From (by) (email me there please)… This is a sub-site to main site at

This web page last updated 14 Oct 2021



Designing and Deploying a Shuttlecock-Style Re-entry Vehicle to Use Lifting-Body Principles



Abstract / Pre-Summary

This sub-page to is a companion or supplementary document to other documents found at Research Gate.  As previously documented, conventional (existing) satellite-deployment fairings could be modified and sub-divided into (an ideal number being postulated to be 4) powered-hinge-attached fairings segments re-named to be “petals”, as they open (like a flower) for satellite deployment, and thereafter serve as the “feathers” in a badminton-style shuttlecock, for descent (re-entry).  As these “feathers” degrade in re-entry-generated heat and pressure, they evolve into embedded grid fins.  The powered hinges and hydraulic energy management used to accomplish this have already (albeit incompletely) been described.

            Here, we add additional design elements, notes, and drawings to emphasize that the highest-velocity phases of re-entry could be substantially prolonged (therefore prolonging the exchange of kinetic and momentum energy in exchange for heat energy, AKA reducing “heat flux”, and reducing overall thermal stresses to vehicle structures) by using lifting-body principles for the highest-thermal-stresses phases of the re-entry process.  The shuttlecock elements (and flight modes) earlier described aren’t entirely negated here; they are more-so (much!) improved upon.  Also important is this:  What is described here is a “punctuated equilibrium” of flight of a lifting body, where the vehicle periodically rolls by 180 degrees.  “Belly” and “back” of the vehicle are periodically reversed, to absorb and shed heat more equally, across all surfaces.


Introduction / Basics


            Dear Reader, per my usual convention, let’s (mostly) depart from stilted, formal ways of writing, and slip into familiar mode.  In BOMs (Bills Of Materials) lingo, the “parent” BOM calls a “child” BOM, where the child is a sub-assembly of the parent.  This document (right here) is now a grandchild! and (same document, 2 locations) is now the grandparent document for brevity here, and and (same paper) is now the parent document for brevity here.  I’ll try to minimize repetition from those papers.  Obviously, if the content here becomes muddled (confusing), one might want to at least skim the first 2 papers.

Speaking of muddled…  Dear Reader, I’ll take the blame that I deserve!  It was only after I posted the parent document up on Research Gate (1 day later) that I realized that my thinking was seriously sub-optimal.  I described a “corkscrew” flight path as complementing a slow and continuous “rotisserie roll”, for spreading heat across all of the surfaces of the re-entry vehicle.  This, I now realize, is highly likely to be much less optimal at reducing heat flux (heat absorbed per unit of time) during the early phases of re-entry, than a “lifting body” approach would yield.

You’re as capable of “Googling” as I am, so I won’t call up links about “lifting bodies”.  I would like to bring to your attention, the following two articles: One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air”, and  If I may glibly summarize these two articles for you (they ARE good reads for the details), then I say, Newtonian action and reaction is true, and Bernoulli is correct about the “Bernoulli Principle” as well.  And yes, we’re talking atmospheric re-entry, at hypersonic and supersonic speeds here, not airplanes.  SOME of the same principles still apply.  OK, one more link, and then let’s move on. is a good read…  Yes, navigation is very important for re-entry!  This is a good read, but more about navigation details is beyond my scope here.  I want to focus on providing aerodynamic control surfaces, far more so.

Expect no profound words from me about Navier-Stokes equations, or Euler equations either.  I haven’t the expertise required to do that.  My focus here is combatting “patent trolling” of fairly simple ideas.  I will describe some more ideas (hardware and flight modes), some of which may work, and some of which may not.  I will “brainstorm”, in other words.  “Throw the ideas into the public domain”, or “defensively publish” them, as I have before.  (As a side note of interest, some pretty “out there” ideas have been patented, even!  See the “Thoth Tower”, for example.  Count me among the sceptics).

