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TAAS Company Presents New Orbital Space Plane

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the high-in-the-sky dept.

Space 80

RobGoldsmith writes "The TAAS Company have released details on their new Orbital Space Plane. The new design has many attributes to set it apart from its rivals. One highlight is the integrated Safety System; this is where an escape vehicle can eject from the main body of the craft then fly home safely. They claim: 'With the system's performance capability, economical first stage tow and independence from ground launch facilities, it can offer the lowest price. It also offers the safest flight.' Could this spaceship rival Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo?" Reader wooferhound points out related news from XCOR Aerospace (which we've discussed previously), that they're beginning to take orders for seats on their own suborbital flights, with test runs planned for 2010. Seats will be going for around $95,000 each, less than half the cost of the first tickets for SpaceShipTwo.

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First (-1, Offtopic)

Chris Tucker (302549) | more than 5 years ago | (#26008939)

merely to foil the GNAA cretins.

Now, seriously. (3, Insightful)

Chris Tucker (302549) | more than 5 years ago | (#26008983)

I can see the need for commercialized flights to sub-orbital and even to orbit.

But really, what's next after this? I'd like to be able to get to the ISS for a not insane sum, like MAYBE 200 thousand dollars.

But, failing that, OK, you're in orbit. Now what? I think that "space tourism" will only be genuinely successful is if there is a destination in orbit. The whole "space hotel" thing makes a LOT of sense in that it is a destination AND a safe haven if the vehicle can safely reenter.

Re:Now, seriously. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26009053)

Give them time at least we now have companies competing with each other to get people to space. With competition comes innovation and soon enough we will have affordable trips to affordable destinations in space.

Re:Now, seriously. (1)

wooferhound (546132) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009979)

I would like to fly USA to France in 2 hours like they keep promising me they're going to do. But I wouldn't pay $95,000 for it though . . .

Re:Now, seriously. (1)

Ihmhi (1206036) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010055)

In the anime Eureka 7, they would take their ship (the Gekko-go) into low orbit to travel across great distances faster. When you don't have to consider things like weather, turbulence, etc. you can travel a lot faster and a lot safer. I wonder how practical this is in reality.

Re:Now, seriously. (2, Interesting)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010571)

You want to look at Bigelow Aerospace [bigelowaerospace.com] . By the time companies like XCOR and Virgin are offering orbital rides, Bigelow is quite likely to have an orbiting hotel for your destination. Note that Bigelow has a launch listed on the SpaceX manifest [spacex.com] . They're quite serious, and well funded. They don't always get as much press, because they don't make hot flamey stuff, but they're just as important.

Orbital? (2, Informative)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26008991)

"The TAAS Company have released details on their new Orbital Space Plane."

Is the word "orbital" being used in some context I don't understand? This vehicle does not appear to be anywhere close to capable of reaching orbit. "Suborbital space plane," I can get behind.

Re:Orbital? (2, Funny)

timmarhy (659436) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009035)

it means what ever marketing want it to mean you peon!

Re:Orbital? (1)

thered2001 (1257950) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009047)

It's capitalized and, therefore, a formal name. I'm planning a new product along these same lines: I'm developing "Safe Cigarettes". (BTW, don't tell anyone of my plans.)

Re:Orbital? (3, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009069)

You idea of storing valuables in a cigarette for safekeeping intrigues me. Perchance you have a newsletter I can subscribe to?

Re:Orbital? (1)

hvm2hvm (1208954) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009225)

Are you sure it's not a fancy name for a safe?

Re:Orbital? (1)

thered2001 (1257950) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009241)

Since the product is still in development, I feel I've got several options: 1) storing of very small valuables within a cigarette (as you've alluded to), or 2) create an ad campaign featuring a doctor (or at least someone who *looks* like a doctor...perhaps an actor?) which insinuates that my cigarettes are less harmful than many others.

I'm thinking option 2 would be easier. I could also state that my cigarettes are "The Official Cigarettes of private Orbital Spacecraft". Perhaps I could get an astronaut to endorse them as such.

Do you think this quandary is a suitable "Ask Slashdot" question?

Re:Orbital? (0, Redundant)

wooferhound (546132) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009947)

After you make safe cigarettes, could you start working on Clean Coal ?

Re:Orbital? (1)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009099)

From the article: "We discussed their plans to reach suborbital space and scale this up to orbital flights ..."

They didn't go into any detail on the scale-up.

What was there about what little information given about the vehicle that suggests to you that the vehicle "does not appear to be anywhere close to capable of reaching orbit"? I'm not an aerospace engineer, but it seems like there's too little information to say how close it is.

Re:Orbital? (1)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009187)

Trust me, that vehicle isn't getting into orbit any time this century.

Looks more like a hack job to me.

Re:Orbital? (3, Funny)

Bearpaw (13080) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009259)

Ah. Thank you for your deeply insightful and very informative response. I understand the design's failings much better now. In retrospect, even I should have seen them.

Re:Orbital? (2, Insightful)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010975)

I know, my comments are filled with wisdom.

But mainly the lack of a heat shield would prevent them from ever achieving orbit and coming back in one piece.

Never mind the fact that it basically looks like a commercial private jet "re engineered for orbital travel" AKA just a bunch of snake oil. Where are the technical details besides the marketing jumbo?

