Should NASA Have Retired Shuttles?

Discussion in 'Science and Technology' started by 2takesfrakes, May 19, 2014.

  1. 2takesfrakes

    2takesfrakes Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Obviously, the loss of Columbia was horrifying and tragic, but retiring the entire shuttle program over that seemed like curing the flu by killing the patient - at least to me.

    Before that, the last shuttle accident like that was in the 80's - those seem like pretty good odds to me. And most of the shuttles were, in fact, made in the 80's, I realize that. But by the time Columbia had crashed and burned, it had only existed for a quarter of its design life.

    Other shuttles could've been built, and the tanks could've been further modified. But cancelling the entire program, even in favour of Orion never did seem to make sense. A Low Earth Orbital System like the shuttle does, though. It was incredibly useful, it seemed. What are your thoughts on NASA's retiring the Space Shuttle Program?
     
  2. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    The shuttle shouldn't have been built in the first place. Purpose-built craft for cargo or personnel (but not both) would have been much more efficient, whether or not they were reusable. STS compromised the payload by having to boost the shuttle itself into orbit each time.

    The idea looked great on paper when Von Braun designed the "space ferry" for building a station in orbit, and the Sänger Silverbird was designed for sub-orbital bombing runs. History didn't work out that way. We ended up making a "direct ascent/LOR" to the Moon, and then built a space station, and finally a space shuttle. All backwards.

    Orion hasn't flown yet, but private spacecraft have. Perhaps Orion will eventually catch up, but even then I wonder if it will be as efficient as private services that do not get to swill at the public trough. (I realize NASA's budget has been shrinking, but the idea that it is a civilian operation is a fiction; it is still a government agency.)
     
  3. Albertese

    Albertese Commodore Commodore

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    To put it another way, while the other NASA stuff that preceded it (Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo) were all missions looking for a vehicle, the Shuttle Program was a vehicle looking for a mission.

    Now, don't get me wrong, I would hardly call the shuttles a waste! Plenty of valuable research and transportation was done with it. However, it was not very cost effective when you consider all the surrounding expense.

    Challenger didn't stop the shuttle program, and neither did Columbia. I'm sure it would have wound down by now even if there hadn't been any losses.

    --Alex
     
  4. YellowSubmarine

    YellowSubmarine Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Falcon Heavy can carry twice the payload in mass to LEO at a fraction of the price of a Shuttle launch. So as of a year from now, the only thing that you'd be missing by not paying its exorbitant price is the mass that you can return back to Earth (was that ever ever used? that would be interesting to know). Now because the Shuttle is retired, you could build 10-20 space stations at the same price for launches. Or several space stations in geostationary orbit – and that would be real space, not several hours away by car from the Earth's surface like the ISS is.
     
  5. Squiggy

    Squiggy FrozenToad Admiral

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    The shuttle never did anything it promised. It was supposed fly a mission a month. It was supposed to be turned around to fly again within a week-or-so. It was supposed to be cheaper than rockets to deliver payloads. It was only supposed to last 20 years max.

    It was expensive, fragile, impossible to fly, and not worth the risk. They were only designed to fly for a certain amount of time and we surpassed it.

    In short: yes. For some reason, America doesn't like change. We don't want the dollar coin even though it makes more sense from every perspective. Why? Because we already have the dollar bill. The same with the shuttle. Congress and the public would never allow and/or embrace another vehicle with the shuttle still in service.
     
  6. Robert Maxwell

    Robert Maxwell Comfortably Numb Premium Member

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    The space shuttle was an expensive boondoggle that ran for a lot longer than it should've. NASA was right to ax that from the budget in favor of pursuing new designs. At the very least, we should be able to get stuff into orbit a lot more cheaply than the shuttle could do it.
     
  7. Crazy Eddie

    Crazy Eddie Vice Admiral Admiral

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    It would have been a lot more workable if they had stuck with the orbiter's original design. The massive wings were added to give the shuttle better cross-range capability so it could be used to intercept soviet spy satellites in polar orbits (another brilliant idea by the U.S. Air Force). Minus the heavier wings and the redesign of its cargo bay, the shuttle would have been about thirty tons lighter and would have launched with an external fuel tank about half as large.

    It's worse than that: the space station we built tumbled out of orbit and crashed before the space shuttle was ready to fly to it. Skylab actually would have been operable for another decade or more if Columbia had been available to service and upgrade it through the 1980s.

    The backwards progression from the Saturn V days has been fully consistent. After the loss of the station, we started using the shuttle to launch satellites; after Challenger, we stopped using the shuttle for that and used EELVs as satellites and used the shuttle only for experimental missions and occasionally for servicing very expensive objects like the Hubble. There was a flash-in-the-pan success with building the International Space Station... and then the shuttle died, and NASA is stuck buying rides on Russian spacecraft while the Air Force mainly uses robots.

