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The Shuttle Program ends... Where are the "Space Planes?"

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posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 10:58 AM

Getting us into Space

I think there are relatively few who would argue that there is no reason to physically explore space. Most seem to understand that given the opportunity, space exploration, and even habitation, would go far in helping us conserve our planet, especially if we mine resources, develop new technologies, and extend the area which we humans can use, thus reducing our consumption of resources at home.

However, we seem caught in a foolish quandary; namely, that we can't "afford" to improve our lot.

One of the major obstacles in realizing the full potential of our space-faring capabilities is getting off the planet.
The two major players in moving people and materials into space are the United States and Russia (perhaps the former Soviet Union more so, since they were willing to nearly bankrupt themselves competing for the potential prize.)


HOTOL was intended to be a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) craft that could take off from a normal runway, and reach altitudes that would allow it to achieve Earth orbit.
Such a reusable craft would save space exploration billions over time, and would make the entire vehicle reusable, unlike modern rocket and booster platforms that are expended once they have been used.

Until now, both have relied on heavy-lift multi-stage rocketry to get vehicles into orbit and beyond.

But there is a very real effort to make that a thing of the past.

Enter an ESA (European Space Agency) project 3 decades in the making. I offer a brief look into a future which includes no more titanic rocket thrusts into space, but instead, a smooth takeoff and landing vehicle which our friends in the UK have been developing...

It started in in the early 1980s (does that seem so long ago?) with a project known as the Horizontal Take-Off and Landing (HOTOL) concept.

A Primer

Aircraft manufacturers have always struggled to reach the highest possible altitude, and towards that end a few trivial facts;

The altitude record for a propeller-driven aircraft was just over 17,000 meters by Italian pilot Mario Pezzi in 1938.

This limit had to do with ‘lift’ and the thinness of the atmosphere at that height. There’s only so much thrust and lift a mechanical system can achieve lacking enough soupy atmosphere to swim through.


The equivalent ‘official’ record for an “air-breathing” jet aircraft was reached by Soviet pilot Alexandr Fedotov in a MIG-25M in 1977, peaking at over 37,500 meters. A jet engine enclosure can generate much more thrust than a propeller; due to the higher compression such engines are designed to create.


But in the end, without air with which to burn fuel and generate lift and thrust; these solutions can only get us so high and no further. For us, it seems the issue is about steadfastly being married to the concept of ‘combustion’ to create the energies necessary to reach orbit and ‘slip the surly bonds of earth.’


Bear in mind that in order to reach a true ‘orbit’ of our planet, you have to reach an altitude considerably higher than 100,000 meters. In order to stay in orbit around Earth, an object must also have a certain amount of momentum; otherwise gravity will pull the object down into the atmosphere. The more massive the object is, the more that pull has to be counteracted against by increased speed to stay in orbit. But also, the further away the object is from the Earth the less momentum it will need to stay in orbit. The balance between object mass, and speed gives us the momentum needed to achieve and maintain orbit.


Our International Space station, for example, orbits the Earth once every 90 minutes, at an altitude of around 350,000 meters … (that’s moving about 27.7 kilometers per hour) although the orbit ‘decays’ about 2,000 meters a month. Interestingly, as we add more modules and equipment to the station, the orbit will require recalculation… the last time I checked its mass was approximately 417,000 kg.

Reaching the upper atmosphere, where oxygen is lacking, poses a problem for our combustion-centric technology to overcome. This is something that only certain kind of craft can do. …. enter rocket powered craft.

Rocket Engines

Lacking the abundance of oxygen to combust at that altitude, only rocket-propelled aircraft have reached true orbital height; the current ‘rocket aircraft’ record, is just shy of 112,000 meters reached by Brian Binnie in the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne in 2004. SpaceShipOne was an experimental craft used to test new materials and composites; it was lighter ship design with commercial aims in mind, as opposed to military applications. In fact, the next generation of this craft, the SpaceShipTwo, is expected to carry up to 6 passengers into low orbit.


