Could the Space Shuttle have succeeded?

Discussion in 'Alternate History Discussion: After 1900' started by kernals12, Sep 3, 2019.

  1. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Yeah, putting it off until the 80's probably means there's less budget available for it. NASA might only be able to manage it as an experimental development program. DoD would have moved on to other expendable launch capabilities, and the Reagan Administration seems less likely to have been willing to fund an ambitious clean-sheet program like Shuttle turned out to be. Assuming NASA is just operating some retread or modest evolution of Saturn Apollo hardware (like your ETS timeline) then the Gipper would be a hard sell on that. I always thought even your Saturn Heavy would have been a push (though I thinkyou were right that Soviet heavy lift developments were the only real way to put a thumb on the scale).

    If by some miracle it happened, I suspect the only real advances over OTL would be in avionics, and they'd be rather modest.
     
  2. RanulfC Well-Known Member

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    No, the tiles were the biggest single-item expense due to the labor needed to apply and then check them. Initially the engines were the biggest expense and near-the end of the program they finally got those costs under control. And again there really wasn't another choice to meet the weight requirements without reducing the Orbiter's size or general mass.

    Well lets keep in mind the assumption that every flight had to be manned which was the start of it all. And once you pile on 'bring-the-engines-back' you have a minimum size, and then 'required' cargo capacity because you know you're not going to be an HLV you want for Space Station modules... The list goes on and on.

    A smaller shuttle would have needed a booster/launch vehicle and initialy making THAT something that didn't HAVE to launch a crew every flight violates one of the above "requirements" so... Yes combining crew and cargo in one vehicle in hind-sight is wrong but not so clear when you're looking at aircraft, trucks/busses, cars, and ships all carrying passengers and 'cargo' on every trip.

    Who cares about the payload it carries since it's ONLY supposed to ferry crew and a small amount of supplies to an orbiting space station :) See it's how you look at it, using the assumptions and bias' of the day it's clear the Shuttle was going to be IT for the imediate future. Given how hostile Congress was to the NASA budget too many changes or delays meant a very real and great danger of the programg being pushed to the tomorrow that never comes or worse having no money to continue manned space flight! (Priorities you remember) Get it now, get a design that meets the "requirements" and get it flying and the future will take care of itself...

    Now had anyone had some expriance with booster recovery and reuse, well that would have fed into the process of defining a "shuttle" that may have had more of a chance of working out better. (Now someone sit on JSC and the Astronaut Corps about their obsessoin with manned flights) See the Flax Committee among others had noted the utility and economics of a 'small' shuttle but the conundrum was it was assumed it would have to be launched on an existing expendable launcher such as Titan or Saturn 1B and the expense of those boosters would likely wipe out an possible cost savings of a "manned" reusable vehicle. And once again, if Congress sees you building a "reusable" booster then why pay lots of money more to build ANOTHER reusable vehicle just to carry people into orbit? People in space are expensive and besides you've got no place to go...

    In fact they were aware, (just as we've had to relearn) that there are problems with "small" reentry vehicles, especially ones that mass a lot compared to their L/D at entry. On the other hand there were a number of concepts and test models of some pretty inovative metallic reentry TPS systems that might have worked on a smaller scale that would be vastly too heavy for OTL's Orbiter. So the question becomes what are your priorities and requirments and how do you design a vehicle/system to meet them with the budget given?

    What he said :)

    And haven't you every heard the phrase "Might" makes "Right"? :)

    Randy
     
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  3. Emote Control Plenty of genius, not enough sense.

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    Thank you. Very informative!
     
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  4. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    No, it's a valid point. The assumptions you make going into it are going to shape the architecture (and clearly did here).

    That said, a Flax-like Shuttle like you see in the Right Side Up timeline could have accomplished all of these objectives in a safer, and probably modestly less expensive manner - the first stage *is* manned, and does bring those mighty F-1 engines back intact (though likely needing lots of refurbishment). Obviously the tricky part is that large payloads would not be crewed all the way to orbit, though...
     
  5. RanulfC Well-Known Member

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    Yep, I need to it up his blog again as I've been missing out for several months... SEVERAL months, like about a year or so of them :)

    It's that last part that's key as I don't neccessarily dislike "heavy lift" launch vehicles but really it's a balancing act and I'd rather have reusablity and utlility that contribute to economics and flight rate than payload if it comes down to it but I'm flexible. My main issue is when you use the ability to deploiy a heavy payload to bypass things like orbital and interplanetary infrastructure to 'save money' (it doesn't really, not in an long term sense) instead of building up an equally reusable orbital and interplanetary transporation infrastructure. Hence my problem with Bob Zubrin and Mars Direct as well as Musk's plans because they're advocating doing just that and then in the latter case claiming that 'reusability' makes it all right.

