Could the Space Shuttle have succeeded?

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

  1. fasquardon Cosmonaut

    Sep 24, 2012
    Hm. As I remember, space station modules were what constrained the diameter of the cargo bay, but the overwhelming majority of all space station needs could be seen to with the medium length cargo bay they considered, and the bulk could be seen to with the shortest cargo bay considered. The real thing that constrained the length was spy satellites, and that length was more of a "nice to have" for space station payloads.

    I'm not sure that NASA were even wrong about manned space flight being at risk. And given how much safe deeper exploration of the Solar System needed more experience of humans in space (and still needs more experience, especially operating beyond the Van Allan belts) I'd say continuing with manned space flight has been worthwhile, even if the OTL course was probably far from ideal.

    Sure, but the mini-shuttles that were being discussed would have likely been payloads, rather than rockets, which results in a much more flexible launch system that can be more efficiently utilized.

    A slightly cheaper mini-shuttle wouldn't be that big a change, but if the launch system for that mini shuttle means there is no Titan IV débâcle, well, that's a whole mess of money that the DoD can spend on other things and a more stable launch market since there's been no lurch towards shuttle-compliance and then a lurch away from it as in OTL. More US companies buy launches from US launch providers, including Atlas and Delta launches since the mini-shuttle would need to be a more specialized beast and thus there'd be no drive to consolidate all US launches on that one vehicle.

    A smaller shuttle could also have been launched more often, and as mentioned before, a really big problem with OTL's shuttle was that it launched so seldom so the fixed costs of pad maintenance (which NASA charged to the biggest program, so during the shuttle years the shuttle program), mission control maintenance, program management, propellant management etc. etc. were spread over only a few launches.

    If the carrier rocket is being launched from the Cape with commercial satellites, even though the actual mini shuttles are unlikely to see much more use than OTL's shuttle (that is, it's hard to see the manned program sending many more people up, though even 1 more manned launch in a year would make a big difference to cost-effectiveness), that'll make a big difference to cost per launch and thus perceived success of the program.

    Sure, but there's a big difference to a space race of the Soviet kind, where the focus is on bread and butter military needs and occasionally using the hardware developed for that to grab the odd headline and to push forward blue-sky science and a space race of the Apollo program kind where the focus is square on grabbing headlines and proving superiority, with a secondary focus on blue-sky science.

    While the Soviets did make a token effort to join the moon race once they realized the Americans were serious, they spent a pittance on it - it was quite clearly not a priority for them the way it was in the late 70s and the 80s to match the US "orbital bomber" (as they thought the space shuttle was, since their engineers could do the math and knew fine well that the shuttle could never deliver the civilian benefits the US claimed the US was building it for).

    Hm. It really depends on what's been happening during the 70s. I see three possibilities:

    1) Space Station first, manned spaceflight continues without interruption with Apollo/Skylab program hardware and gradually being upgraded/replaced with new components designed over the 70s and 80s. Not a bad way to go, but likely it leads to a less ambitious shuttle being started in the early 80s. There are some benefits, some drawbacks. A space station program would certainly allow NASA to retain and even advance some of the experience and technology that would help with a shuttle, and there would be some improvements in general technology. For example, the glue for the shuttle's tiles came late in the 70s, and the delay did require some emergency funding from the Carter presidency. With a later shuttle design, glue technology will be better meaning that delay is likely avoided. Further, metallurgy will be a bit better, composite technology a bit better, computer technology enormously better... But it's hard to see NASA getting the funding it did for OTL's shuttle, NASA itself will probably have had to shrink, valuable people with experience from the Apollo era will have retired or moved to new careers. The shuttle that comes out of this mix of advantages and disadvantages might be better for the kind of program Congress has proven willing to maintain in the long run, but whatever advantages this shuttle would have over that of OTL, technology won't be a big part of it.

    2) Space probe first, Nixon takes Apollo 13 worse and/or is more impressed by the probe lobby, the US manned program is allowed to atrophy to something below even the Soviets. NASA gets loads of valuable blue-sky science done, but pretty near none of it is applicable to the shuttle and the agency loses most of the institutional experience from the Apollo era. Honestly, I would doubt that we'd even get a mini-shuttle in such a TL. Either way, the loss of capacity in the manned program would more than outweigh the gain from new technology.

