      Thumb Up

      Re: No so new.

      Re: Rogallo Wing

      Thank you! I was reading this article and cudgelling my brain for the name (which I first saw in a book of kites back in the 1970s) but couldn't remember it.

  15. Stevie Silver badge


    According to the notes in the little book that came in my Revel Mercury/Gemini 1/48 scale kit set back in 1969, this idea dates back to Project Gemini.

    It would have been deployed there and used to land capsules on a runway had Project Apollo not been prioritized in the face of aggressive rooskie space-posturings thereby sucking up all the dollars. Apollo was based around earlier Project Mercury ideas on landing, involving round parachutes and landing ass-backwards into an ocean.

  16. Jim84

    Why not use a rope?

    Have a balloon attached to a rope and real it back in?

    There is probably some reason why you can't do this, such as the weight of the line cannot support itself, but does anyone know exactly why this won't work?

    If it is the weight of the line, why not a series of shorter lines between a series of balloons?

    1. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: Why not use a rope?

      attached to a rope and real it back in?

      You're going to have some non-imaginary problems to solve there

    2. soulrideruk Bronze badge

      Re: Why not use a rope?

      You want to reel in 60000ft of extremely strong thick and durable rope, capable of withstanding storms, extremes of temperature, unbelievable wind speeds, and not straying 60000ft out of position, and you don't see any problems other than the weight?

      1. Jim84

        Re: Why not use a rope?

        The US military already uses 10,000ft tethered balloons. I was just wondering what the practical limits are?

  17. WillbeIT

    Forget all this shit: Where the fuck is LOHAN

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019