Re:Orbital? (2, Informative)

TorKlingberg (599697) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009375)

Orbit required much higher speed than suborbital spaceflight. You don't just need to get high enough, you must also go fast enough to stay in orbit. The ISS for example is moving at 27,743 km/h (17,239 mph). A modified jet with a rocket engine will just not have room for enough fuel, I think.

Re:Orbital? (1)

lysergic.acid (845423) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010779)

the article talks about the use of a tow plane. if they use the tow plane to get the space plane to high sub-orbital altitudes, then the rocket fuel stored in the space plane could be enough to help it reach low earth orbit. it's really not all that different from the launch methods used by X-15 or SpaceShip One.

besides, have you taken a look at the design diagram [robsastrop...aphy.co.uk] ? nearly 2/3rds of the fuselage is taken up by the plane's two propellant tanks.

Re:Orbital? (2, Insightful)

quetzalblue (953290) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011507)

Yeah, I thought so too. The tanks take up most of the "space plane". And you just stick a rocket motor at the end of the it and it goes whoosh into suborbit ? Possibly it just occured to me that maybe your tow plane comment is the missing piece of the puzzle : they'll tow it into orbit and then let it go there ! Then it can fart around all it likes since the problem of getting into orbit has been solved ! (that's sarcasm for you sarcasm-impaired out there).

Kinda smell something funny in this one since if they plan on bringing satellites up on this plane, they'll need to be golf ball sized to fit in the pilot's pocket so he can chuck 'em out the window.

I didnt realise that rocket technology had progressed to the point where you just strap on a rocket to a learjet and load up a couple of jerry cans of gasoline and away you go ! There was quite a lot of talk about cooling and weight of fuel to weight of vehicle etc while I was following the space-x stuff a few years back. This seems .. umm .. like a Hollywood design.

Re:Orbital? (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26013803)

I don't see anything with this design that would allow for re-entry, which would rip off the wings of a normal airplane.

The sub-orbital designs by Armadillo, Scaled, and XCor at least show some resemblance to real vehicles that are intended to go into space and made by real rocket designers. Keep in mind that the real innovation that Burt Rutan made wasn't the fuselage of Spaceship one, but rather the "shuttlecock" system that allowed for atmospheric re-entry in a passive mode that would re-orient the spacecraft if it lost attitude control during re-entry.

This "spacecraft" design decidedly lacks such safety mechanism nor any sort of other exosphere control system.

Something really stinks here with this "press release" and my internal BS meter is hitting the red peg zone with this announcement. I wish I could define exactly what it is that I feel uncomfortable about, however. It isn't just the fact that they are a new entry into the field, but perhaps more along the line that they haven't done their early homework first.

It certainly smells like a vaporware company to me, like countless I knew during the dot-com boom and earlier technology bubbles.

Re:Orbital? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26011993)

You're right, it's practically identical to the X-15 and SpaceShip One. Both suborbital craft. Like this. You cannot get into orbit in anything similar to this.

Re:Orbital? (1)

Shotgun (30919) | more than 5 years ago | (#26034833)

Except if that configuration is stable at takeoff, it won't be at landing. With all the fuel centered after of the wing, the CG will move forward as the rocket is used. Post orbit, that thing will have the configuration of a lawn dart.

Re:Orbital? (1)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | more than 5 years ago | (#26012909)

Suborbital flight is very different from orbital flight, and a lot easier to achieve. To make it to Earth orbit requires far more fuel than a simple up and down light. In terms of the energy required Spaceship One only made it 3% of the way to orbit. I doubt that TAAS has found a way to get 33 times more energy out of what appears t be roughly similar sized fuel tanks. Still, I hope that they succeed. Anything (almost) that gets up further into space is a good thing.

Re:Orbital? (1)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009511)

See my own reply to my comment down thread. There are a number of GIGANTIC red flags here.

I'm not saying it's impossible. I'm saying that if it IS possible, the designer is the greatest engineering genius who has ever lived.

Re:Orbital? (1)

Aviation Pete (252403) | more than 5 years ago | (#26015491)

It's really quite obvious. Look how many stages a rocket needs to lift any meaningful payload into orbit. This thing is just a Lear Jet with a rocket. Not only it is a single-stage vehicle, it also has to lift the wings and engines all the way into "orbit" and back.

If they keep the payload down and load it up with rocket fuel, it may fly a parabola with the top at 50 or 80 km. Not more, at least not before it has been heavily modified.

Re:Orbital? (5, Informative)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009421)

Well, it clearly wasn't RobGoldsmith's fault. The article does indeed claim this business-jet sized craft will reach orbit. The first stage would be a tow plane.

I'm just not seeing this. The tow plane can get the vehicle to a moderate altitude, but nowhere near orbital velocity (delta-v=20,000 km/hr, after drag?). You'd need a mass ratio of 10-to-1 on propellant ("easy" with a capsule that jettisons everything behind it; much harder with a space plane), and you'd have to be using something with an extraordinary Isp, around 320. That probably means cryogenic propellant. So this plane is made of cryo-compatible low-weight, reusable materials? Are there turbopumps on board? I don't see a rocket engine, I see a nozzle. OMS? Reentry heat shield? How do you restart your engine for a controlled reentry burn? Do you keep propellant in those tanks for that? Have you accounted for O2 slosh?

