Rockoon Soars 40km, Has A Long Way To Go To Reach Moon

No, I'm not trying to say "raccoon" with my mouth full. That's really what Romania is calling their rocket balloon, which is an entry in Google's Lunar X competition, to be the first vessel to send a robot to the moon.

If successful, the Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association team (ARCA) wins $US30 million, but the robot must take photos of the lunar surface and send them back to the team as proof. They've been working on the weather balloon-lookalike design since 2008, and after several disastrous attempts when all the balloon lines got tangled (and when the balloon skin actually broke), it was third time the charm last Friday when they managed to send the helium-filled balloon 40km into the sky.

The last 27km of that distance was achieved using just 30 seconds of the rocket power, but to get to the moon, they must use an even larger rocket weighing 30 times as much as the first one. Those 40km have the dubious honour of being the "highest altitude reached by a flying object designed and built entirely in Romania".

Nonetheless, ARCA still has just over four years to reach the moon, which is when Google's competition deadline closes. Twenty one other teams are battling it out for the $US30 million prize, but ARCA looks set for success with this rocket balloon launch platform, considering the technology has been around for decades - since 1949, in actual fact. [ARCA via New Scientist]

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