The previous record holder for rocket planes had been the X-15’s 107,000 meter climb by Joseph A. Walker in 1963.


The X-15 was primarily a military test-bed, meant to determine the limits of aerospace technology. This aircraft reached a speed of Mach 6.7 and was the pride of the US aerospace research industry, as it frequently dipped in and out of ‘space.’ Many early test pilots, including Neil Armstrong (the first man to walk on the moon) earned their astronaut ‘wings’ in the X-15.

But both the X-15 and SpaceShipOne altitude records had been achieved after being released in flight. Since these are rocket driven aircraft, the most efficient way to test them was by loading them onto a launch aircraft and releasing them in-flight. While the X-15 was eventually outfitted to be able to perform runway takeoff, it was clears that outside of experimental research applications, this aircraft was not going to take us into space.



The reason rockets are capable of getting us into the orbital zone is because they carry their own fuels and oxidants, as opposed to planes and jets which require the presence of an atmosphere to combust their fuel.

A simple diagram shows the basic concepts behind the applied science of rocketry:

Many rockets use liquid fuel. This kind of engine allows us to control the fuels burn rate. This is the kind of rocket used in most manned space mission flights (although many use auxiliary solid rocket fuel boosters to assist in the early launch phases). Of course, there’s the inconvenience of having to fuel up (a technically dangerous affair) and the delicacy of maintaining ‘plumbing’ for the engine, but it remains the mainstay of the ‘heavy lift’ application.


Solid fuel rockets carry both the fuel and the oxidizer chemically combined into a solid mass. These kinds of rockets, once ignited, cannot be stopped (much like a match head, once ignited, it exhausts itself), so the benefit of stability and long term storage are offset by their one time use. These are commonly used in missile systems for military applications.


Back to the HOTOL

The design of this vehicle was meant to overcome the difficulties we had designing a craft that could efficiently and effectively be used (and reused) to reach orbit, without having to blast off on rockets.

Towards that end, the HOTOL concept included a unique engine design which was patented in 1983. Known as the “RB545 air breathing rocket engine concept”, it eliminated the need to carry any oxidizer aboard the vehicle in the early portions of flight.


Instead, the RB545 would use oxygen from the atmosphere, to combust the liquid hydrogen fuel it carried on board; once it reached a height where that was no longer possible, it would switch to use an on-board supply of liquid oxygen and operate like a conventional rocket.

It was fortunate timing that brought this new engine design together with a new Rolls Royce airframe design which could accommodate the liquid fuel in the rear (which incidentally made the aircraft heavy in the aft section (the rear of the aircraft) making for a design with a peculiar and distinct pitch.) The aircraft’s center of gravity became a serious concern to contend with.


While an in-flight launch was certainly an option, it was also explored to launch this vehicle with a form of detached take-off gear, which would fall away as the plane lifted itself.


Sadly, the HOTOL project funding dried up, and aside from a short-lived flirtation with the idea of teaming up with the Soviet Union to continue development (which would have replaced the RB545 with Soviet standard rocket engines) ; the concept stalled for quite a few years.

Never Say Die

The aerospace industry has a real need for a surface launched aircraft that can reach orbit, and then subsequently, land safely for a relatively quick turn -around time to launch again.

The progenitors of the HOTOL were not done.

If we are ever to ‘arrive’ as a space faring people, we are going to have to develop the means to get in and out of space without the monumentally complex operations inherent with multistage rocketry and national-level investments. The first step to towards that goal is best represented in the collective efforts to develop a space plane.

Skylon, a new aircraft design based upon the HOTOL concept is being fervently pursued by Reaction Engines Ltd. They have developed an improved version of the RB545 engine called the SABRE (Synergic Air Breathing Engine).


