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TAAS Company Discuss Their Safe, Economical and Versatile Space Flight Vehicle

Published by Rob on Fri Dec 5, 2008 5:45 pm
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I recently got talking with Robert Talmage of the TAAS Company. I had earlier read a paper introducing their modular escape vehicle. Speaking with Mr Talmage I asked him a series of questions about their plans to develop their vehicle. We discussed their plans to reach suborbital space and scale this up to orbital flights, Mr Talmage also provided details on the safety aspects considered in their designs. See the Escape Vehicle (EV) on the image below.


The idea behind the design is that the escape vehicle leaves the parent vehicle behind in the case of an emergency, it does this in conjunction with multiple plug-in devices and one mechanical release which allows the EV to slide forward and un-plug from the parent vehicle. Air-bags can provide positive separation forces. “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.

Looking at the design I felt it important to ask Mr Talmage why he has chosen this spaceflight vehicle design, he explained the main reasons:

Performance – 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 manoeuvres and reducing thermal loads during re-entry.

Safety – Aircraft transportation is very safe. Our proposed flight profile from launch to orbital insertion enjoys the same level of safety as conventional aircraft. After release of the first stage tow, the escape cabin offers protection in the event of a rocket explosion or malfunction in the parent vehicle. Unlike the Apollo capsule which is the only means of return, our space plane is the Primary vehicle of return. Should it fail in some way, the escape cabin is the return means. This gives our space transportation system, a back up Vehicle.

First stage tow – This offers the safest, less expensive and best performance for a first stage capability. Towing aircraft is common and NASA successfully demonstrated towing a space plane.

Fully re-useable – Everything is fully re-useable. No space debris is left in orbit or falls off during ascent. Failure of the first stage tow is no problem in that the two vehicles Would release and each return by their own means. Failure in the space plane is no problem in that it simply glides back down. Should an explosion or control system inhibit the space plane from flying, the escape cabin separates and returns the occupants.

Rapid space access – The space plane can quickly access any orbital plane avoiding weather conditions and eliminating launch windows. No requirement for fixed launch facilities – The space plane can operate from a conventional runway without any requirements of ground launch facilities.

I asked Mr Talmage to expand on how they came to this design, I also asked why he feels this design offers a better alternative to say, a conventional vertical launched rocket. He added, “This design is based on work we have done for many years and validated by all the teams that have worked on space planes. In each of these programs the teams have validated the performance and safety capabilities. The problem has been lack of funding and not having a reliable escape system”.

I asked what happens to the Parent Vehicle after the Escape Vehicle has departed. Mr Talmage informed me of the process. “In the AIAA proposal to demonstrate the escape system, the parent vehicle will be recovered by parachute with a water landing to be re-used. In the actual flight vehicle, the parent vehicle can also be recovered by a small parachute but may not be re-usable due to ground impact” Looking further at what would at first seem to be a complex system, I am told “Its simplicity and reliability are un-matched in any other system”. I have also been told that the system can be modified to carry any type of payload including satellites.

With regards to cost I was also told that a prototype would cost $4million USD. The project is currently getting a team together and looking towards getting funding. They also tell me that they have looked at other designs for a space vehicle. 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.

With regards to scaling up the design, I was told that: “The design can easily be scaled up, both in terms of the first stage capability and the capability of the parent vehicle. Correspondingly, the escape vehicle size can be increased to accommodate the appropreate number of occupants. The escape vehicle is not used unless there is a major malfunction in the parent vehicle. The escape vehicle can separate from an emergency in orbit, decelerate, and return.

With regards to paying customers, I asked how much a flight would cost “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.

I also asked if these flights were scheduled with any estimated timeframe in mind. 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. At first the flights would be sub-orbital. Follow on vehicles would eventually reach orbital velocity.

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