            So, in the parent document I tried to write of “up” and “down”, top and bottom, as the rocket stays (more or less) in the same orientation during ascent and descent.  Rocket engines down, fairings (payload) end up.  This time around, I want the rocket-engines end to be elevated as the “fore” end, and the payload (shuttlecock-feathered) end down and “aft”, during the highest speeds of re-entry, to create our lifting body.  So think of “fore” and “aft” from here on in, for the most part.  What was previously called a “spoiler”, will now be a “lifter-spoiler”.  The old, previously-described mode (slow, continuous roll) may still be desirable closer to Earth, in thicker atmosphere, where the path would be more vertical (orbital speed having been completely shed).  There (lower down), the “lifter-spoiler” would still be just a spoiler.

            The classic airplane terms lift, drag, and thrust, and pitch, yaw, and roll all apply here, except “thrust” can be replaced by sheer kinetic energy and momentum remaining from orbital speed.  This energy will take a long time to shed.  What is new here compared to the parent document is that we’ll introduce hardware for the specific purpose of controlling “roll”.  We will then describe a sort of “punctuated equilibrium” where the re-entering vehicle travels for (?) 2 or 3 minutes “belly down” (absorbing belly heat, shedding back heat), and then rolls 180 degrees, going “belly up”, inverted, cooling what was the belly (now the back), and vice versa.  Rinse, repeat!  I have never seen this idea described, so here (below) it is!

            Note that descending rocket-engines-first is no new idea.  Space X does it with their Falcon boosters (albeit not from orbital speed), and “Stoke Space” may try that from orbital re-entry.  See  Stoke Space stakes its claim in the launch industry’s rush to fully reusable rockets”.  From there, “’Our entire profile will have the acceleration vector along the center-line axis,’ Lapsa said.”  That leaves some room for ambiguity, but I interpret it to mean that they will re-enter “engines first”.  In any case, I assume here that it can be done.  However, building engines to withstand re-entry (or somehow placing a heat shield in front of them for re-entry) is outside of my scope here.  I have no relevant ideas concerning that.

            That seems to me to be a reasonable introduction, so let me provide an orientation (literally!) drawing, and then we can move on.


Figure #1


            The “fore” (rocket engines end) belly lifter-spoiler pushes approaching air down, lifting the nose up.  If we look at the parent document research, we see that the windward side (belly here) has a pressure about 100 times that of the lee side (back or top side here).  That means that the position of the back-side lifter-spoiler isn’t really going to matter all that much, assuming it is much smaller than the petals.  The “petal” on the belly aft end is in a fairly neutral attitude, not making much of a difference (adding a wee tad of lift as is shown above).  The large “petal” on the top-side aft end, though, pushes air upwards.  Being to the rear of the center of gravity, this will push the aft end down, maintaining our “angle of attack”.  The belly side being at a pressure of roughly 100 times that of the top (back) surface, of course, tells us that we get plenty of lift!


Diving Right In!


            Diving right into the atmosphere, and the details here, let’s move right along, while also, from time to time, plugging various holes that were left in the parent document.  The above drawing should be enough to illustrate the control of “angle of attack”, or “pitch” (unlike in airplanes, the two are about the same thing, here).  I’m not really completely sure what the aft belly petal should be doing (exactly how it should be adjusted).  The below drawing is easy enough to provide, so here it is.



Figure #2


            The belly-aft petal adjustment which I personally believe is best, is shown in brown.  It’s partly the best because it’s easily attained!  The dotted black line is possible (and easy to attain), but would offset the whole idea for why we are raising the back-aft petal (for forcing a good “angle of attack” for getting lift).  Doing the dotted-black-line “thing” here, it seems to me, adds drag, and kills lift.