Notice the gentle curve (7 degrees) of the engine nacelle. I suspect it harkens back to the ‘center of gravity conundrum’ faced by the early HOTOL concept.

The new more compact design of this engine leaped beyond several problems simultaneously, it made possible a new placement of twin engines on either side of a fuselage (notice the similarity between the Skylon profile and the SR-71 of old). These engines can propel the Skylon from Earth to orbit, reaching Mach 25 once outside the atmosphere.



Compare the SR71 frame above with the Skylon frame below....



Skylon’s Sabre engine smartly avoids the need to cool and compress air to a liquid form, taking it only to a ‘vapor’ state which reduces the need for high fuel flow. It also eliminates the need for hardware associated with compression and condensation in typical liquid-fueled rocket engines.


I have chosen the Skylon as the most promising design to come along in quite some time (unless we consider wholly theoretical designs and as of yet unsubstantiated capabilities we may hear about.)

Skylon, is unfortunately still lacking in funding; but given the advanced concept and the dire need for a realistic reusable single stage orbiter, I would expect this technology to become in demand quite soon.


edit on 3-6-2011 by Maxmars because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:04 AM
I almost feel as if you shouldnt have some of these pictures. Great thread though.

Looking forward to all the new tech

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:06 AM
reply to post by Maxmars

Explanation: S&F!

Personal Disclosure: We NEED to think BIGGER!

And they did think BIGGER back in the 1950's...

TPTB can't Tax you, if you're beyond their reach, out in space! Viable ways to get off this planet, (by OmegaLogos posted on 5-1-2011 @ 08:10 AM) [ATS]

1] We have chemical rocketry which will get us very inneficiently of the planet and 90%+ is throwaway at launch!

... Moving on!...

2] We potentially have the Roswell disc's sitting in some far off wonderland! Will we ever get to see it, access it, use it???

... Moving on!...

3] We have nuclear propulsion designed to be feasable in the 1950's under Project Orion!

Project Orion (nuclear propulsion)

Project Orion was a study of a spacecraft intended to be directly propelled by a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the craft (Nuclear pulse propulsion). Early versions of this vehicle were proposed to have taken off from the ground with significant associated nuclear fallout; later versions were presented for use only in space.

What say you???
It's 4000 metric tons of reusable space vehical!
[up to 8million metric tons for biggest version]

Do we really need to reinvent this wheel???

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:22 AM
We need new means of travel...

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:38 AM
great post op, while i agree it would be nice to have a space plane that can take off from a runway and go into space unaided, the concepts of the scaled composite spaceplanes work just as well. the turn around time is short and because they dont need to have a extra fuel to get into postion to fire the rocket at alltitude the size is reduced as is the weight.
which is the main problem with using a rocket from the ground.
you ust have to look at the size of the tanks and boosters needed to get the shuttle into orbit.
yes the virgin galactic planes have only gone to the edge of space so to speak, but thats because of what they are going to be doing , it wouldnt take much to make them go that bit further to true orbit.
as far as weight and size versus fuel costs go, i think a air launch system is the best bet at the moment.

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:41 AM
Great thread, OP!

I have been following the skylon concept for some time, and it indeed looks intriguing. FYI, it is currently funded, altough not much, and the completion of an initial trial phase was supposed to end in mid-2011, which is about now..
Does anyone know whats up with that?

Then there is Dream Chaser, a spaceplane being actively developed by Sierra Nevada corp. Altough not a single stage orbiter (it has to be launched atop Atlas V rocket), it seems very promising to me.

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 12:19 PM
reply to post by mthgs602

I assure you all the images and drawings are openly available on the internet.

Heres a partial list....

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 12:47 PM
Everything on the board is much to small for anything other than LEO and nothing really looks to have substantial cargo for LEO. In order to reach earth escape velocity something has to lift the mass and or fuel to LEO where the next stage of propulsion can start from. Just to put in perspective the size once again of what it took for a substantial payload to do that, here's the scale of the Apollo, the only spacecraft to put men beyond LEO.