    Er, that first part assumes certain timing and other effects work out eve if Starship is a "huge failure" and I'd question that but probably not here :) See if Starship and BFR get flying then Falcon-9 goes away. This is Musk's plan and he actually HAS to do this to induce the industry to use Starship/BFR. Once that begins we're in the same place we were with the Shuttle as all other US launch capacity was shut down. In this case though there is the assumption that Starship/BFR is eating everyone elses lunch and therefore unlike the Shutte where it was clear from early on that it would not likely support non-government launch with anywhere near the needed capacity or convincence so that national and commercial launch operators see and sieze the opening provided. Pardon the pun but OTL Ariene would not have flown if all US launch manufacturers hadn't been told and shown that no one OTHER than the Shuttle would get goverment money or support anymore and fully believed it and cut back or planned to shut down production. In this context Starship/BFR need to ensure they are 'sucessful' enough to grab a major portion of the launch market as a bare minimum and the simple truth is that Falcon 9 from the start cuts into that possible segment so the sooner it's shut down the better in those circumstances. Every Falcon 9 flight is a stolen payload from a Starship/BFR flight and is actually helping any competition to take market share from Starship/BFR.

    So the question is really at what point can Starship/BFR "fail" and still leave a "cheap, high cadence familiy of heavy lift launch vehicles" and why would one assume that another company like Blue Origin would follow the same path despite what they've publically said? Keep in mind Blue Origin has yet to build it's Falcon 9 equivilent New Glenn and New Armstrong is still years away (if ever) after that. And yes New Glenn IS aimed at the Falcon 9 market not Starship/BFr's with "only" 45MT to LEO, (compared to 22MT for Falcon 9 or 100MT for BFR/Starship) or 13MT to GEO-transfer (compard to 8.3MT for Falcon 9 and around 50MT for BFR/Starship) and this is "only" a "single-barrel" design. It can in theory be 'boosted' just like the Falcon Heavy with all that implies. The main difference is Bezos is specifically aiming at reducing the cost and increasing the access to Earth orbit with all THAT implies. He can service lesser payload requirements by either off-loading propellant from the upper stage or making smaller upper stages whichever is more economic.

    While the economics DO avoid direct tax money they also don't contribute to the (to Congress) important areas of aerospace spending and support which is going to be a problem for politicians from those areas. Not to mention the loss of "control" over space flight which has been see-sawing back and forth since the late 80s.

    The problem I have is that Starshp/BFR, (and if I'm honest New Armstrong which seems to me BO just "me too"-ing on the entire BFR/MTS band-wagon) IS a "heavy payload" system that by it's nature requires that each flight be as "heavy" payload as possible and one thing we've seen is that any payload that is empty is wasted space and lost revenue. The government can afford that but commercial can't and the nature of the space launch market is there have always been a lot less satellites that can use the same launch vehicle economically. And that's the main danger.

    Can't really argue but my point is that in context SpaceX has already dropped all current efforts to squeze more performance out of the Falcon 9 series beyond some "simple" tweaks which is really short-changing the Falcion 9 system. They are dabbling with fairing recover but have dropped all work on upper stage recovery. Granted that continuing work on upper stage recovery was going to cost more and be more effort than trying to get a fairing back since they have been found to actualy survive most of the return trip anyway but the former has more long term applicabilty to overall economics and sustainabilty than the latter does so it's a clear indication that SpaceX will likely drop the Falcon 9 as soon as possible when Starship and/or BFR fly. Meanwhile Blue Origin IS making it a priority to make the New Glenn a "Falcon 9" replacment TSTO from the start in an obvous effort to be available when the market needs the capacity of that very vehicle. Musk's money and therefor his timeline but...

    Randy
     
  6. GTStinger Well-Known Member

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    Never looked at reentry physics personally.

    Would the thermal tile demands for a smaller, lighter shuttle be more linearly reduced or is there some mechanic where half the mass is a third the heat generated, for instance?
     
  7. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Well, you see the problem in your first three words: "My main issue."

    Like Goff, your interest is in building up an effective and sustainable space economy, particularly in Earth orbit.

    Musk wants to colonize Mars. On a deadline. (His natural lifespan.)

    Part of the problem is that, thanks to the tireless efforts of the senior senator from Alabama, there's been very limited research or development done with regards to fuel depots. So if SpaceX really wanted to pursue an architecture that featured depots, it would have to do most of the development work itself. And pay for it itself. On top of whatever new launch system it was pursuing. As is, it's going to have to do more development work on in-orbit refueling than anyone else has done before.

    I think, in short, that much of the blame for the lack of fuel depots has to go to Congress and NASA.

    It's a fair point about market size, though I think talking about Ariane in the 1980's has limited applicability because the commercial satellite market is so much larger than it was 30-40 years ago. It can sustain more launchers than was the case back then, and that will only increase as more developing countries get into the game.

    The other point I would make is that the Falcons have a certain persistance required by certification requirements and politics on the part of NASA and the Defense Department. Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are certified or about to be certified for the full range of payloads by both agencies. It took years (and lawsuits!) for them to get to that point. Starship's clock can only start ticking in that regard once the entire system is mking full operational flights to orbit (with high success). And for a while, the Falcons are going to have the advantage of a very long and successful launch record which federal planners are going to instinctively prefer to rely on. In fact, it's going to be required for the Phase II Air Force contract, once SpaceX gets its award for it - because all SpaceX has bid for Phase 2 has been Falcons, not Starship - and those launches go through 2027.