This just doesn't LOOK like an orbital vehicle. To build an orbital craft with that profile and no significant 1st stage would require ludicrous developments in materials science.

And his answers come across as insanely naive.

"Our proposed flight profile from launch to orbital insertion enjoys the same level of safety as conventional aircraft."

No, it can't possibly. You don't even have a prototype, so I can't even entertain such a statement.

"Towing aircraft is common and NASA successfully demonstrated towing a space plane."

NASA hasn't demonstrated a space plane, so how can they have demonstrated towing one? They may have demonstrated towing a REGULAR PLANE. It is true that NASA has launched orbital missiles from airplanes (not via tow, however, to my knowledge).

"One thought I had was that the complexity of this vehicle may actually cause more safety issues, I was told that its simplicity and reliability are un-matched in any other system."

Oh, well that settles that, then. Who wrote this?

"With regards to cost I was also told that a prototype would cost $4 million USD."

That won't even pay for your propellant. For reference, a new Lear Jet STARTS at $5 million. That's off-the-lot; all development costs behind it. So an orbital space plane costs less, including R&D than a Lear Jet? How about the tow plane? Does that come free?

"The design can easily be scaled up, both in terms of the first stage capability and the capability of the parent vehicle."

No, spacecraft do not "easily" scale up. You pick your target orbital payload mass/velocity and you do whatever it takes to get you there. You can't build an orbital, man-rated spacecraft, and then just multiply the entire thing by 1.3.

"The project is currently getting a team together and looking towards getting funding."

So, really, no design yet?

I read up a bit on Robert Talmage. His expertise seems to be in rescue/escape vehicles. I think this entire thing is a publicity stunt for his cockpit-jettisoning escape system (which is all they really talk about in that article; they don't mention fuel or engines once), which, for the record, seems to depend on lifting surfaces:

"After separation, the EV (which is designed to fly at higher dynamic pressures than the parent vehicle) will naturally pitch down and accelerate. Releasing the forward weight of the EV will cause the parent vehicle to be out of balance. With the center of gravity now well behind the center of lift, the parent vehicle will be unstable and pitch up. The high drag configuration of the unstable parent vehicle will provide good horizontal separation from the EV."

...so it wouldn't even work in orbit.

I'm sure Mr. Talmage has some hand-wavy answers to all of these questions, and I would LOVE to get my hands on a $4 million space ship. But I think it's safe to say this guy has his head in the clouds, not his hardware.

Re:Orbital? (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010653)

I agree with almost everything you say, with a couple minor exceptions. Mild cryogens like LOX and methane aren't at all hard to deal with, even in lightweight structures. Highly reusable carbon fiber tanks are still not readily available, but they appear to be within range of a reasonable R&D effort. Lightweight aluminum or fiberglass tanks are readily available. Hard cryos (LH2) are an entirely different story, because the insulation is difficult.

320 seconds vacuum Isp isn't a big deal for a closed-cycle pumped LOX/hydrocarbon engine, especially with a vacuum optimized nozzle (which a craft designed to launch at high altitude from a carrier plane would use). Of course, that *is* a substantial R&D effort, especially if you insist that your pumps be turbopumps. It's just not an unreasonable goal for LOX/kerosene, and LOX/methane will do substantially better (340s+) at some cost in density (methane is 420 kg/m^3 vs 850-1000 for denser fuels). For comparison, the SpaceX Merlin engine gets 304s vacuum Isp on an open-cycle pumped engine capable of atmospheric operation (LOX and RP-1 kerosene).

That said, single stage or single stage plus tow plane to orbit on a winged vehicle is not reasonable for the forseeable future if you insist on economically interesting payload sizes.

Re:Orbital? (1)

jcr (53032) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011267)

single stage or single stage plus tow plane to orbit on a winged vehicle is not reasonable for the forseeable future

I wouldn't dismiss it out of hand. Getting from level flight at (say) 30,000 feet and 700 miles/hour (300 meters/sec) to low orbit is a very different proposition than getting there from a standing start on the ground. There's a lot less air resistance at that altitude for a start.

You need somewhere around 7 KM/second for LEO. The X-15 made about 2 KM/second, with a lot less fuel on board than this proposed configuration would have.

-jcr

Re:Orbital? (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011345)

I'm well aware of the numbers; I've looked at them in some detail. IAA Rocket Engineer, though trajectories and whole-vehicle performance aren't something I've focused on.

If you make grossly optimistic assumptions about mass ratios and engine performance, it's plausible. The problem is that 7kps is a *lot* harder than 2kps. If you don't require wings, then the problem isn't that bad. The original Atlas missile demonstrated the required performance. It had one set of tanks, a central engine optimized for vacuum, and two outer engines for additional liftoff thrust. It dropped the outer engines, but didn't drop any tankage, and could just barely make orbit with a small payload. Performance requirements for an air-launched vehicle are somewhat easier, but only somewhat. It's the wings and landing gear and such that are the problem -- those things are heavy.

Air resistance normally eats about 1.5 kps of delta-v. More for small launchers, less for big ones. More for LH2 fuelled vehicles, less for dense propellants. Even once you get rid of most of the air, add some altitude, and add a couple hundred m/s of velocity, it's still a hard problem. That exponential in the rocket equation is obnoxious.