    3) The US eats the humiliation and lets its space program wither over the 70s with an OTL level of commitment to probes and a sub-Soviet manned program. Basically as (2), but without the windfall of science a serious set of probe programs would provide.

    Of course, if the shuttle were put off until the 80s, if Reagan gets in, we are likely to see something like OTL's Star Wars burst of funding in the late 80s and the early 90s. Now, a shuttle that was started in the early 80s would be too far along to make serious design changes to in the late 80s, but such a shuttle program could see "blue" vehicles being built for the USAF and additional vehicles built for NASA. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing depends on the exact infrastructure chosen and what kind of program Congress are willing to fund in the 90s.

    If the shuttle started development as part of the Star Wars rush, well, I'm not sure if a shuttle would really be interesting to the people wanting to build orbital cannons. Reagan was not much of a space cadet and even if such a late shuttle could get better funded as part of expanding US space capabilities, it likely would have to be designed much more around USAF desires, which could result in a shuttle even more burdened by capabilities it doesn't need, because whatever happens, the laws of physics say Star Wars is a dead end, which means NASA will get lumped with the vehicles as the USAF eventually exits the program.

    Well, the problem is, even if a super low-cost to orbit system would create demand, that will take time, which means the US government needs to be interested in subsidizing a vastly over-capable infrastructure for as long as it takes for enough customers to appear.

    Not only do people need to design payloads, raise money for those payloads, buy insurance for those payloads, they also need confidence in the reliability of the infrastructure and the reliability of the US government's commitment to keeping that infrastructure going. You're also talking about companies needing to train up their own astronauts and their own mission control people so that they can do this construction and R&D work in orbit and coordinate their people.

    Now, the US government did play a huge role in creating a commercial satellite market, so it's not like Congress was unwilling to spend money to help create the market, but, well, there wasn't the willingness to spend a few hundred million (in 1970 USD) to make the shuttle vastly more capable and there wasn't the willingness to build a shuttle fleet that was optimal in terms of economies of scale.

    There certainly wasn't the willingness to spend the billions it would take to make private crystal and pharmaceutical R&D possible or the hundreds of billions it would take to make SPS economical. Especially since after the first prototype SPS, further SPSs really need Lunar industrialization to be economical, which means the US has effectively committed itself to spending a % or two of GDP on a Lunar colony for a generation or two.

    The X-20 Dyna Soar was a dead end. They weren't anywhere near their aims for the test vehicle, and a vehicle that could actually do anything useful was even deeper in fantasy land.

    The wings had some utility, since it meant the underside of the orbiter experienced radically less heating/unit area. And of course, wings allow runway landing, which vastly simplifies recovery.

    And I am not sure that a space helicopter or hopper type lander would have been practical before the 90s...

    And even in the 90s, the space-helicopter concept scaled badly (I consider it a great tragedy that Scaled Composites abandoned their very promising work on the smaller version of the Roton, and tried to build an over-sized version). They are for sure super interesting and I think the concept will be very useful down the road, but in the 1970s, for even a vehicle as small as the smallest mini-shuttles considered, let alone the 80 tonne monster that is the OTL orbiter, I don't think it would at all be a good path.

    The special effects did not exist to fake a moon landing until this century, not to mention, people were tracking the Apollo missions with telescopes. If they tried this, everyone with a basic education on the subject or with decent amateur radio or amateure astronomy skills would be able to see glaring signs of fakery and the Soviets would have an absolute field day.

    Last edited: Sep 11, 2019 at 11:05 AM
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  2. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

    Jun 8, 2011
    So long as the Cold War is underway - if the Soviets are flying people to space, the United States will have to as well.