            The dotted-RED-line “thing” here would be nice to be able to do, but our vehicle geometry makes it very hard to attain!  It COULD be done, but not without some prices!  The simplified drawing above doesn’t show it, but if you work your way through both the grandparent document and the parent document, you’ll see that the base of the petal (where it meets the “deck”, or floor of the payload bay) is curved towards its outer edges, where it meets the next petal.  Closing the petal-hinge to be “more closed than normal” (normal is payload secured for ascent) means that the outer edges of the petal-base bang into the deck (we can’t go there).  We could grow the true hinge, to span the entire base of a given petal.  If we did that to all 4 petals, we’d have a very ugly (and un-aerodynamic) square “hammerhead fairings” design…  Possible, yes!  Wise?  Probably not!

            We could go to 5, 6, 7, or more segments of petals, to get this polygon (where many fairings segments meet the deck, at hinges) closer to being a circle, reducing the “ugliness” (for lack of a better word) of the hammerhead fairings (aerodynamics on ascent) situation.  While having the true hinge span the entire base of each petal, of course.  I don’t think that the extra complexity is worth it.  Just my opinion, though…  No mathematical proofs will be given here!

            We could possibly re-design the hinges to shove (the true hinge) upwards from the deck, and-or outwards (away from the center of the deck), in some kind of compound action.  In light of all of our (especially heat tolerance) materials constraints (see the parent document), AND our needs for strong, robustly powered hinging action, I simply don’t think this is practical at all.

            Perhaps most plausibly, we might be able to design the (edges) parts of the bases of the petals (the areas that “want to” bang into the edges of the deck) to degrade and fall away quickly, early on, during re-entry.  THEN we’d be able to “close the petal” more-closed than normal, when needed, for the rest of the journey.

            If we DO chose to do any of the above, to petals at belly-aft and back-aft…  Keeping in mind that the vehicle will “roll” 180 degrees periodically for punctuated-equilibrium heat-spreading rotisserie rolls…  We only need to take extra trouble with the “12 o’clock and 6 o’clock” petals (which trade positions).  The “3 o’clock and 9 o’clock” petals will also swap positions, but need never be “asked” to “close the petal” more-closed than normal.  So at least the design here allows us this small slice of grace and forgiveness!

            “Pitch” control has now been fairly thoroughly discussed.  Let’s move on to “yaw” control, which is fairly simple.  For simplicity, the below drawing looks straight down the rocket-engines (fore) end, ignoring our “pitch”.  Number of engines is arbitrarily set to 4…  It could easily be some other number.  “4” looks pretty in the drawing!

Figure #3


            Yaw control is simple and intuitive.  As we look into the above drawing, extending the 9 o’clock petal and pulling in the 3 o’clock will swing our nose to the left, and vice versa.  Done!  (The lifter-spoilers were omitted in this drawing, but they would be in front of the 12 o’clock and 6 o’clock petals, in the above view).

            Moving on to “roll control” (not discussed or diagrammed in any detail so far, in earlier papers), let us imagine two plates that push out or retract, just like the lifter-spoilers (on Bifrost hinges with the hinges on the “fore” edge), except, instead of flat plates, they are curved “snowplows of the air”.  A tilted propeller-blade-like thing, yes, but that doesn’t (connotation-wise) catch the strength (robustness) required.  Let’s call it a “variable-engagement air-plow”, or maybe just a “roll control device”.  The below drawing tries to capture (with a sequential fore-end view) such a (somewhat complex in 3D) device slowly being deployed.  Pre-deployment, and when otherwise retracted, yes, a weird-shaped void will be left in the side of the rocket body.  And a small tip of the “plow” may always be protruding, as a space saver.  These small offenses against aerodynamics can be tolerated, in the name of the benefits that we really need.