Note that I am not at all claiming it's impossible. I'm merely saying that given only modest improvements over the current state of the art (ie, amounts of R&D it's reasonable to assume for such a project), it can't be done with an economically interesting payload. Given a much longer time scale and improvements to the state of the art, it might be more interesting. Time will tell...

Re:Orbital? (1)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011379)

Wow, quite a lecture!

You're right that LOX isn't as cold as some of its cryo kin, but it's so damn heavy and reactive that I would still argue that using it would be beyond anything this designer seems to be accounting for. Even loading it is a problem, because it gassifies and takes time to reach optimal density, hence the replenish loading cycles on most LOX systems. And remember also that the author claimed he could launch without substantial ground support.

No requirement for fixed launch facilities -- The space plane can operate from a conventional runway without any requirements of ground launch facilities.

No ground support, but you want to use cryogenic propellants? I mean, this guy is delusional! (The author, not you).

Scaled Composites did their best to build a composite tank that could safely and repeatedly handle N2O, which should be a better-behaved oxidizer, and they still managed to blow one up and kill a few technicians. A different system, of course, but if you read the article, it just seemed like the author was completely insane about the difficulty of pulling this stuff off.

As to the nozzle savings, I used to have a chart that explained the penalty a nozzle suffers in thrust due to over-expansion at sea level and under-expansion in the upper atmosphere, but I can't find it. Maybe you can correct me; I don't think the savings gained by starting the engine at altitude would be tremendous unless you could tow to above 30,000 ft, when using a large area ratio becomes really advantageous. Could the tow vehicle get you that high? Remember, you're carrying an awful lot of heavy propellant. And remember also that the author promised development costs of $4 million, total! I think you'd need a heck of a tow vehicle, one that would cost well north of $4M.

Anyway, thanks for elevating this conversation with some really great examples, putting the necessary Isp in perspective.

Re:Orbital? (1)

evanbd (210358) | more than 5 years ago | (#26015751)

You're right, the author is completely delusional about development costs, ground support, and a number of other things. I was speaking more to the general design problem, since the original article is so far off base as to not be worth much discussion.

Lox being heavy is a good thing. In general, tank mass is related to mass stored and pressure * volume. For pump-fed rockets the structural constraints are substantial enough that it taking less space (denser) doesn't help the tank mass that much, but it does make it smaller and reduce drag. More density Isp is always helpful. Also, LOX isn't particularly reactive. It will readily support combustion, but it won't corrode or oxidize or otherwise interact with most tank materials. You do need to build with safety in mind and not mix LOX and organic materials, but it won't react with your tanks like N2O4, nitric acid, peroxide, and some of the exotic oxidizers can. It's really quite tame in many respects. As for loading, companies like XCOR (who I've worked for) and Armadillo have demonstrated very rapid propellant loading of modestly sized vehicles.

Using cryo propellants probably requires no more ground support than the tanker truck you're filling from and a hose to connect it (LOX tankers are normally operated at modest positive pressure, so if you're willing to wait a little you can even avoid a pump; if you're not, order a tanker that comes with a transfer pump).

There's not enough publicly known about the Scaled accident to make informed comments in any detail. However, I doubt the specific tank technology had anything at all to do with it. I expect the problem was caused by plumbing errors (trapped volume warming up, for example), contamination (nitrous + oil can make detonable mixes), or something else similar. From a safety and operations standpoint, my personal opinion is that N2O is easier for small systems (eg, the hybrids I build and the Lynx RCS thrusters XCOR is building), and LOX for large systems. LOX is also noticeably higher performance.

Exact performance changes with altitude depend somewhat on gas properties. The easiest way to get good numbers is with a numerical solver program like cpropep (web version [sourceforge.net] , be warned it's a bit finnicky to use). At 30kft you're at about 1/4 atm pressure, so you can operate with a nozzle that expands to about 1/4 the pressure of a sea-level capable nozzle. (In general, nozzles are overexpanded at ignition, since the higher altitude performance dominates the optimization. Flow separation at low altitude tends to limit exit pressure to ~ 1/2 ambient, or somewhat lower with work.) Towing to 30kft should be fairly straightforward. 40kft may be a little harder, but is unlikely to present any real challenges. 60-70kft is probably within reason if you have some reason to believe development costs are justified.

(For more perspective on general SSTO capability, it's worth noting that there have been stages built with SSTO performance levels, but never used as such. I believe the S-II second stage of the Saturn V is one such, though I'd have to look up details. A modified configuration of a Shuttle ET plus 6 main engines (3 don't provide enough thrust to get it off the ground) could make orbit with a small but nonzero payload. The reason SSTO hasn't been done (aside from 1.5 STO in Atlas) is not that it's impossible, but that there hasn't been a strong economic case for doing it.)

Not much room, but good to see the escape module (3, Informative)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009059)

Funny - looks a little like the original Learjet.

Nice to see the escape module. Bearing in mind that even NASA - and the Russians, Chinese etc. - have had some spectactular & sad blow-ups, it would seem likely that some of these less well resourced attempts will have the same. Shame there was not one in the shuttle - I seem to remember it was in the original proposal?