    At least, the political pressure to that end will be considerable.
  3. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    The plausibility and feasibility depend on who gets the second contract and despite everyone assuming Orion is tied to the SLS in fact Lockheed CAN propose a 'commercial' version at any point. And as you point out Dreamchaser would be something NASA would support as a replacement for crew. (Still a big "wings-n-wheels" contingent around :) ) Time and funding are not factors for Congressional thinking outside a narrow window for election purposes we all know that by now. CONTROLLING that funding and therefor where and whom it is spent on is. If NASA can plausibly see an alternative (and again there are at least two in the wings if not a few more that could be pushed by various factions) they can't really argue OTHER than "it's currently in use and certified" which as an argument can only go so far with Congress.

    Congress has not gotten over being 'forced' (technically it was NASA and the DoD I know but it was pretty clear that both groups were not really fighting allowing SpaceX to play so...) to give SpaceX a spot at the table and despite losing the main opposition (Rohrabacher, who up until Musk started to give him campaing contributions was constantly trying to get Musk investigated and SpaceX shut out of government contracts) it has only been the outspoken intensity which has disappeared. Make no mistake, Congress is well aware, (and though Musk and SpaceX tend to downplay the fact their fans tend to crow it out loud) that BFR/Starship is very much a threat to not only operations of the SLS but to all it's past justifications and expense too. Congress caries organizational grudges by stuffing and mounting them and displaying them in the lobby for all to see :)

    Which was my point since between them NASA and the DoD have only a dozen plus or so flights scheduled so it they ONLY produce Falcon 9's for those flights. And keep in mind that so far both NASA and the DoD are requiring 'new' boosters for those flights which means they can then be 're-flown' for commercial flights so they don't have to build more.

    Your linked article even says that NASA is highly interested in this work and they will 'pay' for the use of NASA faciltites and personnel while SpaceX will pay its "share" (mostly personnel costs and some materials) in turn. There is still a BIG segment of non-managment NASA that is very supportive and advocate orbital depot work. Despite both several of the past few Administrators and Congress being against depots has not reduced that enthusiasim. They want to make this work and Congress, in its wisdom, (Ya, well go with that word :) ) has provided a number of ways to fund that through the commercial out-reach programs. Congress managed to starve the effort of funds when it was JUST NASA but can't do so in this case without endangering the deals these programs were designed to funnel money to.

  4. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    Litterally Apples and Oranges here as it is not the "Apollo Program" (which encompased building the infrastructure as well as the vehicles for both Gemini and Apollo itself) but the individual cost for the particular vehicle research, development and production program. In which case Dynasoar loses even worse. Compared to the Apollo CM the only thing it had going for it was it "might" be reusable, (there were questions even at the time on how reusable it might actually be) and it "should" be able to make a pilot controlled landing at a place of the pilots choosing. (Might because it was suffering from mass problems already and had not even been glide tested yet)
    Other than that it one (1) crew member versus Apollo's three (3), limited life support, and manuevering (even with the trans-stage) and no abiilty to dock or manuever to an external vehicle such as a space station and/or spacecraft.

    Should it have been pursued anyway? Yes it should have and had the Air Force cooperated more with NASA and given them some 'buy-in' on the vehicle then it would have been more likely it would have been taken over by NASA as an actual "X" vehicle program. (Albeit at a low priority due to the Lunar goal but at least it might have gotten to drop and low powered rocket testing) Yes it could have allowed some testing applicable to the Shuttle IF it had ever gone orbital but it's not clear HOW much it would have applied given the very real and numerous design differences involved between the two. Now interestingly enough NASA had originally planned an "X" type vehicle mini-shuttle using the actual orbiters mold-line. They were going to fly rocket powered profiles from sub-sonic to near hypersonic in a similar manner to the X-15 to test the aerodynamics and flight characteristics of the design. Unfortunatly the cost was deemed to be excessive and instead computer flight simulations were run. Doing so would likely have shown up a few of the orbiters more 'quirky' flight charateristics in time to try and do something about them but...

  5. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

    Jun 8, 2011
    Actually, NASA has been allowing the launch of Cargo Dragons on previously flown Falcon 9's this year. On CRS-18 in July, SpaceX used B1056.1, which had previously launched another Dragon mission to ISS.