Figure #4


            Unlike the lifter-spoiler, the true hinge (part of the Bifrost hinge assembly) should NOT lay flush with the surface of the rocket body (for the roll-control devices here), but should be buried (recessed) underneath the surface.  The dotted blue lines in the above drawing are meant to show a strong embedded-in-the-plow “spine” of a column shape, to cut the strong wind.  It might be blunt, or it might be sharp-edged, this wind-splitter (I don’t know what’s best for that).  But this spine is tilted away from the viewer. Poking out a tiny bit perhaps, even when not yet deployed at all.  It rises towards the viewer at the tip, erected ever more vertically towards the viewer, as the “air-plow” deploys more fully.  The more it deploys, the more plow-blade it exposes behind it, and the more air it pushes to the left (as shown above), imparting more and more clockwise “roll” to the vehicle.  A mirror image of the above should be deployed 180 degrees out from the above, to provide variable-deployment counter-clockwise “roll”.

            The below fore-end view ignores pitch (the same as we did when diagramming yaw control).  This time, though, to cut visual clutter, we omit the petals, showing only the lifter-spoilers and the roll-control devices.  The roll-control devices (“rollers” for very short), just like the lifter-spoilers, should be located not far behind (“above”, if conventionally-oriented) the rocket engines.

Figure #5


            The 3 o’clock roller can give us variable counter-clockwise roll, and the 9-o’clock roller can give us variable clockwise roll.  So far, so good!  However, notice that (as shown above) the more that either or both of the rollers is deployed, the more lift that we get at the “fore” end (as air is deflected downwards).  After we invert (don’ forget the periodic 180-degree inverting roll for heat-spreading in a “punctuated equilibrium” version of the rotisserie roll), 9 and 3 o’clock rollers trade positions, and now they can both deflect air UP, killing our fore-end lift!

            What this means (depending on the relative sizes and strengths of the lifter-spoilers v/s the rollers, and possibly some other variables as well) is that, as shown above, both of the rollers could be near-fully deployed in the mode shown, leaving just enough spare adjustment room (with safety margin added) to perform constant, fine control of “roll” attitude.  In this mode, the two rollers could provide enough lift, such that the 6 o’clock lifter-spoiler could be reduced in size, or perhaps eliminated entirely.

            In the 180-degrees-out inverted mode opposite what is shown above, the rollers should be nearly completely retracted, so as to not kill the lift on our “fore” end here.  What is (in this mode) the newly-relocated 6 o’clock lifter-spoiler (was 3 o’clock as shown above) may be far more essential now!

            A variation from the above is shown below.  We double up on the rollers, and eliminate the lifter-spoilers.


Figure #6


            The bottom 2 rollers (regardless of which mode we are in, belly-up or belly-down) can now serve as lifters for the “fore” end, while the top 2 rollers can be reserved for actual roll-control.  We have now restored symmetry!  This symmetry makes it easier to write flight-control software.  Also, of course, we have eliminated the lifter-spoilers, and in so doing, we have reduced (consolidated) the numbers of places where control surfaces have to “invade” the rocket body.  Such consolidation should also reduce the total number of avionics circuit boards, batteries, and hydraulics elements such as tanks and accumulators, “heat walls”, and possibly other components as well.  That is, two closely co-located “rollers” should be able to share many types of components.

            A price that we’ve paid is that we’ve increased the “aerodynamic ugliness” (especially during ascent), in that we’ve doubled up on the weird-shaped voids outside of the “air plows” in the plows-retracted mode.  We COULD try to temporarily (during ascent) plug these voids with some sort of material (foam?) that quickly degrades in the heat of re-entry.  Or degrades under some sort of triggered action (pyrotechnic devices sounds rather heavy-handed to me, for this).  Such a temporarily void-plugger could easily dislodge and fly back to damage a petal.  Space Shuttle Columbia’s 2003 accident (foam strike) comes to mind, so I’d not like to recommend this idea.  Maybe there’s a safe “fix” (for what I regard to be a fairly minor problem), but I sure don’t know what it is!