Neat idea also to tow the thing up, therefore avoiding the need for a special launch aircraft like Rutan's designs. Still, he did get there first, and this thing's only on paper...

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26009257)

Maybe because it IS a Learjeat. I love the mod community.

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (1)

Neanderthal Ninny (1153369) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010263)

I think they were using a Learjet fuselage for this diagram is convenience issue. I don't think a Learjet (current owned by Canadian firm Bombardier) is not really meant to fly in space (ie air pressure difference) so I think they are using this as an example but not the real spacecraft.
 

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (1)

bored_engineer (951004) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009311)

That's because it probably is. From the article:

Mr Talmage explains that if they modify an existing aircraft as proposed in the AIAA paper, the escape cabin can be demonstrated in eight months and the rocket flight demonstrated within the next few months.

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (1)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009627)

Nothing in the article on it being a Lear for sure, but they probably just picked something more or less at random. Here's a link to their website with more on the escape pod:

http://www.taascompany.com/slide1.html [taascompany.com]

Looks like they've got a patent, which surprises me since there's plenty of prior art...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escape_pod [wikipedia.org]

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009943)

On the other hand, escape modules of this type have been tried in aircraft and largely proved unsuccessful - mostly because they are very, very heavy and require a large parachute and a sophisticated deployment system.

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (4, Interesting)

david.given (6740) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010009)

Shame there was not one in the shuttle - I seem to remember it was in the original proposal?

The first four flights had modified SR-71 ejection seats, but they'd only be useful in the last stages of descent, and were only there because they were test flights.

Escaping from dying spacecraft is rather harder than it looks. It's only in the first 45 seconds or so after launch when a rocket's going slowly enough to eject from. Challenger broke up about 70 seconds into flight, at which point it was already travelling at over a kilometre per second --- and the breakup wasn't caused by the explosion; it was caused by the explosion wrecking the shuttle's aerodynamics to such an extent that it started tumbling, and then the hypersonic wind tore the vehicle apart. You don't eject into that. Most fighter aircraft ejection seats can only be used at speeds of 300 metres per second or so (although I'm sure someone can quote me something really esoteric that works at faster speeds).

The shuttle does have an escape protocol; you put the vehicle into a stable glide and jump out the door (using a frankly ludicrous system to avoid hitting that huge wing). They put that in after the loss of Challenger. It wouldn't have helped.

The best way of escaping during launch is to fire the entire crew capsule free. Mercury, Apollo, Soyuz and the upcoming Orion, if it doesn't get cancelled, all used/will use escape towers; a set of solid fuel rockets on the crew capsule designed to get the capsule clear of an impending explosion in a hurry. But they're intended to work on the ground, and get ejected about 50 seconds into the flight.

You might be interested to read up about Soyuz 18a [wikipedia.org] ; the second stage hadn't separated when the third stage fired! The Soyuz capule was jettisoned, reentered normally, and landed safely. But that accident happened much later, when the whole vehicle was out of the atmosphere in a suborbital trajectory. Not having to worry about atmosphere makes things far easier.

Escaping on reentry is much harder. Columbia broke up while travelling at about *eight* kilometres per second, through atmosphere. I don't know of any way to survive an event like that.

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (3, Informative)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010353)

At least one successful ejection has been made from an SR-71 at mach 3, which is roughly the speed that Challenger was doing when it broke up, assuming that your 1km/s figure is correct. The reason why this was survivable is because what kills an ejecting pilot isn't speed, but rather dynamic pressure caused by speed. Dynamic pressure increases with the square of speed ,but it also drops off with altitude. Your 300m/s figure is correct, but that's assuming a sea-level ejection. If you're at a high altitude then the true speed goes up accordingly. (If you're familiar with aviation terms, it's the indicated airspeed that kills you, not the true airspeed.) I don't know how high Challenger was when it broke up, but if it was more than about 12 miles then it's conceivable that ejections from it could have been survivable.

Not to take away from your post overall, as you make many excellent points, I just wanted to elaborate on that one thing.

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (2, Interesting)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011495)

Challenger broke up at 48kft (14.6 kilometers or 9 miles).
 
Ejections seats for Shuttle ascent were rejected on three grounds, none of them related to dynamic pressure:

  1. Ejection seats are very heavy.
  2. It's virtually impossible to provide them for the lower deck passengers.
     
    --and--
     
  3. For 90% of the period during ascent when they'd be useful, the ejectees would be fried by the SRB exhaust.

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (1)

Bearhouse (1034238) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010503)

Escaping from dying spacecraft is rather harder than it looks.

Never thought it looked easy, although Sigourney Weaver managed it...

More seriously, thanks for the post, and also to 128...interesting

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (2, Informative)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010627)

F-111 had an ejection capsule which protected occupants at high speeds, up to the top Mach 2.5 speed
http://www.f-111.net/ejection.htm [f-111.net]

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (1)

Molochi (555357) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010797)

The B-58 also had separate ejection capsules that were supposed to work at Mach2+. That was 50 years ago.

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011461)

You might be interested to read up about Soyuz 18a; the second stage hadn't separated when the third stage fired! The Soyuz capule was jettisoned, reentered normally, and landed safely.