    As for the Defense Department: They *did* approve the use of previously flown side cores on USAF STP-2 in June.

    I think that both agencies are coming around, slowly, on reusability.
  6. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

    Jun 8, 2011
    Sure, there will be some outlay of funds for this cooperative agreement, but it's going to be pretty nominal. It's not like this is a development program of any kind.

    NASA's expertise and data will be helpful, but when it comes to actually paying for hardware that does refueling in orbit, SpaceX is going to be writing the checks, I'm afraid. It's a pleasant surprise that Shelby hasn't erupted and covered NASA HQ in lava yet over this.
  7. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    Didn't know that and thanks but that doesn't actually "help" the case for keeping the Falcon 9 in production :)

    Now I have to wonder though if NASA will allow re-flights of the Dragon capsule? Last I'd heard they "might" let a previously flown crew-capsule to fly a cargo flight but they still weren't going to allow the same capsule to fly crew more than once.

  8. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

    Jun 8, 2011
    Not on Crew Dragons, but for cargo - yes, that's the hope.

    By "cargo," I do mean the cargo version of the new Crew Dragon, which will start flying next year.

    But at worst, that just means SpaceX has to manufacture one Crew Dragon for crew once a year for the next six years.
  9. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    Actually the main reason they are getting away with this at all is the propellants are likely to be liquid methane and LOX rather than the 'standard' LH2/LOX. That would likely mean SpaceX would have to pay for most of the hardware and equipment BUT the last couple of years NASA has been toying with methane as well. Oddly enough, the discussion is not having NASA transition to methane for upper stages and landers which Congress actually approved for research about two years ago or so... In other words NASA has 'scheduled' building facilities and infrastructure to support development and testing of various methane powered engines and tanks, AND they pretty much paid 'contractors' to do some serious development work and SpaceX would fall into this category if given half a chance.

    Shelby and company actually TRIED to block this work as non-SLS related but since ULA is going all-in on a methalox launch vehicle, ( they can't in fact block it without hitting their own contractors with the same shot :) The GOOD thing about NASA learning how to be bureaucrats is that they can also learn how to be GOOD bureaucrats :)

  10. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    That should be "at best" not at worst, keep in mind we're arguing reasons to KEEP production going and not ramp it down. I do note that SpaceX has a Bigelow payload scheduled to go up, (didn't see a date) so maybe... ?

  11. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    Keep in mind that NASA had just pulled off an "impossible", (nobody took the US seriously when with only about 15 minutes of space experiance and nothing but dinky Atlas and Titan's to launch on they said they were going to the Moon in under 10 years...) task so they naturally assumed they could do it again. They DID look at the then current state of the art and (in context) determined that while the technology and capabiity were not currently in hand, (just like it was for going to the Moon and back in 1962) it could be done with enough money and effort.
    Where they fell down was the fact they were going to be on a VERY tight budget and that never really sank in until far to late.

    And as noted it was likely that while overall "manned" spaceflight was not at risk what was at risk was a majority of that mission if they didn't have something to fly in at least activly in work.

    The S-IVB was one of the most expensive parts of the Saturn, there was a valid reason it was the first item production was stopped on when Apollo was being scaled back :) Further it's performance at sea-level was always going to be horrible so even getting it to 'hop' would be an exercise.
    You're also expecting a LOT to think that the rather conservative NASA engineers would seriously consider powered VTOL landing at the time. For one thing it was always going to be, (and will always be in fact) a 'loss' in performance due to the need to reserve propellant for landing. Wings and wheels while slightly heavier, (depends on the options) was a known and understood 'passive' landing system that allowed you to use all your propellant to push payload to orbit.

    They probably did know it but the problem is things only get funded and researched when its "needed" and shelved when its not and that wasn't the direction they were looking to go.

