GoSlash27

STS Shuttle discussion thread

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 I started this thread to have a place to discuss the Shuttle without having it spill over into other threads.
 

Personally, I never "hated" the Shuttle. I think it was a beautiful piece of engineering and I loved watching it launch. It had some unique capabilities that served us well.
 But the way I see it, we just don't need those capabilities anymore. We're not building any new space stations or repairing Hubble. Moreover, the STS was never as safe or cost- effective as other launch vehicles for the job of delivering crews or payload to LEO.
 The Shuttle was sucking up NASA's budget, getting old and more dangerous with each flight, and keeping us confined to LEO. It was time to let it go and move on IMO.

 I loved it when we had it. I and all of my nerd buddies went out and drank a toast to it on the successful conclusion of it's last flight... but I don't mourn it. I'm glad we're moving on to bigger and more ambitious projects.

Best,
-Slashy

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It was a rather remarkable and iconic launch vehicle. Perhaps with a more focused development process it could've been an excellent launch vehicle, but it tried to accomplish too many things at once and was unable to accomplish them all. We learned a lot of costly lessons from the Space Shuttle, which have helped inform us as we attempt to fill the many goals of this all-in-one vehicle.

An example of the tradeoffs: the USAF wanted it to be able to carry Keyhole satellites, which meant a large cargo bay and payload capacity. That drove development of the very high-performance RS-25, an engine so complex that it probably would have been cheaper just to build new engines to a simpler design each time. Use of this extremely expensive and complicated engine drove up costs, reducing its effectiveness as a cost-effective launch platform.

The RS-25 in particular has probably served as an object lesson to SpaceX and Blue Origin, who focused more on ensuring their engines were robust enough for reuse than on extracting every ounce of performance they could out of their engines. The Merlin is an open-cycle gas generator, the BE-4 operates at a relatively low chamber pressure, and the Raptor uses methane rather than kerosene to reduce coking in the engine (something that also goes for the BE-4).

 

That it was a manned vehicle:

Might have been necessary for reuseability at the time, due to poor computer hardware and the need for precision landings (though this is to me an argument that the Shuttle was ahead of its time).

Drove up refurbishment costs because the parts for a man-rated vehicle have to be very thoroughly checked (not to mention the spotty abort mode coverage).

Conflicted with the intent to use it as a cargo vehicle. The cost of everything goes up for a man-rated vehicle, such that it's best to send the cargo up separately in a cheaper-per-kilogram purely cargo vehicle.

 

While there were some remarkable missions carried out by the Shuttle, such as servicing the Hubble Space Telescope and building large sections of the ISS, I'm glad it's retired: it was too expensive and too dangerous to continue flying. It's taken longer than I would've liked, but now we're finally returning to the capacities we once had. The US is now becoming a leading launch services provider, the Commercial Crew Program should transport astronauts to LEO by 2019 (maybe even this year), and between SpaceX, Blue Origin, and ULA, we'll have a variety of medium to heavy launch vehicles to conduct ambitious missions.

There's also the Senate Launch System, but the one good thing I'll say about that is that it's probably safer than the Space Shuttle was.

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The Shuttle played a big part in me deciding to become an astronaut as a young child, so I'll give it that. Now I have fancy LCD monitors, badS spacesuits, and mood lighting to look forward to in the spaceships I will probably fly.

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By the way, I found a bunch of great videos taken during STS-134, which showcase life and work on the shuttle and ISS. Here is one:

 

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1 hour ago, cubinator said:

The Shuttle played a big part in me deciding to become an astronaut as a young child, so I'll give it that. Now I have fancy LCD monitors, badS spacesuits, and mood lighting to look forward to in the spaceships I will probably fly.

Outta likes.

The Shuttle was dangerous as all hell. That's the one thing that stands out to me. 

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My favorite STS launch video:

 

The view from the SRBs from launch to splashdown.

Best,
-Slashy

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8 minutes ago, sevenperforce said:

Outta likes.

The Shuttle was dangerous as all hell. That's the one thing that stands out to me. 

This this this and so much this! This wasn't the Voskhod or even Gemini era when mankind was still learning how to space and one-up each other and needed to take unnecessary risks. The shuttle had zero contingencies while the SRB's were running. "They" knew for dozens of seconds that Challenger was in trouble and nothing could be done, and don't even get me started on the tree of fail that was Columbia. The day may come when it's a sensible decision to put people on top of a rocket and just trust it to work, but that day was not 40-some years ago! The shuttle was an inherent deathtrap due to its design, and no amount of refining could have changed that. That's why launch abort systems were invented!