Except it didn't reenter normally. The LES fired, increasing it's downward velocity while it's lack of horizontal velocity meant a steeper than normal trajectory. The result was a high temperature, high G loading reentry.

Re:Not much room, but good to see the escape modul (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26013949)

In addition to your excellent response here is in regards to the Soyuz T-10-1 [wikipedia.org] launch that was the only realistic use of the launch escape tower as intended.

In that launch, the launch vehicle began to explode due to a fuel spill on the launch pad just a few seconds before the launch was supposed to happen.

As for the astronauts surviving re-entry from orbit for a situation like existed for the Columbia, about the only plausible method of survival would be some sort of personal extreme-altitude sky-diving suit + "surfboard" that would help astronauts do re-entry without a spacecraft. Well, either that or a formal "rescue mission" to retrieve the astronauts in another spacecraft (as NASA is doing now for Shuttle flights).

Once they committed to re-entry and came in with the full vehicle, their fate was sealed. Personal reentry requires a much more shallow re-entry angle and trades the extreme heat from heavy vehicle re-entry with a much longer re-entry period and less certainty for where you will eventually land at.

Where's practical space travel? (1)

PolarBearFire (1176791) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009205)

They definitely need to redefine space. When I envision space travel, I imagine traveling to moons and planets. At least they should do something useful like being able to reach the ISS, but from what I gather they're nowhere near that capability.

Re:Where's practical space travel? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26009695)

OK, I redefine space as the distance between my house and my job, and outer space as the further distance between my job and the mall.

Therefore, I go into space on a daily basis and spend a great deal of time there. Occasionally, I get to save up some momentum and venture into outer space and try to acquire alien relics from the abandoned cities of planet TheMALL.

Every day is an adventure as a I try to avoid the evil forces of Miboss JobKutz and his army of pink SLi-P fighters from the planet Peptobismol.

Princess Layoff is not bad though -but it's a trap! Those "do me" shoes are just a way to invoke the power of HR and summon the pink SLi-Ps!

TAAS - Tessier Ashpool (1)

dindi (78034) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009251)

Sorry for being that cybernerdish-childish, but when I saw TAAS and space I immediately associated at Tessier Ashpool (yeah have all the books here but lazy to check the correct spelling) corporation from the Gibson books. :)

Re:TAAS - Tessier Ashpool (1)

thered2001 (1257950) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009275)

We can use the ship to go visit Wintermute!!!

Hahahahaha! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26009255)

How can anyone take that schematic seriously? I mean it looks like a 10 year old drew it....arrows pointing to the useful parts does not a space plane make...looks like a very *bad* hack job to me as well and I bet this is the last we ever hear of it...but then this is /. so maybe not...

sub orbital plane? (1)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009409)

These guys are 50 years too late. It has been tried [wikipedia.org] before [militaryfactory.com] .

Looks like A lear jet with an f-111 capsule or X-2 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26009427)

Their system reminds me of the X-2 with the Ejectionable nose capsule for pilot safety... too bad it didn't work out that way for Mel Apt who was killed when he tried to use the thing

The Deam Is Way Too Alive Sometimes (2, Informative)

DynaSoar (714234) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009519)

TAAS: Who? No matches to TAAS or Talmage when searching Personal Spaceflight http://www.personalspaceflight.info/ [personalspaceflight.info] or Encyclopedia Astronautica. The latter is particularly notable, as the NASA history office recommended it to National Geographic when they were looking for some historical data. TAAS apparently recognizes itself though: taascompany.com

Stability: "With the center of gravity now well behind the center of lift, the parent vehicle will be unstable and pitch up." All true, basic aerodynamics. Specifically AEROdynamics. This will be true in the atmosphere. If the vehicle is in the atmosphere, there's no reason to rely on structural aerodynamics, because the vehicle has control surfaces. A much safer ejection sequence would be to kick the capsule forward, lower the flaps for aerobraking, trigger any other brakes that may exist, lower the elevators to "nose" down the main vehicle. Bring it down and away from the capsule under control is far safer than hoping instability won't backfire and somersault the tail over and forward, into the capsule.

Wings and Reentry: "Wings are the most efficient means of air transportation and air-breathing engines are the most efficient form of propulsion. A vehicle that takes advantage of these two components will be the most efficient. The wings also play a role in orbital transfer maneuvres and reducing thermal loads during re-entry."

The fastest atmospheric speed ever achieved was Mach 9.6 by NASA's X-43. The "wings" were integral to the airframe. Nothing that pokes out from the body like those imagined for the TAAS thing would stay attached at anywhere near that speed. And nothing running at lower Mach could possibly make it outside enough of the atmosphere to accelerate to orbital speed unless it were carrying an enormous fuel load to make up for lack of lift since the wings wouldn't be working any more.

As for reentry, the wings would absolutely be a hindrance. The greater surface area (as compared to the body alone) would result in much more aerodynamic compression heating than any amount of radiative cooling that could possibly occur. Now, if they were to use the wings as ablative cooling, by having them absorb heat and then get ripped off by the high Mach forces, it might just bear itself out to be as silly as the rest of the article.