    I'd argue that it was less the "silly" USAF requirements but more NASA's bias' and assumptions and the lack of an alternative at the time. I'd agree using legacy Apollo hardware (IMO specifically Satuarn 1B, a cheaper S-IVB, and Apollo CM/SM) was probably a better decision but that was a problem because production on almost everything was being shut down in 1968 and by 1972 it was being scrapped. And there's the issue with getting Congress to re-start production which isn't going to be cheap. Likely cheaper than Shuttle development, but it still has capability and support issues. (And as I noted the Air Force would be aggressivly pushing Titan to replace any Saturn based system) But I've pointed out in a different thread that it's possible for Saturn 1B to lead to recovery and reuse which could then evolve into a reusable TSTO vehicle. I just wouldn't expect any powered landings any time soon :)

  12. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

    Jun 8, 2011
    Given that we can *reasonably* expect that NASA will keep using Dragons so long as ISS is operational, and that (barring catastrophe) ISS will stay flying until 2028-30, this means . . . SpaceX should be cranking out Crew Dragons for another decade. With Cargo, it is more likely they produce a small handful and just keep reusing them, it seems. Either way, that should keep the production lines open for long enough that there's no need to fret until SpaceX is quite certain that BFR/Starship is really going to succeed.

    Likewise with Falcon 9/Heavy: Reuse may cut down drastically on the need produce new ones, but it seems almost inevitable that they'll keep some minimal output for at least as long as NASA and DoD contracts require them (2027-28, as I see it). And given that Starlink is going to be requiring so many launches (24 launches in 2020 alone, according to Shotwell yesterday!), one has to expect a certain amount of attrition. So again, I'm not really worried here. I think they keep cranking out a least a few per year.

    With Bigelow, given what a mess that company is, I won't believe it does anything on this scale until I see the payload loaded into a fairing. Honestly, I think SNC is far better on track to be a first wave provider of commercial LEO stations and modules....
  13. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

    Jun 8, 2011
    Yeah, but until it actually happens, though...

    But SpaceX can't wait. They need on-orbit refueling to work for this architecture to work, and they need to start working on it right away. And God only knows what spanners Shelby will throw into the works if NASA actually tried to do something more ambitious with SpaceX on this score.

    This is why Starlink really needs to work, because this won't be cheap, even on SpaceX corporate culture.
  14. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    Actually the other way around, NASA had already decided that the Shuttle would be designed to carry the largest proposed space station module and THEN went looking to get Air Force input on what they would need for their satellites. And the thing was the figures they got were WRONG as they were told by a certain "Under-Secretary of the Air Force" who was actually in charge of the NRO. Since he wasn't telling them what they wanted AND wasn't clearly "in charge" of the Air Force program they ignored him. NASA fought any 'small' shuttle because it could not carry the payload they wanted and continued to insist the cargo bay size was driven by "Air Force" requirements just like the delta wings, (also something NASA was adamant about having) were.

    They weren't likely wrong as Congress had its sights set on cutting it as much as possible but a lot of that was because since Apollo had consumed everything and there was so little to plan future developments there was no broad consensus or ground-work laid to support any post-Apollo program. AAP was always just an interim program and it was more shoe-string and a placeholder as anything else. That it ended up being nothing but Skylab and ASTP is understandable given the context. The main and biggest problem was the fact that NASA management simply could not accept that once Apollo was over they would no longer enjoy top priority and a huge budget hence the Apollo Paradigm Cult that still exists.

    My thinking is that a NASA that starts out with less support and priority can learn to be lean and efficient with probably a broader range of space activity under its belt. You state:

    And the first article points directly to the problem NASA had transitioning from a “anything to get the job done” organization to one where you need to operate within the hierarchy of other agencies and government priorities. (Pournelle’s “Law” is disputed btw since, very often the two groups either learn to cooperate and/or share goals which invalidates his basic assumption of bureaucracy becoming rapidly incompetent and self-serving. IT DOES happen often but is not universal) The struggle to adapt basically required the organization that got the US to the Moon to be broken and re-built from the ground up. That has not happened but instead we’ve had a steady evolution that was significantly delayed by the inbred resistance to change and reality that was the legacy of Apollo.