/rantoff

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13 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

The shuttle had zero contingencies while the SRB's were running. "They" knew for dozens of seconds that Challenger was in trouble and nothing could be done, and don't even get me started on the tree of fail that was Columbia. The day may come when it's a sensible decision to put people on top of a rocket and just trust it to work, but that day was not 40-some years ago! The shuttle was an inherent deathtrap due to its design, and no amount of refining could have changed that. That's why launch abort systems were invented!

/rantoff

If your earliest abort mode was deemed too risky to even test, maybe you need a different abort mode.

Not to divert discussion to SpaceX, given that this thread was born from that thread, but that's one thing that still bothers me a bit about the BFR design. The lack of a main-engine-independent abort mode doesn't seem wise even now, in a vehicle with ridiculously reliable engines, far better computer control, and multi-engine-out capability. How much moreso in the STS?

STS failures were not a matter of if, but of when, and we lost two crews as a (predictable) result of it. 

Yet for the capabilities we thought we needed, it's true that there simply was no other way to do it at the time. Now, perhaps, we could talk about building a partially-reusable high-volume-cargo-capable crew vehicle with independent abort modes and independent re-entry modes that would make LOC virtually impossible, but that simply wasn't possible back then.

Edited by sevenperforce

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8 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

The shuttle was an inherent deathtrap due to its design, and no amount of refining could have changed that. That's why launch abort systems were invented!

The main safety problem was having the manned vehicle and payload clinging to the side of the rocket instead of sitting on top. If something blows up or comes loose, it's far safer to have it behind you rather than next to you. Lessons learned...

Best,
-Slashy

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2 minutes ago, sevenperforce said:

Not to divert discussion to SpaceX, given that this thread was born from that thread, but that's one thing that still bothers me a bit about the BFR design. The lack of a main-engine-independent abort mode doesn't seem wise even now, in a vehicle with ridiculously reliable engines, far better computer control, and multi-engine-out capability. How much moreso in the STS?

Since we still have so little info on the final design, I'm going to hope that either SpaceX has some kind of contingency planned they haven't told us about yet, or they won't even think of putting people on board until the system has dozens of flights under its belt. Slightly easier if it's rapidly reusable.

5 minutes ago, sevenperforce said:

If your earliest abort mode was deemed too risky to even test, maybe you need a different abort mode.

When an astronaut, who's sort of an expert in physics, calls it an "unnatural act of physics," something's not right.

Sorry, I get worked up over this. Have been ever since I learned the Challenger crew was most likely alive and possibly even conscious... right up until they hit the water.

1 minute ago, GoSlash27 said:

The main safety problem was having the manned vehicle and payload clinging to the side of the rocket instead of sitting on top. If something blows up or comes loose, it's far safer to have it behind you rather than next to you. Lessons learned...

Best,
-Slashy

Quite so. Turns out it's far easier to have another rocket so you can GTFO that way, too...

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2 minutes ago, GoSlash27 said:

The main safety problem was having the manned vehicle and payload clinging to the side of the rocket instead of sitting on top. If something blows up or comes loose, it's far safer to have it behind you rather than next to you. Lessons learned...

Wouldn't have helped either of the two LOCVs.

For all the spectacular fireworks of rocket failures, most are actually fairly benign. Midair RUDs tend to be rapid deflagrations, not detonations, since the fuel-oxidizer mixture disperses far more rapidly than it can combust. When Proton-M (2013) and Antares hit the ground, of course, things got much more energetic. But that is why you need dedicated escape engines.

Ultimately, both STS LOCVs resulted from fairly predictable problems. Strap-on booster failures happen. A large vehicle with a huge thermal-tile re-entry surface may well suffer a burn-through or other tile failure. But in both Challenger and Columbia, the actual problem was that the crew had no lifeboat. The cabin could not re-enter or land without the rest of the orbiter. There was no escape route.

15 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Since we still have so little info on the final design, I'm going to hope that either SpaceX has some kind of contingency planned they haven't told us about yet, or they won't even think of putting people on board until the system has dozens of flights under its belt. Slightly easier if it's rapidly reusable.

I'm more concerned about the 100th flight than the first flight.

I really would like to see abort modes tested. That is all.

15 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Sorry, I get worked up over this. Have been ever since I learned the Challenger crew was most likely alive and possibly even conscious... right up until they hit the water.

Chutes, dammit, chutes!

A gorram shame.

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Yup. And while we're being critical, it was a compromise design that never fulfilled the original requirement that was envisioned for it. "STS" in it's original form was an entire transportation network, not a single vehicle. The shuttle wasn't supposed to be vertical launch or unpowered on return. It was supposed to be cheaper to operate, have much quicker turn- around time, and pay for itself through reusability. None of those things happened. The engines (SRB and LF) wound up cheaper to replace than refurbish, and that obviated the entire point of the design.