A couple details to put some of this in context: Low Earth orbit speed is around Mach 25.
The temperature of the X-43's leading edges approached 4,000 degrees. The SR-71's reached 3,300 at Mach 3.3. The nonlinearity in the speed/heat comparison was due the the X-43 flying much higher (110,000 ft); less air, less heat generated.

Re:The Deam Is Way Too Alive Sometimes (1)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009559)

Excellent analysis. I described some other problems, mostly from a propulsion perspective, in my post. How did this "article" get up here? It's a glorified press release, and it doesn't even make sense internally.

Re:The Deam Is Way Too Alive Sometimes (1)

TheModelEskimo (968202) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009615)

Add to that the MS Paint diagrams, and you have a big question mark on your hands...

This thing won't orbit. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009557)

If an airplane was a good design for an orbital vehicle, it would have been done already.

It isn't. As another poster pointed out, you will never reach escape velocity in a single-stage vehicle of that type. Also, wings might bring "aerodynamic stability", but pushing those wings at 17,000 mph through even thin upper atmosphere would be too much work and too much heat.

It'll never fly, Orville.

Re:This thing won't orbit. (1)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009601)

In fairness, they don't need to reach escape velocity. Just orbital.

But they won't be able to do that either. Someone down thread offered damning reasons why the aeronautics don't add up, and I can tell you right now: there is NO way this works from a propulsion point of view. Plus, the writing style is so immature; it's obvious the interviewer knows very little about space flight (or is criminally incurious about the answers he gets).

Re:This thing won't orbit. (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009623)

Yes, I meant to write write about orbital velocity, not escape velocity. My mistake.

The rest of the argument still holds, however. Materials would not hold up, nor would current chemical propulsion be adequate.

Re:This thing won't orbit. (1)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009709)

Of course, of course. It wouldn't even be a spectacular failure; I don't think it could get that far.

Re:This thing won't orbit. (1)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011049)

But this might be enough to do sub orbital. Pop up just high enough to call it space, and head back down again. The plan is not for orbital flight - but our early space program did just what these people are looking to do: an air launched rocket plane that glides back. These folks just need enough thrust to get to the appropriate altitude and return. Escape velocity, and the high mach numbers associated with reentry from that speed don't factor in. Tis probably much lower speeds than the early X-planes were after - were one to actively avoid trying to break the sound barrier on descent.

OT, but why is wooferhound's (1)

NinthAgendaDotCom (1401899) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009629)

Link to his domain all messed up? I got to it after removing the garbage. Intelligence test? Pissed off slashdot editor?

This proposal is irritating (5, Interesting)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009725)

Gosh. I find myself getting really riled up by this article. I work on the Shuttle External Tank, so I see every day how demanding, how difficult and precise manned space flight has to be.

I have a lot of respect for the suborbital tourism industry, and for SpaceX, since they're both doing very difficult things, too (getting a human to the boundary of space, and getting a payload to orbit without government funding, respectively).

And here, this guy just waltzes in and claims he can do all of that and more for a low, low cost of $4 million and a bad Photoshop of a Lear Jet with "rocket" and "propellant tank" drawn on the fuselage? Cripes!

Re:This proposal is irritating (0, Troll)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010381)

I work on the Shuttle External Tank, so I see every day how demanding, how difficult and precise manned space flight has to be.

Not to diminish your work in any way, but what you see every day is how demanding, how difficult, and how precise manned space flight has to be when done by NASA.

The Russian program shows that a "big dumb" approach with much less focus on precision and "failure is not an option" can achieve similar results, or at the very least a similar safety record.

The Shuttle is just a poor design for a space vehicle. It's essentially a test vehicle which NASA attempts to use as an operational vehicle. It was designed for a much bigger budget than it actually got, and NASA has been paying the price for that shortfall for nearly three decades now.

Re:This proposal is irritating (1)

RogerWilco (99615) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010943)

I think you underestimate how much effort and attention to detail goes into the Russian spaceship/parts/program.

Spaceflight is very complicated, mainly because of the need to keep things as lightweight as possible, while still able to withstand very high temperatures and forces.

As far as the shuttle goes. It's design is deeply flawed due to the extreme requirements that were put on it, but as far as execution goes, it's still a marvel of engineering, almost 30 years later.

I've did a master in material science, and the shuttle tiles still are taught as one of the most advanced materials ever developed by man.
I currently work somewhere were we also develop technology to be used in unmanned space (space telescopes), and the amount of engineering that goes into it, due to all kinds of factors is huge.

Re:This proposal is irritating (2, Informative)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011225)

Manned space flight will have to be demanding and precise no matter who does it. You're right that the "difficult" part may have more to do with NASA than anything.

Otherwise, I totally agree. The shuttle was deeply flawed, and NASA is a deeply dysfunctional organization. But for all its flaws, the shuttle is real and not imaginary.

Of course, the shuttle has cost real dollars and real lives, whereas this fellow's fantasy ship hasn't hurt anyone and probably never will (because nobody would fund it). So I guess to be morally consistent, I would be better off directing my ire at NASA.

But there's a certain arrogance and laziness in the posted article. It's like it can't even be bothered to pretend to be a real spaceship.

One can argue that, for all its flaws, the shuttle was an earnest attempt at creating a revolutionary space architecture. One doomed by bureaucracy, politics, mission creep, economics and technological deficiencies, perhaps, but REAL.

