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June 1, 2013


How should we approach this exciting possibility unfolding before us?  Our horizontal launch proposals are still evolving.  I will leave a lot to the imagination of engineers yet to come to our venture.

Initial vehicle proposals illustrated with this request are based on a subscale drone boosting a model of the space plane as a reusable sounding rocket.  As such features on the booster are advantageous only to a small subscale application.  A space dedicated full-scale booster may not have the same features illustrated here.


These blended wing body forms offer large internal volume at the front of the booster stage.  This places much of the fuel volume near the center of gravity of the joined vehicles.  The vehicles will not become nose heavy as the first stage is operating in horizontal flight.  Provision may be required to move fuel between fore and aft tanks as supersonic speeds change the pressure profile.  However supersonic flight may be limited to the more vertical rocket powered segment of the mission.  In fact, the space shuttle ascended in an inverted flight, probably so the crew was thrust into their seats by centrifugal force, instead of being pulled up and out.  Being nose heavy at that point is not so critical.

The proposed orbiter may be longer, and may feature an escape stage vehicle per proposals from TAAS Company.  These images illustrate a concave aft area, but may be accomplished with a disposable fairing if a flat aft surface is dictated.


My radical “Pelevon” reentry brakes may be a flight of fantasy


Escape Vehicle Proposal with turbine powered orbiter.


Early proposals considered a complex landing gear system.  Both stages would have gear down, and the booster would have to adjust the main gear location on landing to correct a different center of gravity without the orbiter.  Landing gear failures were a problem for the Concorde, so we may consider a rail type launch.


Rail launch is a major infrastructure investment that may enhance several areas of concern.  Modern rail trains reach 200 mph with some safety, so wheels are able to reach launch speeds.  Eliminating cross winds, tire failures, and pilot work load may help when launching an aircraft full of passengers and rocket fuel.  The ability to abort the launch with full rail contact and controlled braking is a safety feature.


A true flight of fantasy?  Gas Cannon SSTO


Exotic rail launch may add this kind of ground propulsion or mag-lev but these are not a mandate.  Rail launch may also allow the craft to ride on a cradle, with the landing gear retracted.  This reduces the mass of landing gear which will only be used to land an empty vehicle.  Issues of structural load on the runway are reduced by the structure of the cradle.  Joined aircraft then see less structural load at the stage junction until airborne.

First stage operation at subsonic speeds is expected until high altitudes where air-breathing engines are limited.  When altitudes offer lower density we may use rocket boosters to give more velocity to the first stage.  The choice of staging timing may be driven by issues of shock waves and aerodynamic drag.  We hope that in-line staging will be safer than separating two stacked vehicles in parallel flight.  Vertical launch systems are now operating with compressed gas separation and pyro devices with regular success.

A mission with 200 miles of climb and thousands of miles of orbital acceleration does not have to accomplish all of its acceleration in the first 5-10 miles of climb.  As such supersonic flight and aerodynamics are not as critical in the atmosphere.  Delta-vee or acceleration should be available in the rocket-propelled segment of the mission.  Booster rockets will probably be tailored to high altitude operation and nozzle shapes.  Aerodynamics may be better tailored to rounded surfaces for heat dissipation on reentry.  We have groups identified with expertise to consider trade studies for optimal results.

Blended bodies offer increased internal volume and structural depth.  If fuel tanks are distributed in the available volume, wings become less of a mass penalty than a different form of body mass.  They may also prove to be a valuable asset in reentry.  We hope to keep the advantages of the lifting body volume with compromise to enhance cross range flight ability.  Early model testing suggests at least one airfoil can fly successfully with low aspect ratio and high mass.

The engineering mission will be to analyze and optimize aerodynamic options that fit the requirements of orbital mechanics.  These must be accomplished with the maximum safety consideration for manned flight operations.  I recommend study of the experience of shuttle mission director Wayne Hale.

Another prototype study proposed a small satellite launcher.  This may be more like the booster stage needed for a full-sized manned vehicle.  It is still much smaller so it may be able to operate on a single landing gear system for both craft.  That would make it attractive for military satellites as it could operate from small landing strips, and be easily concealed on the ground.  This one is still in blinding white, which may be suited only to a snowy runway camouflage!


We will need a lot of work to target best design selections.  I expect to see a lot of changes along the path.  Our objective now is to target the actual manned mission needs so prototypes will accurately evaluate useful lessons.  The first models will be less elegant, but more practical for basic lessons.  I don’t know exactly what the future will be, but we have a lot of variety in the past.  We plant a lot of varieties and wait to see the harvest.













All images © 2013 David Luther



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