Rocket in the shape of a vulva: does the feminist initiative have scientific interest?

Take the Ariane, Atlas, SLS and other Soyuz rockets, which are too “phallic”? A German collective, Wer Braucht Feminismus? (“What is feminism?”), Released on March 8 a launcher concept that was originally to say the least. The Vulva Spaceship takes the opposite view of conventional rockets by offering a female vulva shape. Lucia Hartmann, the engineer behind the idea, says she wants to establish equality even in space in this project, the launchers developed so far are very similar to male power symbols. WBF Aeronautics wants to get the attention of the European Space Agency (ESA) through an online petition. Only, despite a video posted on YouTube and a few comments on the site, nothing really allows us to prove the scientific interest of such work.

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© WFB Aerodynamics

The features of the Vulva Spaceship are different from the standard development of launchers. Do we see the scientific contribution?

Shape of rockets: the parameter of aerodynamics

Successfully designing a rocket and sending it into space is a complex task: SpaceX has been working on its Starship for years, NASA has taken the Space Launch System from its hangar and Arianegroup has been caught up in execution. in service of the Ariane 6 Most rockets are simple in appearance, cylindrical, with the fairing located above the usually ogival -shaped. Their take-off weight is also variable: the Ariane 5 is 750 tons, while the massive Saturn V, which allowed Apollo missions to be sent to the Moon, weighs approximately 3,000 tons.

“To make a launcher fly, we need to consider the many barriers between which we need to find the best compromise”, explains Elisa Cliquet Moreno, engineer in the launcher department of CNES (National Center for Space Studies ). “A lot of force is given to the launcher and the one that is most punished, throughout its mission, is its own weight. During its flight in the atmosphere, there is also an aerodynamic force, which is divided into two parts: the drag, the the opposite direction of motion, slows the vehicle through the effects of pressure and friction in the air and the lift, which is perpendicular to it, has less influence on the launchers than on the airplanes.Finally, the force produced by the thrust of the machines is there to counteract the weight and the drag. »

The mythical Saturn V that led astronauts to the Moon has impressive characteristics: 111 meters high for a mass of 3000 tons.

© Nasa

The mythical Saturn V that led astronauts to the Moon has impressive characteristics: 111 meters high for a mass of 3000 tons.

Aerodynamic drag will be important in the first 2 minutes of flying a rocket. After one minute, the Ariane 5 type launcher will exceed the Mach 1 limit, i.e., more than 1100 km/h at this altitude, then reach supersonic speeds up to beyond Mach 6, and lower the fairing to approximately 70 kilometers above sea level. The drag force, which varies as the square of the speed, will increase first gradually and then decrease because it also depends on the density of the wind, which decreases with altitude. However, it is still less than the force associated with the weight of the launcher. At takeoff, our Ariane 5 experiences a force of 7,400 kilonewtons due to its weight, whereas when it reaches Mach 1, it has almost 7 times less drag, at approximately 1,100 kilonewtons. In these first minutes after takeoff, the shape of the launcher is important to allow optimal acceleration towards the boundaries of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Is the shape of the rocket sexist?

Spoiler: No! The personification of things like launchers is an obsolete strategy as long as the primary goal of aerospace engineers is to optimize their devices. Everything must be calculated so that the rocket leaving space carries its cargo, whether human or robot, without incident. For this, the design of rockets seen in the past 60 years has been scientifically explained.

The European rocket Ariane 5 will celebrate its 25 years of loyal service in June.


The European rocket Ariane 5 will celebrate its 25 years of loyal service in June.

“The fairing, at the top of the rocket, is often ogival for better air penetration both in the subsonic and supersonic. Then, you have to reduce the diameter of the launcher: if it’s too wide, it will drag, if it is too thin, it threatens to become more fragile (and then you have to have space to place the satellite!). In most launchers, we try to design smooth, delicate shapes, with “soft” ones change in diameter, to avoid the formation of too much drag.commented by Madame Cliquet-Moreno.

“But what is important is mainly to reduce the mass of the rocket. In this, the cylindrical shape is ideal for limiting the structural mass for a given volume. The cylinder is a shape that is well resistant to pressure. , the pressure found in the tanks of a launcher. It is very easy to do, too. »

Technically, the Vulva Spaceship does not therefore seem impossible to achieve, or even impossible to take off. If the proposal of WBF Aeronautics is undeniably aesthetic, the scientific contribution to the field of aerospace engineering remains to be demonstrated. The “feminized” launcher will have a shape that allows minimal drag, requiring less fuel and being environmentally friendly. In addition, its carbon coating will ensure excellent resistance to extreme temperatures.

However, the organization does not have its own website exposing the characteristics of its ship, and some information obtained from the web failed to prove the feasibility of the project. With just over 1,000 signatures collected out of 500,000 requested, it’s possible the Vulva Spaceship remains the only draft worthy of a work of science fiction, which would not have gone out of place in the film Barbarella.

“Space engineering is not closed to women. It is a matter of raising awareness and making children, women and men, understand that they can access these professional environments, which are largely places of desire.And here, I personally think that the initiatives that allow to arouse this passion, for example, bringing girls and boys to visit space exhibitions, are more relevant than this one “, concluded Élisa Cliquet Moreno.

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