Third Stage (S-IVB): The third stage contains one J-2 engine. This engine burns for 2.75 minutes boosting the spacecraft to orbital velocity of about 17,500 mph. The third stage is shut down with fuel remaining and remains attached the spacecraft in Earth orbit. The J-2 engine is reignited to propel the spacecraft into translunar trajectory (speed of 24,500 mph) before finally being discarded.

Remember 24,500 mph is needed for earth escape velocity, not 17-five.
Third stage and payload compared to the whole platform.

Orion was supposed to be the post Shuttle platform but I think that's also shelved.

Relative size comparison.

Payload configurations.

Liquid fueled rockets have the trust no other proposals have but just for a brief couple minutes from LEO to beyond. Lots of proposals on the board but nothing but liquid or solid fueled rockets to get them to their ignition stage. Solid fueled rockets can't be shut off and reignited, they ignite to burnout.

It's nice to hear of all of the proposals but jets just aren't going to lift substantial payloads to ignite to get to LEO. Space X is making lofty claims of heavy payload lifter but to date they got a tiny satellite in orbit so far and returned a block of cheese so far.

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 01:08 PM
reply to post by Illustronic

Thanks for the great material!

I was wondering though, is the 24,500 mph escape velocity a requirement due to the vertical launch? If we were 'planing' couldn't we escape with less need of raw power than trying to punch our way straight up? I hope you get the gist of my question, it probably sounds stupid...

I agree there is nothing quite like the instantaneous power available via rapid compressed liquid combustion. But we might benefit from trying to launch such systems from orbit, rather than from the surface.

I suppose time will tell.

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 03:31 PM
Not a stupid question. An answer is complicated, to understand all of the variables and how calculations can be made in terms of speed see Wiki.

Things don't launch straight up, they usually launch and travel opposite the earth's rotation (go east) as close to the equator as a space program has launch facilities at to take advantage of as much of the 1,000 mph equatorial rotation speed of the earth, otherwise 19,500 mph would be the requirement in speed to reach orbit. The further away you are from the center of the earth the less power you need to escape earth's gravitational pull, and continuous thrust of under escape velocity will keep you from an orbit also, it gets complicated. In orbit you are traveling, speed takes you further from the center of the gravitational influence, a higher orbit, cut the power you reach a higher orbit, reach 25,000 mph you breach the gravitational pull of earth. I believe space probes like Galileo, launched from the Shuttle in LEO (already going 17,500 mph), took a steeper attitude to escape earth orbit to reach a higher maximum speed, cause going to Jupiter takes a long time.

Think of a body's gravity extending to infinity, an unpowered body escaping earth orbit can get close enough to another body, the moon or a planet, that overcomes the sun's orbital influence, further from the sun another star maybe, or the Milky way, to Andromeda galaxy's influence and so on. A body with no power is going to move according to the highest gravitational influence that overcomes the body's directional inertia.

The general consensus is 25,100 mph of an unpowered vehicle or body will not get trapped in an earth orbit.

All of that said the highest ballon parachute jump was from over 102 thousand feet, but because of atmospheric jet streams and such the balloon also didn't go straight up either, and well, became heavier than air at that point.

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 04:09 PM
I have found quite detailed Skylon Assessment Report by ESA, dated May 2011. The conclusion seems to be quite positive overall:

Skylon Assessment Report

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:03 PM
S & F

Ii was going to post some stuff in my response but you covered all the bases I was going to add. Good question. I'll bet a buffalo nickle they already have some space planes/equipment in reserve. I'm not talking about the one the Air-force launched for the public fairly recently either.

edit on 3-6-2011 by SLAYER69 because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:04 PM
reply to post by Maxmars

Attempts were made at them, but failed to meet goals.
The X-30 National Aero-Space Plane from 1987 to 1993 attempted to design scramjet engines in a lifting-body SSTO vehicle "demonstrator" of technology. The Rand Group did an independent assessment in 1993 that killed the program.
The X-33 Venturestar failed to meet goals and NASA canceled after one test flight.

