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Author Topic: Do we need a shuttle?  (Read 9359 times)

Offline CliffordK

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Do we need a shuttle?
« on: 18/07/2011 09:29:02 »
There has been discussion over the last couple of years about the end of the US Space Shuttle Program.

And, as of yet, any kind of a replacement has been deadlocked.

So, now we are left without a space shuttle. 

Do we need it?  It certainly brought a lot of manned space flights into space and presumably was important in the repairs of the Hubble and the construction of the International Space Station.

However, what is also clear about the program is that despite technically being re-usable, the program was extraordinary expensive, and in many senses, ordinary rockets would have been more economical for many of the launches.

There is talk about the hole from the shuttle program being filled by the private sector, but I can't find any information of private "heavy lifter" re-usable space planes.  And, I'm somewhat doubtful that a private company would pick up the tab for the quarter-trillion dollar shuttle program.  The SpaceShipOne was somewhat revolutionary in its flight, but it was quite marginal in its capabilities.

Personally, I think that if there is a true need for a shuttle program, that one shuttle should be prepared for launch, and then put into long-term standby.  But, even so, if it is mothballed for more than a couple of years, then I doubt that it could be brought back to a safe launch-ready status in a month or so.

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Offline syhprum

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #1 on: 18/07/2011 18:41:45 »
I see great similarity between the shuttle project and the Concorde a misguided effort to convert a supersonic bomber into an air liner.
Very early in their development it was soon found that they would be pretty useless but once the projects got underway they took on a momentum of their own with many vested interests.
only a few billion were wasted on concorde but vastly more on shuttle
« Last Edit: 19/07/2011 13:10:49 by syhprum »
 

Offline CliffordK

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #2 on: 19/07/2011 00:48:24 »
Interesting analogy.

The Concorde made a lot of flights (and the TU-144 a few).  I had a friend who wanted to try a flight on the Concorde before it shut down, but it was unbelievably expensive.  I believe there is an effort to make the Concorde-II.  It will likely have a market.  Will the clientèle of the new Concorde be concerned with fuel prices?  "Green Travel"?


What about permanently parking a shuttle at the International Space Station.  It could be used for low orbit space-to-space missions (wouldn't need heat shields and wings for that), but, it could also be kept prepared for an emergency descent if ever required.
 

Offline Don_1

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #3 on: 19/07/2011 10:33:21 »
I think for the foreseeable future, economics will have the final say, and it will be a resounding 'NO'.

The search for evidence of life is scientifically interesting, but unlikely to ever produce anything of commercial value.

Harvesting useful minerals from other planets is so very far in the future that it is unlikely to attract commercial interest. The time between investment and return could be hundreds of years.

For the time being, I think space is something we can ill afford, which is a great shame.
 

Offline simplified

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #4 on: 19/07/2011 11:07:35 »
The saved money without a political pressure will not create any useful thing.
 Superfluous hamburgers on a table of a fat man. :D
 

Offline yor_on

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #5 on: 20/07/2011 01:41:24 »
How about that private enterprise in the States?
SpaceX?
 

Offline Ophiolite

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #6 on: 21/07/2011 11:03:46 »
The shuttle was a political compromise and hence a technological nightmare. A heavy duty transport for humans to LEO is essential. It is likely that the private sector will be forthcoming in this arena within the decade.

The commercialisation of space will increase through space tourism, initially in the form of sub-orbital flights, but expanding to include full launch to orbit, probably as a spin off from the provision of ferry services to the ISS. Bigelow, or some other entrepeneur will develop LEO hotels.

By that time two further things will have happened: the US manned program will receive a funding boost when the Chinese make their first moon landing and establish a part time base there; launch costs will have dropped, in relative and absolute terms. If the Obama manned asteroid visit is implemented that can provide a seed for exploitation of near-Earth asteroids.

The future is coming, just more slowly than we would have liked.
 

Offline Airthumbs

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #7 on: 22/07/2011 00:20:20 »
America could take the lead in space if it built a space lift..?
 

Offline CliffordK

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #8 on: 22/07/2011 01:32:28 »
America could take the lead in space if it built a space lift..?

A space elevator is still very much in the realm of theory.  Earth's Geosynchronous orbit is 26,000 miles.  At this point we don't have any materials with adequate tensile strength.  And the construction of such a lift would require transporting thousands of tons of cable up into space, as well as configuring an adequate counterweight. 