            As we roll from belly-down to belly-up modes and back, at the aft end, the 6 o’clock (becoming 12 o’clock) petal will need to be extended, and vice versa.  At the same time, one roller will need to retract while another extends, to give us “roll”.  I can’t see any preferences here…  Roll in the same direction each time, alternate, or flip a coin!  Well, more honestly, if we happen to already be slightly rolling in one direction…  Fine roll-maintenance-mode never being perfect… Then whichever way we are already rolling, “roll with it” makes sense!  Be efficient!  The results might end up looking rather random, then.  At the end of a roll-inversion, we’ll need to reverse the rollers-actions momentarily, to kill the roll-inertia of the just-now-induced roll, and then go back to stability-maintenance mode.  As mentioned previously, each such stability-maintenance-mode time period is a “heat soak” for one side, v/s “heat shedding” for the other side.  I have no idea how long these time periods should be.  2 or 3 minutes is a wild guess, but longer might be better.  How much lift do we lose during each roll-inversion?  I have no idea!

            To me, I think this is a fairly complete description of applying “lift body” principles here.  Oh, one more minor idea:  At the 3 o’clock and 6 o’clock positions, we might want to add short “fins” running from right behind the rollers, all the way back (“up”) the rocket-body flanks, all the way back (“up”) to the petal-hinges (or some significant fraction of those routes).  At the expense of a wee tad of drag (including during ascent), we’d get a bit more lift during descent, in lift-body mode.

            Also note that after we’ve absorbed a bunch of heat during the worst of re-entry, and we enter the lower atmosphere, we may want to cool down the entire vehicle.  Orbital velocity is now all gone, and we can spiral downwards, vaguely like a maple-tree seed.  This is where we can go back to a slow, stately, continuous “rotisserie roll” mode as was previously described in the grandparent document and parent document alike.


Plugging Some Holes


            The previous documents left some holes.  I’ve not been able to gather any expert advice about hydraulics.  What are optimal approaches to hydraulics?  See the questions summarized at the end of the parent document for those.  I have no new answers.  If I get some, I will post them as updates (or addendums) to this document right here.  I can’t foresee a 4th document in this series (I could be wrong).  In other words, I highly doubt that I’ll gather enough additional ideas to justify yet another paper on this topic!

            The parent document mentioned steamboat-style paddle-wheels as being superior energy-harvesting devices.  I forgot to mention some plausible methods of reducing how much power a paddle-wheel extracts from passing airflow.  Too much force, too much power, and the wheel spins too fast, and falls apart!  To more thoroughly thwart any possible patent-trolling here, I now list some options here:  Shorten the vanes (paddles), put holes in them, or flip them 180 degrees, with these blade-vanes not opposed 180 degrees to the wind, but edge-on instead (similar to a hammermill).  Or flip the blades to some intermediate angle.  Or delete the blades, and just use spikes instead.  Anti-patent-trolls micro-mission now completed!

            After more research and just plain old soak-time-in-the-brain, I no longer believe that a lifter-spoiler, or a petal for that matter, being extended against a stiff wind, makes much sense here as serving for much of a power “accumulator”.  Yes, there is potential mechanical energy available there, in that, as we retract such a surface, it pushes strongly against us, and we could harvest that push-power.  Send it, for example, to pressurize a hydraulic accumulator.  I seriously doubt that it’s worth the trouble.  We can harvest plenty of power from the paddlewheels.

            Also, since the paddlewheels will be spinning rapidly, harnessing their power via electrical generators (not hydraulic pumps) makes sense.  Routing power around via power wires (not hydraulic pipes) should be more robust and heat-tolerant.  The parent document (Figure #14) shows hydraulic lines, for example.  I take that back!  Electrical power wires are better for system-wide power distribution.  I was heavily biased in favor of hydraulics, but I no longer am.

            Hydraulic motors probably still make sense for the relatively slow (but powerful) motions needed for all or almost all of our aerodynamic control surfaces, as controlled by “Bifrost hinges”.  However, they should (I think) be locally powered by electrically-powered hydraulic pumps.  Any more details above and beyond that?  I would need some expert advice!