    NASA has finally appeared to learn to play the game and is getting running using the system against itself, (in the same manner all other agencies have been doing forever) in a limited way. Now had NASA remained its original form which descended from several under-funded but critical organizations which were both conservative and innovative then it is likely it would have been vastly further ahead in the ‘game’ given the underlying experience. As it was Apollo broke THAT mold and tossed it aside for an unsustainable and unrealistic organization that while successful with the Lunar goal was obviously unsuited for post-Lunar operations as “just” another agency of the US government.

    Pournelle’s problem is he’s still a part of the “Cargo Cult” and worse yet he’s a disappointed and betrayed “ex-member” so he blames NASA for everything. He did before DC-X got approved and he did after it was shut down even though it ‘proved’ pretty much everything he’d been advocating EXCEPT SSTO being the most viable option for space launch, which is why he’s still pissed at NASA J

  15. Athelstane Anglo-Saxon Troublemaker

    Jun 8, 2011
    Actually, the quote you are responding to was from me, not Fasquardon!

    What Pournelle would say here, I think, is that when "the two groups either learn to cooperate and/or share goals," it's increasingly on the terms of the second group, and the former become ever more marginalized.

    Now, it is not impossible for a sufficiently disruptive event to change the dynamic - see World War II and BuOrd, for example - but it really would take something on that scale. Similarly, the absolute, disruptive urgency of a deadline for Apollo helped delay the bureaucratization of NASA, as Murray and Cox (rightly) read it. I think this is the hope with Trump/Pence's insistence (notwithstanding Trump's ego needs) of a 2024 deadline; but I fear that far more pressure is going to be needed to provide the disruption needed to shake NASA out of its inertia, and no White House is going to havethe political capital to spend to create that pressure, short of the discovery of a killer asteroid. CLPS is a nice and encouraging thing to see, but it's chickenfeed at the margins. Likewise with COTS/CRS: nice as it is, it's still just an adjunct to the program of record, which operates on the same bureaucratic and political terms that NASA POR's have since the early 1970's. Alas.

    I think this is why my expectations of a NASA that never underwent the Space Race are pretty modest. It would not have built up an Apollo Cargo Cult, but it would still be subject to the same congressional politics and the same dynamic of bureaucratization. The hopeful diference would be, perhaps, that its ambitions would be scaled back, and that it might have a better chance of proceeding with more incremental efforts in its program of record. An example of this is the massive late 70's fight between JSC and MSFC over an incremental versus "whole enchilada" architecture of a LEO station for the Shuttle to service. In OTL, JSC won this battle; in a non-Space Race timeline, there is a better chance that the MSFC strategy would prevail in some form.

    Actually, Jerry Pournelle's real problem is that he's dead, two years ago this week. :(

    I'm really not quite clear on what you're trying to say about DC-X here, though.
  16. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    And then there's this:

    This isn't a "new" idea btw but dates back to before "T/Space's" Lunar lander and CEV concept. (

    And for some reason the link didn't publish like I thought it did :) Yes you not Fasquadron.

    He would and he'd have still been wrong as it's not a "law" but a possibility.

    See here's the thing Apollo didn't "delay" the bureaucratization of NASA it destroyed the well-honed bureaucratization that NASA inherited from NACA and AMBA in favor of a goal focus, goal at any cost, budget and priority obsessed organization which has now struggled for over 50 years trying to ‘fit’ back into the government and public needs rather than their own desires. THIS was known to be a danger in the manner that the US went to the Moon but it was accepted as required to meet the goal. And rightly since that was the ONLY way to do so but it does not age well and ‘relearning’ the lessons thrown away over even NACA’s history was the major cause of NASA’s problems.