Perhaps an alternative would be a stepping stone approach with pairs of orbiting craft connected together.  Still, it would be a monumental task to construct anything of significant utility.
 

Offline Ophiolite

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« Reply #9 on: 22/07/2011 02:25:48 »
America could take the lead in space if it built a space lift..?
Any country that built a space elevator or sky hook would take the lead in space, materials science and geopolitics.
 

Offline Supercryptid

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #10 on: 22/07/2011 22:18:00 »
I'd prefer a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) concept, myself. Ideas have been floating around for them. Reaction Engines Ltd. Skylon being one example.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #11 on: 23/07/2011 01:11:44 »
I'd prefer a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) concept, myself. Ideas have been floating around for them. Reaction Engines Ltd. Skylon being one example.
Interesting.

Although part of the idea with the Shuttle was having reusable (recyclable) solid fuel boosters that would fall back to Earth without achieving the elevation and velocity to burn up on re-entry.

Personally I like the Space-X White Knight approach (also used on the North American X-15).
But, would design a conventional launch plane that could reach Mach-4 speeds for brief periods.  Transporting the capsule to the edge of space. 

Conducting a high-speed release in space (less wind) would increase the safety margin over doing it in the atmosphere.

Oxygen is about 8x as heavy as Hydrogen, and it would be most practical to use atmospheric oxygen for fuel as long as possible, as well as utilizing lift from the air.  Hot Nitrogen from the air also acts as a free propellant.
 

Offline grizelda

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #12 on: 23/07/2011 09:39:49 »
Not a dime should have been spent on manned space missions. If all the money had gone to improving robotics, we would be light years ahead in the results of our explorations.
 

Offline CliffordK

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #13 on: 23/07/2011 23:39:57 »
Not a dime should have been spent on manned space missions. If all the money had gone to improving robotics, we would be light years ahead in the results of our explorations.

Light Years?  Our most distant UNMANNED probe has only traveled a few light hours in the last 34 years!!!

Why should chimpanzees and rats have all the fun?

We certainly have sent out numerous probes, and manned expeditions any further than our own moon are still very much in a basic conceptual stage.

I am, however, beginning to think that the shuttle was a great proof of concept.  But, we didn't really need a whole fleet of them.  A capsule with a single heat shield on the bottom and parachute/ocean landings seems to be a much more efficient use of our resources, at least when doing land-based vertical takeoffs.  And if one chooses reusing/recycling, there is no reason why one couldn't build a basic reusable capsule.  Or perhaps choose a modular design so that some major components would get reused, and others upgraded.

Certainly in the future if we choose interstellar missions, there will be choices of sending humans, plants, embryos, and etc, vs building intelligent, perhaps self-replicating computer systems. 

Perhaps there is no true economic reason to do so, but I would like to see humanity eventually spread to the major planets and moons of our solar system.  It would certainly become a redundant backup in case the earth ever becomes unfit to support humanity.  But, there is no way to do so without doing a few tentative bunny-hops on the moon!!!
 

Offline !mater

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #14 on: 24/07/2011 22:30:34 »

The spacefountain is a nice alternative to a lift, but similar unrealistic. Seeing that no spacefaring species was observed by now, we can conclude that the sky is pretty much cradle and graveyard in one. From time to time some live gets going, does its first technological steps, encounters heavy difficulties with found technology, the high walls that are the gravity wells and lightspeed, and even more dangerous, its very own sociological structures (look at humanity, we barely get a stable, advancing society in country's with constant abundance), deadlocked conservative society everywhere else.

I know this will spark fire and flames, but if the money for the space program would went into some problem solving down here, building a solid basis for a post-oil sience-able-society, i would gladly sacrifice a shuttle today, to get a space elevator five hundred years into tomorrow.

newbielink:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_fountain [nonactive]
 

Offline Airthumbs

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #15 on: 25/07/2011 00:13:29 »
I've been wondering, why where the space shuttles brought back to earth on the final flight?  Could they not have been left attached to the ISS for use in further space exploration?  The astronauts could have used an alternative means of returning back to earth and would have delivered a very valuable space vehicle.

They could have been refueled up there and used as a means of transporting things to the moon.

I feel that there was a huge missed opportunity here and wonder what other people here in the forum think about this?