    Likewise with Commercial Crew: So long as ISS is in orbit (2028? 2030?), it seems pretty certain SpaceX will keep getting its contract extended for Crew Dragon. That will require continued operation of Falcon 9.

    In short, I don't think there's any quick on-ramp for Starship to take over the full Falcon manifest, at least where government payloads are concerned. And Musk and Shotwell have been adamant that the Falcons will keep flying so long as their customers (read: best customers) want them to keep flying. And the Air Force's Phase II contract is going to require Falcons to keep flying through 2027, regardless of what Elon Musk would like to do.

    Well, in large part that's been dictated by the government: A design freeze was basically dictated by NASA, for example, as a requirement of using Block 5 Falcon 9 for Commercial Crew launches.

    That said, Musk has also stated repeatedly that SpaceX has pretty close to maxed out performance of the Merlin and first stage. (EDIT: last year, Musk claimed there might be as much as 10% more thrust potential in the Merlin. Not sure trying to pursue that would really be worth the cost, though, even if NASA allowed it for Commercial Crew launches.) Obviously there's room for possibilities with the second stage...but that also would not be cheap.

    But again, I think the real problem is that your main objectives for launcher development are not those that Elon Musk has. The guy wants to go to Mars. As quickly as possible. In that light, these decisions make a lot of sense, even if they may not pay out as easily or cheaply as Elon Musk hopes they will.
     
    Last edited: Sep 9, 2019
  8. Workable Goblin Chronicler of the Pony Wars

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    I'm also not sure that Falcon 9 has the performance envelope to have a reusable second stage with a useful GTO payload (i.e. covering the most lucrative market segment), either. Kerolox ISP along with the weight of TPS, control surfaces, and the other requirements to recover successfully...it makes things rather marginal.

    I generally have the same viewpoint as @RanulfC or Jon Goff re: Mars versus building up something in Earth orbit, so I would have rather SpaceX have followed up Falcon with some kind of "SFR" that was targeted towards a similar payload capacity as Falcon 9 Block 5 but designed from the outset to be fully reusable and incorporating "lessons learned" from Falcon operations...but, as you say, that obviously isn't what Musk wants, so there you go.
     
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  9. e of pi Layers on Top of Layers

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    I ran the numbers a while back, and adding reusability hardware to the F9 upper stage would eat about 3.5 metric tons of payload, basically regardless of if you're returning it from LEO or GTO. It'd effectively mean you could only operate F9R to LEO, or at least only to GTO for the lightest of payloads, but it'd make fully-reusable FH to GTO possible, and FH has payload to spare.
     
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  10. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Great point.
     
  11. kernals12 Well-Known Member

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    Galaxy Brain Take:
    The Apollo program should've been cancelled and all efforts diverted to the X-20 Dyna Soar.
     
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  12. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Do you want a Red Moon?

    Because that's how you get a Red Moon.
     
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  13. kernals12 Well-Known Member

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    I don't care. The Apollo mission was unpopular anyway and there's a reason nobody has felt a reason to send anyone to the moon since 1972.
     
  14. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Well, Apollo was popular for a short spell in mid-1969...

    But this is where alt-history is helpful to engage. If Apollo's popular support was always limited, a Soviet landing on the Moon first would have generated public outrage you could measure with spectrometers from Ganymede: it's always easier to generate anger than joy. And we know this, because we can see the purple public response in America to every other big Soviet "first" in space from 1957 to 1965. I really can't fault Kennedy and Johnson for being desperate to avoid that outcome on their watch.

    Probably the only reasonable way you can avert something like Apollo is to have the Soviets abandon the Space Race early on.
     
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  15. kernals12 Well-Known Member

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    Or have Alan Shepard beat out Yuri Gagarin into space, giving Americans an achievement they can be content with.
     
  16. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    Yeah. That might do it, too.

    Unless the Soviets respond with a formal public commitment to a Moon landing to one up the Americans. I tend to think Khrushchev would not, but it can't be ruled out.
     
  17. kernals12 Well-Known Member

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    I can't think of any scenario where the Russians would avoid a space race. They're going to want ballistic missiles and satellites.
     
  18. kernals12 Well-Known Member

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    It's obvious that NASA is only going to have one blank check project so we might as well have it be the one that's the most useful.
     
  19. DougM Well-Known Member

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    You say Applo should have been cancelled outright... Based on What?

    You do realize that the reason NASA got the huge spending in the 60s was because of the “race to the moon”. How is Dyna Soar going to help get to the moon?

    The problem is NASA dumped EVERYTHING else in favor of Applo and that is where the problem is. If NASA had kept its original budget for non Applo then they could have been developing tech that would be useful post Moon Race.
     
  20. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

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    It wouldn't.