            Even these hydraulic motors could possibly be replaced by electrical motors.  We might be able to go purely electrical, with no hydraulics at all.  Apparently Space X’s “Starship” powers its (belly-flop-controlling) flaps this way, off of batteries.  So it could be done, apparently…  At least here, we’d have the ability to nearly constantly be “topping off” our batteries, from the paddlewheels.


Aerobraking and Aerocapture


            Dear Reader, I’ll leave the “Googling” to you, here.  Aerobraking, 146 K hits; “Aero braking”, 22.9 K hits.  Aerocapture, 148 K hits, and “Aero capture”, 9.2 K hits.  It looks like “The Google” likes the compounded-words versions here best, for search-strings!

            The first and most obvious uses here (and the largest market) for what these 3 papers have described, are for launching Earth satellites, and for recovering and re-using as much of the upper stage as is possible.  These uses will involve lower re-entry speeds.  However, the methods described here (especially with future, improved materials, navigation, in-orbit refueling, and other technologies), after refinements from using such methods as described here, descending from Earth orbit, could be used for interplanetary journeys as well.  Human-rated?  Probably not any time soon!  I can imagine getting some severe motion sickness from constantly repeated roll-inversions, for one thing!  But cargo should do just fine.

            The methods described here could be used for delivering satellites, cargo, rovers, drones, and-or balloon atmospheric probes (think Venus) to other planets, and for returning cargo to Earth (Example:  Cargo coming back from the lunar “Gateway”, such as, for example, moon rocks).  The methods described here most certainly provide robust control surfaces for path-control!  Path-control will be critical for aerobraking and aerocapture.

            For probes sent to other planets (unlike Earth-satellite-delivery runs, where recovering the rocket engines for re-use is THE big-dollars item), we’d typically not have to worry about damage to the rocket engines…  They can be sacrificed, there at the super-heated “fore” tip, as we enter atmosphere.  With the rocket engines destroyed, we can still make a hard landing, delivering impact-forces-resistant cargo or probe hardware, possibly to include rovers, even.  Or we can have parachutes drag out (of the payload bay) rovers, drones, exploration balloons, or blimps.  See “Mars on the cheap: Scientists working to revolutionize access to the Red Planet”, where a somewhat similar “shuttlecock hard lander” is described.  From there, “The Small High Impact Energy Landing Device (SHIELD) concept is part lander and part shock absorber, all rolled up in one package.”

            The astute reader may recall that, for the schemes described here to work, we need protection from heat, for heat-sensitive components.  See Figure #1 of the parent document, and associated text.  Liquid nitrogen is an affordable, effective cooling liquid, suitable for use here.  Could liquid nitrogen survive a 9-month journey to Mars, for example?  Note that boiled-off gasses can be re-condensed, but that’s clumsy and hard to pull off in space.  Not impossible; just hard.  For one thing, we have to shed excess heat in a vacuum, as part of this, and that’s not easy to do.

            But wait!  See and  “Gravity Probe B” was able to maintain a supply of liquid helium for an entire 17 months, without re-condensation, in a dewar (a large vacuum-walled “Thermos bottle”, if you will).  Helium boils off at -269 C, while nitrogen boils off at a (relatively) balmy -196 C instead.  So if “Gravity Probe B” could do it, so can we!

            Well anyway, after we perfect the shuttlecock-style re-entry (with a phase of a “lift body” mode operation) for Earth-orbit uses, aerobraking and aerocapture awaits us!  I thought that this was at least worth mentioning.


I have no special expertise or any more plausible ideas concerning any associated matters here, so I will sign off at this time.  This concludes my ideas as of this time.  Comments or questions (or idea contributions) are welcomed at


Stay tuned…  Talk to me!




Stauffer, Titus. (2021). Methods of Decelerating a Spacecraft Through Atmospheric Re-entry Using a Shuttlecock-like Design.


Stauffer, Titus. (2021). Harvesting and Managing Energy While Re-entering an Atmosphere Using a Shuttlecock Design.


Back to main site at