 

Offline CliffordK

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #16 on: 25/07/2011 01:27:35 »
I've been wondering, why where the space shuttles brought back to earth on the final flight?  Could they not have been left attached to the ISS for use in further space exploration?  The astronauts could have used an alternative means of returning back to earth and would have delivered a very valuable space vehicle.
I already asked that... a few posts above.

I think the International Space Station was designed as a Depot for conducting space experiments, rather than being designed as a "space port". 

If it was more of a space port, with a maintenance wing.  Then if a satellite blows out a solar panel, or looses an instrument, it would be easy enough to send a space craft out there, conduct the repair, and get it back on track.  Some of our satellites like IceSat essentially just wore out, and with no maintenance or upgrades, the decision was made to destroy them.  Others just run out of fuel.  Obviously technology changes and eventually needs to be upgraded, but in some cases it may be more economical to send a new camera or computer module than to send a new satellite.

One of the problems with the ISS is that it is in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  But we have satellites in many different orbits.  Some with polar orbits.  Some with Geosynchronous orbits.  It might be cumbersome to move a shuttle to other orbits, especially with such a big and bulky craft.  Someone else mentioned the benefits of robotics.  Perhaps one should create a specialized manned or unmanned repair craft that could be docked at the ISS, and keep a few spare supplies at the ISS.

I also wonder why they never bothered to deliver empty auxiliary fuel tanks to the ISS.  In theory it would be like a conex box in space.  It could be made into all sorts of things, and I presume it could take, or could be designed to take atmospheric pressure as an extension of the station.  Oxygen is delivered to the ISS as water (16 pts oxygen, 2 pts hydrogen).  And the excess hydrogen which could be used as a rocket fuel component is just discarded.

There certainly are benefits of using a uniform design for the rockets.  However, a lot could be done with multipurpose components.  So, if one needs a new hallway for the ISS, one could build a rocket with a fueltank that incorporates the hallway as part of the structure.

I also wonder if it could ever be economical to do space recycling.  Say if one wanted to make a low-cost space port at the Earth/Moon L1 point.  Then one might be able to collect some old solar panels, and other bits that have been sent to space.  If nothing else, a theoretical plasma engine might be able to use satellite waste as fuel.  Skylab or the Mir could have been added as extra wings to the International Space Station.
 

Offline Airthumbs

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #17 on: 25/07/2011 02:32:19 »
CliffordK, I missed the post above about the shuttle, it seems quite a few of us have wondered about what seems to be a waste of efficiency when it comes to space. 

I imagine all the empty main fuel tanks launched into space would have made quite a considerably large structure if somehow moved to the moon from earth orbit. 

Still we don't have the answers and we are definitely too late to inform NASA they might be wasting billions by throwing away all this useful kit.

The whole concept of the shuttles were that they could be re-used but this does not seem to apply to anything else sent into orbit.  All the possibilities that seem to have been wasted, even the cargo bay of the shuttle could have been modified to enable lunar access.  The end of the shuttle era is really like the end of a dream and the moon seems to be getting further and further away.....  [V]
 

Offline CliffordK

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #18 on: 25/07/2011 05:36:06 »
Obviously astronauts sent to space need a ride back down, so all the craft can't be parked up there, but after delivering a payload to space, there should be more empty capacity for a return flight.

Getting to the moon is a big problem as the distances and speeds from Low Earth Orbit are still quite considerable.  And if one is wanting to send vessels to the moon, they would need to be landed gently. 

As we move to space, a moon-port, and an Earth-Moon L1 port would be the next logical step. 

Many of the materials that one would need for a lunar based space program are plentiful including Iron, Aluminum, Silicone, and even Oxygen.  I suppose one issue is that the moon may not have the tectonic instabilities that have led to concentrated minerals on Earth. 

It may also take a number of years to build up a manufacturing infrastructure capable of supporting local needs plus shooting for the stars, but I would anticipate that anybody colonizing the moon would choose to support endeavors such as lunar telescopes and orbital accelerators (which would be much easier to build with lower gravity and less atmosphere).
 

Offline Airthumbs

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« Reply #19 on: 26/07/2011 19:21:13 »
Many of the materials that one would need for a lunar based space program are plentiful including Iron, Aluminum, Silicone, and even Oxygen.  I suppose one issue is that the moon may not have the tectonic instabilities that have led to concentrated minerals on Earth. 