I'm all for privatization of space, and part of privatization is criticizing the hell out of weak proposals. Part of it is getting a little angry at inferior products and ideas. Part of it is being impatient with insincere companies.

Re:This proposal is irritating (1)

flnca (1022891) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011293)

Thanks for your work on the Space Shuttle! :) Sorry to see it go. I fondly remember the time when every Space Shuttle launch was broadcast on television! :)

Re:This proposal is irritating (1)

saburai (515221) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011419)

They still are broadcast! Well, on basic cable anyway. I get to work launch support for the External Tank from here in New Orleans (which is kind of like sitting at the kiddie table of the "real" launch support at Johnson Space Center), and we actually watch the launch on live TV, along with our official NASA video feed. Sometimes the TV version is more informative, frankly.

Re:This proposal is irritating (1)

flnca (1022891) | more than 5 years ago | (#26011545)

I live in Germany! :) Here, in the 80ies, they interrupted regular programming for every shuttle launch and broadcast it live, from the preparations to the actual launch, often accompanied with interviews with NASA staff and scientists. Nowadays, shuttle launches aren't broadcast live anymore here, sadly, but at least we have Space Night every night on BR3 (a Bavarian television channel), they broadcast NASA footage all night every night. That's a lot of fun also! :) - I hope that NASA will get a foot into commercial space travel and be one of the major players! :)

BTW, I have an idea how to make space travel cheaper: Why not build a large scale space elevator (about 20 miles in diameter and 40 miles up) capable of lifting payload into space? That would be much cheaper, and would be the first mega-city and real spaceport on the planet! :) (robot-based construction and light materials could enable that!)

Re:This proposal is irritating (1)

GrayNimic (1051532) | more than 5 years ago | (#26013691)

NASA TV is available on the web as well:
http://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/nasatv/index.html [nasa.gov]

Not nearly as nice as watching it on TV (lower quality signal, etc), but far better than nothing :) Plus, that web page lets you pick which channel (Public, Media, Education) whereas cable only carries the Public channel (at least in my area). So with the webcast, you can watch events only broadcast on the others (such as a congressional hearing on the Media channel while the Public channel is live shuttle coverage, or Media channel showing a Post-MMT press briefing while Public channel is still covering an EVA, etc)

Re:This proposal is irritating (1)

flnca (1022891) | more than 5 years ago | (#26015151)

Thank you! :)

Re:This proposal is irritating (1)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#26012293)

Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to defend the ridiculous proposal in the article. For all its faults, at least NASA actually flies stuff! My only point is that experience with the Shuttle and what it requires does not necessarily convey to everything else.

The real problem with the Shuttle was simply that it was a $10 billion craft with a $5 billion budget. Everything else stems from that. If Congress had funded it more fully or if NASA had managed to realize early in the game that they were only going to get half the money they needed, it would have turned out a whole lot better. Considering that, the rest ended up pretty well.

Re:This proposal is irritating (1)

Teancum (67324) | more than 5 years ago | (#26014037)

Sounds like the initial Space Shuttle proposal in some ways. I actually read something like $100,000 per flight for "routine" Shuttle operations and a turn-around time of 1 week. But that goes back to the 1970's and was wildly optimistic before any real hardware was built, much less any real engineering design took place.

While I think that manned spaceflight can be a couple orders of magnitude cheaper than the Shuttle, there still is some basic physics that seem to be missing from this initial proposal by TAAS.

Not even Armadillo Aerospace... which seems to be the most extreme of the private spacecraft development efforts in terms of being cheap, cheap, cheap, is spending more than $4-$5 million on their vehicle development... even for their sub-orbital program.

Looks really old..... (1)

ZosX (517789) | more than 5 years ago | (#26009765)

I was first struck with how it looked straight out of the 50s X planes...the X-1 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/Bell_X-1_color.jpg [wikimedia.org]

Compare that to:

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2238/2215031466_18acd44909.jpg [flickr.com]

Oh yeah. How did they get around the reentry stabilization problem? Or do they actually leave the influence of atmosphere?

Tax Money Refund? (1)

deathpulse (961233) | more than 5 years ago | (#26010739)

So... all it takes to build an orbital space-plane is to mount a rocket engine on the back of a Lear Jet? I WANT MY TAX MONEY BACK NASA.

Re:Tax Money Refund? (1)

Lavene (1025400) | more than 5 years ago | (#26012055)

So... all it takes to build an orbital space-plane is to mount a rocket engine on the back of a Lear Jet? I WANT MY TAX MONEY BACK NASA.

Apparently you don't even need the rocket *engine*, just a nozzle...

I remember drawing a lot of these kind of things about thirty years ago. I was ten years old and hooked on space stuff. The drawing would be based on something common, an airplane or a car, and I would put in neat little arrows pointing to all sorts of bizarre 'devices'.

Come to think about it; if my name was Shampoo I would have been famous...

Xzibit says... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26011031)

"this is where an escape vehicle can eject from the main body of the craft then fly home safely."

Yo dawg i heard u like planes, so we put a plane in yo plane so you can fly while u fly.

Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26011071)

Where is the 'articlewrittenbyafourthgrader' tag?

Gene (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26068883)

Yeah, new idea my a**.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8l79lSjVMg

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