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What if there had been no shuttle disasters?

Posted by: Andy Hill - Sat Dec 17, 2005 5:04 pm
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What if there had been no shuttle disasters? 
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Post What if there had been no shuttle disasters?   Posted on: Sat Dec 17, 2005 5:04 pm
I'm not really a person to dwell on "what ifs" but as I was walking the dog through the local woods this morning I started to think about how things would be if NASA hadn't lost Challenger and Columbia.

When Challenger was lost NASA were trying to show that space could be every day and one of those lost was an ordinary teacher. If the flight hadn't been lost NASA would have probably continued this trend and launched all sorts of people into orbit. It would be easy to see that space would have gained a much wider following as people from all walks of life got up there.

It is concievable that NASA might have leased shuttle technology to a private company to launch tourist flights (scenes from the James Bond Moonraker film spring to mind), they might have even have gone on to develop the HL-20 themselves rather than let SpaceDev do it 20 years later.

We could have seen a Mk2 or even a Mk3 shuttle by now that had incorporated all the technical advances into the design instead of flying 1970s vehicles.

The ISS would have been completed and we might have been in the process of building a moonbase or mounting a mission to Mars. Space Island might have had their fleet of shuttles and space stations made from spent external tanks.

You know the more I think about it, the more I realise that the shuttle cost much more than the billions of dollars and 14 lives it has taken.

Any thoughts, what would the world been like if a shuttle had never been lost, would we have seen it developed further into a much more reliable and cheaper craft?

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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 20, 2005 3:40 pm
Could never have happened, the Shuttle is an inherently flawed design.

Despite the (horrendously expensive) millions of man hours that go into preparation, every Shuttle flight is skating on the edge of disaster. Sadly, two of their numbers happen to have come up so far. :(

The NASA engineers and techs do an unbelievable job to get it to fly at all. The budget for next year is $4.5 billion for 3 flights. That's $1.5 billion, per flight, if all 3 flights occur.

To reduce the cost and increase the flight rate to the original predictions, would mean spending far less time and money per flight. Which would increase the probability of failure to near unity. They'd be dropping out of the sky like flies.

Better to ask 'what if' in the seventies, Congress had agreed to fund the original $10 billion fly-back booster plus smaller orbiter. Or if NASA's fall-back plan had been expendable boosters, with a small re-usable orbiter on top, with later development of a re-usable booster?

Either of these systems would have avoided the Shuttles most serious flaws. Instead they came up with the half-baked $6 billion Shuttle system, which ran way over budget anyway! :evil:


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Post    Posted on: Tue Dec 20, 2005 5:04 pm
WannabeSpaceCadet wrote:
Could never have happened, the Shuttle is an inherently flawed design.


Yes, I agree with everything you say but it needn't have been this way If after they had flown the first obiter a few times they had developed the design to include more modern technology on successive craft rather than basically settling for what they had I dont think they would have had both disasters.

They could have made major improvements, maybe making the craft smaller with each iteration and including more modern electronics which would save a lot of weight (LCDs weigh a fraction of an equivalent CRTs for example).

One of the shuttle's problems is that it never evolved beyond the prototype stage.

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Post    Posted on: Wed Dec 21, 2005 3:00 am
I don't know that any of those changes would make much difference, except to the maximum payload, and the shuttle has rarely flown with anything near it maximum anyway.

The size is pretty much determined by those three big LH2/LOX guzzling engines on the back. At 3+ tonnes each, not including hydraulics & plumbing, and over 2 metres wide, they require a big orbiter to carry them.

The crazy thing is, those engines are not used at all after the External tank separates. There are no onboard fuel tanks for the SSME's, just pipes leading to the ET connector.

If you removed the SSME's the orbiter could be half the size for the same payload capacity, and sit on top of the ET where it can't be hit by ice or foam or SRB. With a lower mass to orbit, you would need a smaller ET and less powerfull (cheaper) engines. Bolt them to the bottom of the ET, and let them burn up. Cost less than re-furbishing SSME's that have had to run at 109% of rated power.

Oh yeah, a smaller lighter shuttle would need less thermal protection. Of course, take the wings and cargo bay out as well, and you get the new NASA shuttle derived booster & CEV. See they do learn, eventually. :wink:


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Post    Posted on: Wed Dec 21, 2005 7:22 pm
ISS would be closer to completion--and there would be no Mike Griffin or HLLV plans.


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Post    Posted on: Thu Dec 22, 2005 10:49 am
WannabeSpaceCadet wrote:
Oh yeah, a smaller lighter shuttle would need less thermal protection. Of course, take the wings and cargo bay out as well, and you get the new NASA shuttle derived booster & CEV. See they do learn, eventually. :wink:


I like the idea of the basic shuttle shape only about a quarter of the size with a single SSME fitted out with modern electronics and materials. I would have thought that something like this would have been the natural progression from the current orbiter once it was determined that the costs of launching satelites from his cargo bay was much more than a expendable booster would cost. Other than the ISS there is no reason to have such a large craft. Further reductions on size and weight gets you down to a pure crew transport craft like the HL-20 which it would be possible to launch on top of a booster.

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Post    Posted on: Thu Dec 29, 2005 9:44 pm
Now imagine if we have been flying Energiya Buran for all this time--with 90-100 ton payloads common.


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