I have often wondered at the composition of the moon and what kind of useful elements and minerals we might find there.  The most popular theory for the creation of the moon is that it formed after an object collided with the Earth.  You mention tectonic instabilities on Earth leading to concentrations of minerals.  Would the rapid formation of the moon not constitute a faster version of what takes place on Earth?
 

Offline yamo

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #20 on: 28/07/2011 17:53:32 »
I think manned space flight is the purpose of space exploration.  We need a way to escape this planet, to escape this solar system.  You gotta crawl before you run but run we must or perish.
« Last Edit: 08/08/2011 10:45:36 by yamo »
 

Offline Airthumbs

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #21 on: 28/07/2011 18:09:38 »
I think manned space flight is the purpoes of space exploration.  We need a way to escape this planet, to escape this solar system.  You gotta crawl before you run but run we must or perish.

I had a conversation with someone once explaining that unless we do inhabit another place in our solar system it would most likely mean the end of us.  His response caught me by surprise, he said that I was a coward and I was scared of dying!!  So if we do inhabit another place can we leave these people behind..
 

Offline CliffordK

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #22 on: 30/07/2011 18:36:23 »
Many of the materials that one would need for a lunar based space program are plentiful including Iron, Aluminum, Silicone, and even Oxygen.  I suppose one issue is that the moon may not have the tectonic instabilities that have led to concentrated minerals on Earth. 

I have often wondered at the composition of the moon and what kind of useful elements and minerals we might find there.  The most popular theory for the creation of the moon is that it formed after an object collided with the Earth.  You mention tectonic instabilities on Earth leading to concentrations of minerals.  Would the rapid formation of the moon not constitute a faster version of what takes place on Earth?
I don't think so.
For example, gold is often found in veins with gold in almost pure concentrations due to separating below the surface, and then slowly rising.  Lava, on the other hand is also formed deep, but I believe is much more homogenous. 
However the process could have happened on Earth prior to the hypothesized Theia impact, and there may have been many years of cooling and shaping the moon's surface when a slow heterogeneous consolidation of elements could have occurred.  Many lunar meteorites apparently have a crystalline granite-like structure.
The pulverized Regolith likely adds a layer of homogeneity, but may also be the first step to extracting useful elements from the rock.
I think manned space flight is the purpose of space exploration.  We need a way to escape this planet, to escape this solar system.  You gotta crawl before you run but run we must or perish.

I had a conversation with someone once explaining that unless we do inhabit another place in our solar system it would most likely mean the end of us.  His response caught me by surprise, he said that I was a coward and I was scared of dying!!  So if we do inhabit another place can we leave these people behind..
I often wonder how the selection of colonists will be made when we choose to colonize various planets and moons around the solar system.  One might want to choose the best and brightest scientists, but there certainly will be a role for mechanics and construction workers. 

Some American colonists came to find a haven for religious ideals.  However, I would hope that colonists to new planets would be more swayed by scientific exploration and discovery.

The question of the meaning of life...  perhaps that should be another topic.  If we can design an "intelligent" computer and send it to Proxima Centauri.  Is that the same as sending humans there?  What about sending frozen embryos and a computer aided instruction system?  There is an innate drive to protect our species, but certainly the world, or the universe doesn't need humanity.  Well, perhaps, at least.  There are some predictions that our climate system that has been relatively stable for the last 4-5 billion years will soon become unstable, and succumb to a warming sun over the next billion years.  In this case, a race with advanced engineering skills may in fact be needed to save the Earth for an additional few billion years until the sun becomes too unstable.  Even so, there undoubtedly will be some future humans who are unable to escape from the solar system and will look for ways to continue.
 

Offline Airthumbs

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #23 on: 15/08/2011 03:46:57 »
Just a thought CliffordK, if we did need the shuttles then erm, well, where are they?  ;D
 

Offline Robro

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Do we need a shuttle?
« Reply #24 on: 25/08/2011 07:52:06 »
The shuttle craft concept is limited in what it can do, and it has proven to be dangerous to operate. I like the Orion vehicle currently being completed by NASA. It is safer in design than the shuttle and though it carries fewer astronauts, it will be capable of much more than the shuttle when a heavy lift vehicle is deployed in unison with it.
 

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Do we need a shuttle?
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