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View Diary: UPDATED: Quietly, SpaceX makes a revolutionary launch (67 comments)

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    FarWestGirl, elfling

    1) Above 200,000' or so, the air is so thin that the first stage is in free-fall. Up here, small rockets can orient the stage readily; drag has relatively little effect.

    2) Below 200,000' or so, the starts to thicken and have effects. If the first stage hits this rockets first, it should continue to fly stably in that configuration. If it should arrive in a transverse or upside down configuration, it would likely be broken up by the aerodynamic loads as it tried to flip ends. (IIRC, an X-15 was lost when it broke up due to a control failure that caused it to be misoriented when it returned into atmosphere.)

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