    After 50 years of space exploration, our space program has finally arrived at 1962.
     
  8. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Nice summation. :guffaw: I suppose it's better than never having left 1962. That reminds me of this Cadillac ad—note the Moon comment:

    [yt]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qGJSI48gkFc[/yt]​

    After Apollo 11, the public lost interest pretty quickly. "Bored." Although I wouldn't bet on "us"—US—being the only ones going back. Some private enterpriser, like the TV series SALVAGE, will go up there, do a few donuts with one of the rovers, then haul everything back and sell it on eBay.
     
  9. Yanks

    Yanks Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Just like putting a space station on the moon didn't make sense. Lets just go to Mars (face palm) It makes no sense whatsoever to practice somewhere 3 days away vice an 8 month trip (one way) - TRIPLE FACE PALM!!

    I don't think the program should have been scrapped unless there was one in place to replace it. I'm also not opposed to the private market providing a service.

    The problem is, now we have to hitch a ride with the Ruskies... that is totally unacceptable to me.
     
  10. Relayer1

    Relayer1 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    As discussed previously, the shuttle was just wrong. It should never have been greenlit. The money could have been much better used on other launch systems.

    Looking on the bright side, if it had launched as regularly as originally hoped, there would have been a list of dead astronauts stretching into the hundreds...
     
  11. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Respectfully suggest that you have that backwards: a replacement should have been in the works long before it became necessary to retire the active system.
     
  12. feek61

    feek61 Captain Captain

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    The lack of NASA's vision is disturbing. How in the world can a system that was designed in the early 1970's and operated for over 30 years NOT have ANYTHING to replace it? Pathetic!!
     
  13. Robert Maxwell

    Robert Maxwell Comfortably Numb Premium Member

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    Not remotely NASA's fault. Blame Congress for dicking NASA around for decades.
     
  14. feek61

    feek61 Captain Captain

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    True, basically I was talking not specifically about NASA but the country as a whole. Sorry it was worded so badly, lol.
     
  15. Jedi_Master

    Jedi_Master Admiral Admiral

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    The grateful citizens of Titusville, Edgewater, and a few other FL cities send the people of the United States Congress a big thank you for preserving the Space Shuttle program for as long as they did. :)
     
  16. Yanks

    Yanks Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    It is sad there wasn't an updated program ready to go.

    Seems to me, the technology is available to create a system like this:

    http://www.universetoday.com/73536/nasa-considering-rail-gun-launch-system-to-the-stars/

    You could eliminate the need for huge chemical rockets all together.

    This was almost there:
    [​IMG]
     
  17. publiusr

    publiusr Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    I remember reading a DC-X advocate who explained problems with launch rails. To be taken with a grain of salt of course, but...
    Rail types http://web.wt.net/~markgoll/mg3.htm http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=16553.0



    That and the United States Air Force, which insisted on messing with the shuttles size--over HEXAGON http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=29244.0

    The entire Space Shuttle stack was a Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (HLLV, HLV, etc).

    The problem was that 100 tons or so was the dead mass on orbit orbiter.

    Now that isn't necessarily a bad thing. A big shuttle has mass to help hold station modules--the dog is still waging the tail, as it were.

    Remember what happened to the out of control Gemini when it released the Agena? It just made things worse.

    The problem is that the right country made the wrong shuttle.

    I have always loved the modular Energiya Buran, a true space transportation system.
    http://www.k26.com/buran/ http://www.buran.ru/htm/history.htm http://www.buran.ru/htm/mtkkmain.htm

    You had liquid fueled strap-on boosters that, had they not been Ukrainian, would have replaced R-7 and UR-500 Proton.

    These Energiya boosters, with upper stages, are known today as Zenit--named after a Vostok-based spysat of the same name. These are the LVs used by Sea Launch.
    The engine is a four nozzle RD-170-series. Cut two nozzles off, and you get the half-strength RD-180, that Atlas V uses--and is the source of much contention with SpaceX vs ULA.

    The RD-170 has as much thrust as Saturn V first stage F-1 engine, and Zenit was to launch a Super Soyuz called Zarya:
    http://www.astronautix.com/craft/zarya.htm

    Zarya now refers to an ISS segment.

    The difference between Energiya and the American shuttle is this: The orbiter had three big hydrogen engines (SSMEs), that fed from hydrogen and oxygen from the big organge External Tank--meaning you had to launch that orbiter just to get 20 tons of payload up there--about as much as Delta IV, Ariane V Titan IV, etc.

    Thus the External Tank was very like the drop tank on WWII fighters, or on the Hustler bomber. Since the orbiter had the big hydrolox engines, they could be returned to be refurbished. They took up so much space in the aft boat-tail that it forced the OMS pods into those bumps to either side of the tail fin. The propellant tanks inside them?

    --about the size of beach balls.