    The problem is there should be NO “program of record” as that always and inevitable eats the budget and focus of the agency which has far too many responsibilities to allow that to keep happening. This is exactly the ‘lesson’ NASA needs to un-learn and move away from and no, setting them another “impossible” goal, (while providing no money to actually make it happen) isn’t going to do anything but reduce NASA’s credibility even further. (Which may actually be the point if you look at it in a paranoid way)

    I’d say you’re correct in this assessment BUT I’ll point out that the dynamics and bureaucratization would already be in place and better able to ‘game’ the governmental “dynamics and bureaucratization” towards a more equitable outcome. If NASA had ALWAYS been ‘just another agency’ of the US government it would have been able to take better advantage of the priority shifts and see when support and funding would dip and rise rather than assuming constantly high rates as a normal. Glennan, Dryden and Webb had all been experienced with governmental work before taking over NASA and none of them liked the change from the original NASA to what it became. Like everyone else though they also knew it was the only way to get the job done on schedule. Sputnik caused NASA to come into existence and had the US not panicked forcing Kennedy’s hand (heck taking away the Bay of Pigs would have gone a long way towards him not picking the Lunar goal) the US space program would have been “a” priority initially and then tapered off to more a ‘maintenance’ budget and priority. Which makes it less of a target for Congress and the public which in turn means less chance of major budgets shifts and all that implies.

    Under the circumstances the shuttle, (note the size of the “s” :) ) would have been a very different thing than OTL’s version as would our space program as a whole. I’m inclined to think it’ would be better in some respects.

    Well I’d accept that MIGHT slow him down a bit but not that much

    He was very much an advocate (along with Max Hunter) of "all we need is an SSTO demonstrator" and everyone, (NASA, Congress, the Public, etc) would realize that they were the perfect and desired space launch vehicle and we'd build thousand and colonize the galaxy... By next week :) As such he was a major backer/advocate of the DC-X program and actually was disappointe when it was transfered to NASA because he expected them to kill it and always felt that they HAD done so by not developing Clipper-Graham as the X-33. The fact that SSTO's even if they DID work as advertised, (and there's litterally no reason to belive they will actually be able to operate as easy and cheaply as the advocates claim) they would only carry a fraction of the payload to orbit of say a TSTO without being huge beasts ONLY the government could afford was something he didn't want to accept.

    He of coursed blamed NASA for failing to follow up the Moon with Mars despite knowing how the budget crashed and all that followed. He blamed NASA for the Shuttle not being a success, (more for not making it easier to commercialize and 'sell' civilian Shuttles than any design issues, though he hated that it wasn't the fully reusable version) for not following up on Solar Power satellites and Space Colonization, for not supporting Space Industrialization, (and he had a point there, sort of, since NASA through the mid-80s was more hostile to commercial development) and for generally being "in the way" of opening up space. (He popularized the phrase "If it weren't for Fr****g NASA we'd be on Mars by now") For quite a while he defined the sterotype of the Space Advocate NASA hater, which while it helped push through some support of commercialization which was a good thing in general gave NASA an even worse image problem it's still dealing with today.

  17. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
  18. kernals12 Well-Known Member

    Oct 20, 2017
    That seems optimistic. NASA was projecting costs of that level with the expendable fuel tank and boosters. That means the whole problem came from the Orbiter and its diabolical ceramic tiles.
  19. ANTIcarrot Well-Known Member

    Jul 1, 2011
    On the other hand, increasing the area only helps if you have materials which can cope, and which are light enough to cover that area, and which are durable. Small and hot is something they already knew how to build.

    I didn't literally mean a space helicopter but rather the VTOL style operation. I'm also not aware of any technical limitation that would stopped them from building an automatic or piloted VTOL lander. In the worse case they use VTOL jets, and we know those work.

    S-IVB was a different width and built to be as light as possible. Grabbing a spare or just building a not-superlight version would not be impossibly expensive. The J-2-SL could produce 74 tons of thrust at an ISP of 275, which I really wouldn't describe as 'horrible'. There was also room for improvement pretty much everywhere.

    Um... Try a lot heavier, and always, irrespective of the options, and certainly more expensive. And sorry, but the shuttle was initially a radical idea, and later one that was born out of desperation, not really a conservative option.

