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Ultimately, we need something robust enough to handle most situations in local and deep space, be able to be mass-produced, and reach orbit cheaply. THAT will be the ship that gets us off of this planet en mass.
Lets not forget a valid point NASA made: This vehicle is ten times safer than the shuttle was! Not an unimportant consideration for astronauts' families. And another point, is that this vehicle is a modular design. It is a command module, yes similar to the apollo vehicle because that design is proven! Now, the various deep space missions will require different spacecraft designs depending on theire specific goals. So the different mission specific modules are designed and built, but using this vehicle as the reusable command module. Bare in mind it is a deep space command vehicle, not a ground to orbit taxi. Don't condemn it because it happens to look like Apollo. NASA is making the correct descision with this vehicle, and doing it with impecable timing, considering the explosion of private sector space industry about to unfold. Kudos to NASA for being so adaptable in a toxic political environment!
Small spaceplanes, like Dream Chaser, are not any less safer than capsules, and have some positives that capsules do not possess, namely lower G-forces during reentry and better maneuverability in atmosphere. They can also land on conventional runway.
Reaction Engines Ltd. announced on Wednesday the completion of a critical round of testing of its SABRE engine’s precooler system. The SABRE is a radical type of hybrid jet/rocket engine capable of propelling a spacecraft into orbit or an aircraft in the atmosphere, at a velocity of Mach 5 (3,800 mph, 3,300 knots, 6,115 km/h). It’s intended for Reaction Engines’ SKYLON spacecraft and its airliner derivative, the LAPCAT A2 hypersonic aircraft.
SABRE is basically a rocket engine that uses a precooled compressor for part of the ascent. It acts as an air-breathing jet until it reaches Mach 5 and an altitude of 25 kilometers (15.53 mi). By this time, it’s already 20 percent on its way to space. For the other 80 percent, SABRE converts to a pure rocket mode using its onboard store of liquid oxygen instead of air to loft into orbit at a speed of Mach 25 (19,000 mph, 16,500 knots, 30,600 km/h).