 Still... what we got gave us unprecedented access to LEO and made a lot of things possible that wouldn't otherwise have been.

Best,
-Slashy

17 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Sorry, I get worked up over this. Have been ever since I learned the Challenger crew was most likely alive and possibly even conscious... right up until they hit the water.

IIRC, That happened when I was 14 years old. I was pretty shaken by it, but I understood that astronauts understand and accept the risks when they volunteer. It was a different time then.
What bothered me more was finding out later that people had seen the danger, raised the alarms, and pleaded for an abort on that launch and they were overridden. I see that as more of a failure of leadership than design.

Best,
-Slashy

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10 minutes ago, GoSlash27 said:

Yup. And while we're being critical, it was a compromise design that never fulfilled the original requirement that was envisioned for it. "STS" in it's original form was an entire transportation network, not a single vehicle. The shuttle wasn't supposed to be vertical launch or unpowered on return. It was supposed to be cheaper to operate, have much quicker turn- around time, and pay for itself through reusability. None of those things happened. The engines (SRB and LF) wound up cheaper to replace than refurbish, and that obviated the entire point of the design.

 Still... what we got gave us unprecedented access to LEO and made a lot of things possible that wouldn't otherwise have been.

Wasn't supposed to be vertical launch? I'm aware of the jet engines intended for powered return of the DC-3, and of other Shuttle-variant plans, but I didn't know of any non-VT versions that were seriously considered.

I do agree, though; for its time, the ability to put crew and cargo into orbit together and bring the whole shebang back down to Earth was quite astounding. Ahead of its time, even. Just not safely so.

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4 minutes ago, sevenperforce said:

Wasn't supposed to be vertical launch? I'm aware of the jet engines intended for powered return of the DC-3, and of other Shuttle-variant plans, but I didn't know of any non-VT versions that were seriously considered.

Yup. The original plan was supposed to be HOTOL. In the budget cuts following of Apollo, the entire project was threatened to be axed. Everything was eliminated except the shuttle itself, but the R&D was still too high, so Rockwell was forced into a compromise design to balance R&D with operational cost. Hence vertical launch with "reusable" SRBs.

Best,
-Slashy

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4 minutes ago, GoSlash27 said:

Yup. The original plan was supposed to be HOTOL. In the budget cuts following of Apollo, the entire project was threatened to be axed. Everything was eliminated except the shuttle itself, but the R&D was still too high, so Rockwell was forced into a compromise design to balance R&D with operational cost. Hence vertical launch with "reusable" SRBs.

Which design was the HOTOL one?

While we're on the subject of alternate Shuttles, might I submit what has got to be THE most inaccurate scene from anything involving the Shuttles, ever:

Like...what the actual hell?

Are they supposed to be...underwater?

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3 hours ago, GoSlash27 said:

 I started this thread to have a place to discuss the Shuttle without having it spill over into other threads.
 

Personally, I never "hated" the Shuttle. I think it was a beautiful piece of engineering and I loved watching it launch. It had some unique capabilities that served us well.
 But the way I see it, we just don't need those capabilities anymore. We're not building any new space stations or repairing Hubble. Moreover, the STS was never as safe or cost- effective as other launch vehicles for the job of delivering crews or payload to LEO.
 The Shuttle was sucking up NASA's budget, getting old and more dangerous with each flight, and keeping us confined to LEO. It was time to let it go and move on IMO.

 I loved it when we had it. I and all of my nerd buddies went out and drank a toast to it on the successful conclusion of it's last flight... but I don't mourn it. I'm glad we're moving on to bigger and more ambitious projects.

Best,
-Slashy

Why bring this up, it killed the other thread.

You are offering an opinion that I disagree with, which is at the heart of the conflict that killed the other thead.

330px-NASA_budget_linegraph_BH.PNG

SHuttle was dropped in 2010, the budget did not change markedly, but we lost capability, that is for certain.

2 hours ago, Starman4308 said:

While there were some remarkable missions carried out by the Shuttle, such as servicing the Hubble Space Telescope and building large sections of the ISS, I'm glad it's retired: it was too expensive and too dangerous to continue flying. It's taken longer than I would've liked, but now we're finally returning to the capacities we once had.

Some not all of the capability, and after 10 years that is the worst planned replacement ever. The computer system was obsolete, true, that the vehicle was over built for its current responsibility, true, but I would have like to have seen one retained full size shuttle, I'de like to see another Hubble go up. But anyway that's a luxury, manned space-flight capability is not, a 'mobile' working space platform is not.