    That is all the fuel that orbiter had to use in space. The three SSMEs were dead once that External Tank blew off.

    The Soviet design was better.

    They had liquid Zenit strap-ons--so no Challenger disaster, and the hydrogen engines were under the External Tank itself.

    This made the orbiter much simpler. No, you couldn't re-use the hydrolox engines, but they were too much of a bother to deal with any way.


    The important thing to remember is that Energiya was an Ares V/SLS launch vehicle in its own right. It could carry a simpler orbiter with an aft boat-tail full of fuel, so Buran would have been a more capable orbiter, with nearly 30 tons of payload--or the orbiter could be swaped out with a 90 + ton payload pod like Polyus, even simpler than Shuttle C, which was pretty much just an unmanned orbiter without wings.

    And the number of Zenits could be dialed up, to surround the engine equipped Energiya core block, to form Energiya Vulkan, a near NOVA class HLLV.

    So the EELV-class Zenit liquid fueled boosters could replace R-7 and Soyuz, you had a heavy lifter for Moon missions, and a shuttle orbiter. A true system.

    Since the External Tank had the big engines, the orbiter could fly in a heads up attitude, and there would be no need to have propellant lines run along the surface of the ET, shedding foam on an underslung orbiter, like Columbia.

    With Energiya you could launch 90 ton station modules, and a big orbiter to bring 30 tons of raw materials to one side of a space factory, and return 30 tons of processed goods from the other end.

    The modular nature allowed greater flexibility--and what is more, this would have helped hypersonic research.

    With Energiya's SSME type engines under the External Tank itself, the orbiter could be switched out with hypersonic boilerplanes of near orbiter size..

    One orbiter might have a faget straight wing, another might be a giant lifting body, you could have, say a waverider scramjet craft tested at full scale.

    Had the United States gone with tis design, the 747 orbiter ferry could have releases a NASP test article for low speed tests, and released the boilerplate from an Americanized Energiya for high speed re-entry tests.

    Once the perfect spaceplane design is found, the orbiters would be retired, and the spaceplane scaled up for a true SSTO, TSTO, or whatever.

    The Energiya HLV remains, and is used for BEO, station segment launch, etc.

    The largest SSTO would have been Star Raker, with 100 tons to orbit. Then, all expendables can finally die, but only after serving as a means to an end--the STS acting as a giant Navaho, allowing full scale tests.

    Airbreathing scramjet test articles now are about the size of surf-boards--closer to warheads than airframes.

    Energiya Buran was the right STS, but made by the wrong country. Had it been the other way around, 14 astronauts would still be alive, we would have operational RLVs, and mean would be back on the Moon, if not Mars.

    We are finally putting SSMEs underneath our External tanks, but keeping an Apollo type capsule atop the External tank.

    This is now SLS, the space launch system:
    http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/index.html
    http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/05/four-shuttle-veterans-drive-sls-uphill-maiden-flight/

    I'll take what I can get.

    Without the orbiters, things are a bit simpler now.

    Here is a brief history on shuttle derived heavy lift
    http://chapters.nss.org/ny/nyc/Shuttle-Derived%20Vehicles%20Modified.pdf
    http://www.spacelaunchreport.com/sdv.html

    An Americanized Energiya was proposed http://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19910018890.pdf
    http://ntrs.nasa.gov/search.jsp?R=1...0shuttle%20derived&Ntx=mode%20matchallpartial
    http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=6348.0

    Take a look at figure 21 in the big pdf below
    https://www.aiaa.org/uploadedFiles/...uttle_Launches/ShuttleVariationsFinalAIAA.pdf

    This worked out very nicely...The subsonic L/D increased to an estimated 6.02 as a result

    Other spacecraft concepts
    http://www.buran.ru/htm/family.htm the АКРК Т-4 launcher looks interesting, if a bit small

    On the other hand...

    http://www.buran.ru/htm/foto9.htm#tupolev_aks
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2014
  18. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    A rail launcher may not be the answer, but the concept is in the right direction. What's the biggest problem with rockets? They are largely parasitic weight. How does one eliminate that problem? By externalizing most of the mass. Leave the engine behind (why move it?) and throw the payload into the sky. "Economy of scale" would make such a big stay-at-home engine practical. Variants on the idea include beamed energy engines and the Bussard ramjet.
     
  19. gturner

    gturner Admiral

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    Holy something Batman, we're all on the same page regarding the Shuttle, except perhaps for Publiusr who has always been a bit out there with the links.

    When every side of the TrekBBS agrees on an economic and engineering question, from arch conservative to wild eyed liberal, I think we have reached a definitive judgment. I couldn't even find a comment to nitpick, because they were all dead on target.
     
  20. Metryq

    Metryq Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    ^
    KIRK: Well, this is an Enterprise first. Doctor McCoy, Mister Spock and Engineer Scott find themselves in complete agreement. Can I stand the strain?