    I wouldn't be so keen on keeping the stages but rather the equipment that plugged into them. Making the J-2 for example was still an option until 1972, and that was two years after NASA had its budget slashed, and the year they decided on the final orbiter design. They had more than enough time to course correct. Agree that TSTO is the way to go, but the S-1B itself had a lot wrong with it. You might as well start almost clean sheet.
  20. RanulfC Well-Known Member

    Mar 11, 2014
    They'd planned on moving to a "cheap Chinese knock-off" version at some point to reduce the cost though it likely would have been less robust as well. And yes there was room to improve the stage and they were aware of it and had production continued. You still need booster(s) to get it into orbit with any payload and propellant to get it back down again. What exactly are you thinking as a design type? (I’ve some ideas but want to check)

    @20% of the total vehicle mass for wings and wheels, lower G load on entry (any lifting reentry), longer but lower heat pulse, and the cross-range thing. Expensive is relative as it can be done in less expensive ways. Propulsive landing on the other hand on start at 30% and work their way down depending on how rough you can afford to land and if there are any other maneuvers to be made. "Hover-Slam" (Suicide Burn) needs about 2% of the vehicle mass at landing for propellant. Sounds great but the secondary nomenclature is important here, you're engine HAS to light at only 4 seconds from impact and no margin for error. A more conservative approach uses about anywhere between 10% and 15% for reserves, maneuver and hover before touch down. If it's bringing back passengers you'll want about 30% to cover the full margins. (

    Of course there's another option that was in fact suggested in several studies the most easy to find is the ones for SERV which used jet engines to provide final approach and landing with a very fine control. You're dry weight went up but the overall factor was about 5% due to redundancy, and more efficient mass flow. The other one you can find pretty easily, (at least Scott's article on it,, both reports cited are on NTRS but don't offer viewable copies) is PLAME. Not sure how but that's supposed to be what you get from either, “Propulsive Lift Concept for the Descent and Landing of Manned Entry Vehicles”, or “Propulsive Lift Landing Aid for Entry Vehicles” which used a turbojet engines to lift and land a manned capsule. Mass was high for the time, 20%-30% in the studies could be more or less depending on the engine type considered. Of course more modern engines would weigh less and have higher thrust/mass-flow. There's also the hybrid option where you use small rockets to drive a tip-turbine fan (can be more than one stage) which can come in at single digits.

    While the final design wasn't as conservative as originally intended, the "original" shuttle idea and concepts dated back to the 20s and the vision of how space travel would evolve. They based the vison on the airplane which was the closest analog they could connect with the public as an example. So it was assumed that "regular" space transportation would use vertically launched and horizontal landing 'ferry' rockets. The image stuck and resonated since the idea was attractive to assume space flight could become as regular and safe as air travel.

    Well using the existing tools and jigs means you're not adding on new infrastructure costs and research and development costs onto the program. Incremental improvement snd redesigns can be kept under control and budget with minimum risk. The Saturn 1/1B was a kludge I'll agree but it was improving and becoming a very versatile and capable booster all on its own. Cost would have come down with use and since the Jupiter and Redstone tank infrastructure was paid off the only infrastructure cost still outstanding was the jigs and cranes for assembling the booster which were due to be paid off by the early 70s, Tank stretches of 10 feet were planned for the next run of Saturn 1B's with 20 foot extensions’ possible with existing facilities and layout. (They would have to change the orientation of the jigs and cranes to stretch beyond about 25ft)

    The “cluster” tank layout was actually pretty efficient to the point where going with a mono-tank redesign was shelved due to cost and schedule. In addition the “spider beam” and thrust structure were more than a little bit over-engineered, to the point where they were finding large sections that could have mass shaved from it without compromising the stage strength. This meant it could still be made to be recoverable in the future as the engine refurbishment process was well defined and understood and it was unlikely that the stage would be badly damaged if landed correctly. In addition the structure also allowed the attachment of any current or planned SRB for boosting payload and performance. Couple it with a cheaper and more efficient S-IVB and reusable ‘ferry’ on top… Bonus that it can still be used for lifting larger payloads to orbit as needed

    I’d eventually want to make it a fully reusable system.

    The J2 still had a lot of potential but it takes NASA accepting the they need to keep using Apollo for a while longer and NOT trying to keep the Saturn V But at this point both Rocketdyne and Aerojet are wanting/needing a NEW engine development program to fight the aerospace slump so they weren’t really pushing for further development.

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