NASP Assessent by Rand:
edit on 3-6-2011 by Granite because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:13 PM
OP, have you checked out Virgin Galactic? Sir Richard Branson has funded a spaceport in New Mexico. He also has the "space planes" to fly into space. Where it's headed is unknown, but thought I would bring it up. My husband helped to build the runway for that project a couple years ago.


posted on Jun, 3 2011 @ 11:51 PM
reply to post by Maxmars

Surely, as a super-duper mod you did this thread to provoke those of us that argue strongly in such threads.
All you need to do to answer your own question is to accept what we know about triangles. What proof do you need that they are the real answer to the so-called--and not just an accidental term of description--"space plane."

Triangles are the answer to our dreams and we are being denied the pure joy of what they are accomplishing on the unstated grounds that they are secret military craft. The militarization of space is fully here now that the semi-military NASA is out of fizzles.

Space activities will be a total secret once the ISS starts falling apart and is abandoned because of inherent structual weaknesses built right into it. No surprises here. It is all part of the plan.

You think theyhave come up empty-handed with no space transport craft because they forgot to plan ahead, have decades of technical delays, funding limits and compounded with total ineptness? Naw! They want you to have such ideas, for example, about the supposedly ill-fated Star Wars program--it worked didn't it-- but they are far more clever than some give them credit for being.

Rocket launches of various types of commercial satellites will gradually and silently be shifted to mysterious ways for them to be put into orbit. --But, of course, those loftings will not be announced as they once were. "Oh, those?" Officials will respond, "They arenow launched from the facility in New Guinea. Didn't you know?. We do a lot of our stuff out there now."

posted on Jun, 4 2011 @ 04:09 AM
If is the only reference to triangles then they simply don't exist, Jeff Rense does not deal reality, he solicits opinionated fantasy.

posted on Jun, 4 2011 @ 04:35 AM

Originally posted by Aliensun
reply to post by Maxmars
Rocket launches of various types of commercial satellites will gradually and silently be shifted to mysterious ways for them to be put into orbit. --But, of course, those loftings will not be announced as they once were. "Oh, those?" Officials will respond, "They arenow launched from the facility in New Guinea. Didn't you know?. We do a lot of our stuff out there now."

There is no New Guinea, however there is a Papua New Guinea, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, there are the The Guyanas or the Guianas, with Gyanna being the former British Guiana, Dutch Guiana, now Suriname, historic Portuguese Guiana (later defunct Brazilian Guiana), and of course French Guiana, everyone knows in French Guiana, the seaside commune Kourou is the location of the Guiana Space Centre, France and ESA's main spaceport.

posted on Jun, 4 2011 @ 04:56 AM
I can’t think of anything more inefficient, uncomfortable and dangerous than using rockets to get out of a gravity well. The only reason we do it is because it’s simple – primitive technology that we can make work. Sticking a pair of wings on the rocket doesn’t help much. Ramjets never seem to live up to their promise.

The sane and sensible ways into orbit are (1) a geosynchronous elevator and (2) a rail gun.

Sadly, these are not technologies in which the military-industrial complex has a great deal of invested capital to amortize. Until Lockheed Martin & co. pay off their loans, we’ll be seeing more of these by-guess-or-by-God contraptions.

posted on Jun, 4 2011 @ 05:00 AM
reply to post by Aliensun

And here you are on another thread pushing triangles again.

You still don’t have a speck of evidence for this nonsense though, do you?

posted on Jun, 4 2011 @ 05:06 AM
reply to post by Astyanax

You must give me a link to this rail gun technology, I've only been aware of the U.S. Navy rail gun prototype and never seen it as a platform to launch a vehicle into space. How many different rail guns are there?

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