11-05-07, 09:00 PM #101
C'mon China, kick-start the next space-race already, will ya!
Honestly, I wonder if the shuttle is such a bad idea after all. Sure, it's the first of it's kind, and like anything 1st generation, it's going to have its bugs and downsides, and with a project as advanced as a shuttle the room for downsides was as large as it has actually become. However, a new, 2nd generation reusable vehicle could have vast improvements. I'm just a student in Aerospace engineering (in otherwords, I can't totally justify these statements and I have an idealistic edge), but here's what I think would be some pointers for a new manned, reusable vehicle for transfer of people/cargo to LEO:
-Use a higher-tolerance, overbuilt design that can take a beating and some wear and tear during reuse, with the goal to have a simple craft with as few maintenance requirements as possible, and thus lowering operating costs.
-Use heat shielding other than a tiled substance, either a single coat of some new material or a re-applyable ablative material such as a metal shell made of some common metal alloy on the bottom of the craft that can be removed in a single piece for recycling to be either a new shield or just scrap metal.
-If the vehicle requres boosters (likely), the boosters should be capable of somehow returning themselves to the launch facility with automatic pilot, perhaps by giving them small wings so they can land on a runway. The boosters should also have systems that can be used and refueled several times before maintenance is required, liquid or hybrid-fueled could work. This is in contrast to the shuttle's solid-rocket boosters that fall into the ocean (corrosive salt-water), need to be helicoptered out, shipped to ATK's plant to have them taken appart, put together again.. etc. etc. etc. after every single launch.
-Make a smaller vehicle with a cockpit that only holds maybe two or three people, but the vehicle would have a cargo bay large enough to render the vehicle economically viable as a satilite launch/recovery vehicle. The cargo bay should be built so it can also be locked shut semi-permanently, pressurized and climate controlled, so that passengers or a habitat/lab can reside in the cargo bay.
-The vehicle should contain enough onboard navigation systems of simple and reliable nature such that the vehicle can operate and plot trajectories with minimal or even no vehicle-specific ground-based-monitoring efforts, much like a modern aircraft.
Dunno, just my thoughts. In all likelyhood a design study would show a vehicle like this would be pretty heavy for it's size and require boosters that would use fuel at unfeasible levels for any profitable commercial use. But hey, just some ideas
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