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26 minutes ago, GoSlash27 said:

Still... what we got gave us unprecedented access to LEO and made a lot of things possible that wouldn't otherwise have been.

Did it really, tho? If the money had instead been used to refine and improve Apollo/Saturn hardware, we could have done even more.

6 minutes ago, sevenperforce said:

Like...what the actual hell?

I’ve found the best course of action with this movie is to kick one’s disbelief squarely in the fork then lock it in the closet for a couple of hours, and smile at the pretty pictures. 

Oooohhh... Aaaahhhh... ^_^

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5 minutes ago, PB666 said:

Why bring this up, it killed the other thread.

You are offering an opinion that I disagree with, which is at the heart of the conflict that killed the other thead.

PB666,

 I brought it up because the subject was a distraction in a different thread. As always: when we disagree, it's not the disagreement that derails a thread. It's how we conduct ourselves.

Best,
-Slashy

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Why bring up an issue again that is contentious that very strongly held positions are repeated over again?

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6 minutes ago, GoSlash27 said:

sevenperforce,
 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_design_process

^ Looked like this.

The Rockwell was a VTHL concept, not a HOTOL.

5 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

Did it really, tho? If the money had instead been used to refine and improve Apollo/Saturn hardware, we could have done even more.

Probably. Never would have had the ability to send up crew and cargo together, though, which at the time was believed to be critical. We could do it now much more easily (and safely), of course, but at the time, not so much.

7 minutes ago, CatastrophicFailure said:

I’ve found the best course of action with this movie is to kick one’s disbelief squarely in the fork then lock it in the closet for a couple of hours, and smile at the pretty pictures. 

Oooohhh... Aaaahhhh... ^_^

I take joy in the sheer bounty of fallacy in that film. I think it's something like one major technical error every 44 seconds, on average.

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1 minute ago, PB666 said:

Why bring up an issue again that is contentious that very strongly held positions are repeated over again?

PB666,
 See above. It was a distraction in another thread. Perfectly fine to talk about a contentious subject so long as 1) it doesn't violate the rules and 2) everybody involved conducts themselves civilly. So far we're doing just fine.

Best,
-Slashy

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Might I point out that despite the presumable advantages of a horizontal landing, you're still relying on what is essentially the worst-case-scenario-abort for aerodynamic flight, specifically, an unpowered landing. There is no go-around, no contingency. And any system failure during the 210+ mph landing approach likely would have meant LOCV.

The design compromises required for a vehicle capable of gliding re-entry AND subsonic descent and landing contributed in large part to the reason Columbia was an unavoidable death trap.

Edited by sevenperforce

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1 minute ago, sevenperforce said:

Might I point out that despite the presumable advantages of a horizontal landing, you're still relying on what is essentially the worst-case-scenario-abort for powered flight, specifically, an unpowered landing. There is no go-around, no contingency. And any system failure during the 210+ mph landing approach likely would have meant LOCV.

The design compromises required for a vehicle capable of gliding re-entry AND subsonic descent and landing contributed in large part to the reason Columbia was an unavoidable death trap.

Well, yeah... but that's why it was supposed to have jet engines originally.

Still looking for the original HOTOL concepts. A lot of broken links... :(

Best,
-Slashy

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6 minutes ago, PB666 said:

Some not all of the capability, and after 10 years that is the worst planned replacement ever. The computer system was obsolete, true, that the vehicle was over built for its current responsibility, true, but I would have like to have seen one retained full size shuttle, I'de like to see another Hubble go up. But anyway that's a luxury, manned space-flight capability is not, a 'mobile' working space platform is not.

Under no circumstances could I possibly countenance continuation of the Space Shuttle program. The operating costs were through the roof, and there were multiple glaring flaws with the concept that made it far less safe than any manned space vehicle should be, such as the absence of an effective LAS. The only really unique things that the Space Shuttle brought were a large-volume payload bay and manned capabilities; in terms of payload mass, it's pretty thoroughly matched by the Delta IV Heavy, and will be exceeded by the Falcon Heavy and New Glenn.

I would rather have the US go for another couple decades without indigenous human spaceflight capability than risk astronauts in the disaster (and expensive disaster) that was the Space Shuttle.

It was a failure as a cargo delivery vehicle due to poor operational tempo and sky-high operating costs (estimated at something in the realm of $18,000/kg). Maintaining "just one" Space Shuttle would make this even worse, since the vast majority of Space Shuttle operational costs were fixed costs that did not change no matter how many or how few launches they made.

It was a failure as a human spaceflight system due to numerous design flaws making it a dangerous craft to be in; on top of that, it had essentially no capacity to go beyond LEO, whereas even the "low-capability" Crew Dragon can go for a lunar free return.

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