No Orbital Space Plane; No Crew Ejection System

NASA has cancelled the RFP for the design, development, and delivery of an Orbital Space Plane.

Smart move; any OSP design either needs a STS-like ET/SRB system or would have to be towed up to high altitude before launched [see X-15]. The former system is, generally, what NASA seeks to move away from; the latter hasn’t been done for decades.

I think this is a sign of a return to the crew capsule days. While NASA-philes [and the greater American public] might consider that to be outmoded, it’s certainly been effective for the Russians for the entirety of their spacefaring days [which number more than 40 years, for those keeping track].

NASA also noted that an STS orbiter modification would not be carried out as originally planned. In both Challenger and Columbia, the crew survived the initial infarction and perished as a result of the impact of the crew compartment. Design modifications were being considered to make the crew compartment sturdier, but with STS on the way out, it doesn’t make fiscal sense when the risk of crew loss is so low [<2%] and the development time is long [4-5 years, at best, with every modification requiring a re-fit that would probably take a year], almost as long as the planned life of STS.

8 comments

  1. I didn’t know that. That’s horrible.
    Why make the manned part of the vehicle detachable if only to have them die when it reaces the ground…more humane to let the explosion do it instantly, no?

  2. Well, it’s not really designed to detach. It’s just structurally sound, moreso than the rest of it. When Challenger and Columbia disintegrated, the largest pieces found intact were the crew compartments.

    The idea with the detachable crew compartment was to have it deploy parachutes and landing bags so as to lessen the impact and make it survivable.

  3. Ya know … I always want to hit the people that say that in seriousness. Those who say it in jest are okay, though. 😉

    Your crew compartment is necessarily stronger because it’s pressurized. Building the entire vehicle with that structural style isn’t worthwhile and doesn’t meet the design goals. Every pound of structure that you fly is one less pound of crew, cargo, food, water, etc. It’s all a design tradeoff.

    No one wants to admit this in public, but the allowable catastrophic failure rate of STS was 2%. [Well, the RFP is public, but no reporters are willing to dig for it.]

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