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The Integrated Program Plan | A reconstruction of NASA's follow up to the Apollo program from 1969


Beccab
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"Perhaps the single, most consuming scientific question of the space program is: 'Does extraterrestrial life exist in our solar system?' Has life ever existed on Mars? Does it exist now? Are conditions such that some form of life could exist? [...] The systems of the 1970's are the foundation for building major space facilities in the 1980's. The 1975 space station evolves into a Space Base that can support up to 100 people by the early 1980's. This facility allows extensive multi-disciplinary scientific activities as indicated. A geosynchronous station is practical in this time period with the availability of the nuclear shuttle. Similarly, these new systems permit increased lunar operations. The logical culmination of the next decade is a Manned Mars Landing Mission in the the early 1980's. The systems and experience gained in the 1970's make this a feasible undertaking."
                                                                                                   - paraphrased from Wernher Von Braun's presentation of the IPP to Nixon's Space Task Group, 4/8/1969

Hello and welcome to this thread! My plan with this mission report is to make a reconstruction of the many missions that the Integrated Program Plan would have been compromised of in a chronological manner, starting at the early stages of the program and going ahead until hopefully the first martian mission, but there's a lot more than that happening before that! While I'm taking most of the planning from E. Grenning's schedule, I've modified it to include some of the proposals that were made in the following years both before and after the program's cancellation; some of the schedules will also end up shifting to the right, like it always happens:P. However, all the key objectives and vehicles of the IPP will remain intact, from the little Space Tug to the massive Nuclear Shuttles and Space Base. The first mission, set in 1974 begins in the next post, but for now enjoy a sneak peek of what used to be the future!

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I'll probably forget to update this list pretty often, but here's the list of chapters:

1974: The beginning
1974: The Nuclear Skylab Crew
1975 - The reusable Space Tug
1975: Orbiter approach and landing test
1975: Skylab B expansion & more
1976 - The Earth to Orbit Shuttle
1976: Flying by the d'Arrest comet
1976: The dawn of the Earth to Orbit Shuttle
1976: The Orbital Propellant Depot (and Space Tug) (also, here's the poster of the mission)
1977: Assembly of the Orbiting Propellant Depot
 

 

Edited by Beccab
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1974: The beginning
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Although IPP was actually set to begin in 1970, until now it has mostly looked like an accelerated version of our timeline: the lunar missions proceeded without flaws at a rate of two per year, the first Skylab launched at the end of 1972 and last year, 1973, marked the end the end of both programs with Skylab III and Apollo 20. This also marks the first two points of divergence between the IPP schedule and the one I chose to recreate, as in IPP the Saturn V should have continued to fly people to the moon with various interim configurations for no particular reason other than to maintain the yearly rate of lunar trips until a sustainable architecture was developed; here, instead, the lunar missions have just ceased, and will only begin when the other parts of the plan are active in ~5 years.

The second point of divergence is the Shuttle: as the fully reusable design continued evolving after IPP was conceived, one of the ideas was completing the flyback booster first to use with Saturn upper stages so that NASA can start using reusable rockets while the orbiter is still in development. That's what I chose to use here and recreate in today's post: specifically, McDonnel Douglas/Martin Marietta's concept of the flyback/S-IVB rocket shown below, which anticipates the Shuttle's debut by a year

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There's also a second launch happening in this post which is visible in the background, but I'll get to that later. Here's the mission, marking the maiden launch of NASA's first reusable rocket, named Odyssey by its crew:
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The rocket's payload is the COLD-SAT: an unflown satellite designed in the 80s and meant to test the viability of large scale handling of cryogenic fuels in orbit for in-space refueling and fuel depots which are planned to enter use later in this decade. It also allows to test the rocket unmanned before starting to put crew on it, which will happen quite soon

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Now, the second launch: the year 1974 marked, in NASA's plans, also the launch of the second Skylab station. While it's likely that the plan was to simply take Skylab B and launch it in a slightly different configuration, I went instead for another amazing design at the time: the nuclear Skylab, studied in 1969 and found here
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Considering how much of IPP is based on the use of nuclear in space, it makes sense to take this opportunity to start testing this stuff early on. Launching only a few days after Odyssey's maiden flight, this station will also double as a staging ground for lunar missions during the early phases of the program
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As Skylab B is now in a stable orbit and ready to carry crew, the next missions are coming soon  - we're still in 1974, but not for long:P
 

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9 hours ago, Jacktical said:

This is so cool!

 

24 minutes ago, Redleg1 said:

@Beccab Your builds are absolutely fantastic! I also really enjoy the narratives and information included in your posts. Looking forward to seeing more of your amazing work.

Thanks all! There's a new post coming soon (probably tomorrow), covering the rest of 1974 and the first crew rotations at the nuclear Skylab

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Posted (edited)

1974: The Nuclear Skylab crew
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As the year goes by, several important events occur: first is the debut of the second manned flyback, the booster Constitution, while Odyssey was undergoing refurbishment; this carried to orbit a mockup of the orbital Apollo CM/SM developed for the Skylab program, testing the system for starting to carry crew to orbit and allowing NASA to fully replace the Saturn 1B-class missions with a cheaper and more capable rocket. 1974 concludes with not one, but two manned launches to Skylab B: testing of the NPS (Nuclear Power System) in orbit can now begin, paving the way to the many future uses of nuclear reactors in space that are being considered.

As for the design of the rocket, I haven't found anything proposing something similar to it in the studies at the time; however, it isn't much different from one of the CEV configuration studied in the early 2000s to replace our Shuttle, like the one below:
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It isn't too unreasonable to think that in a timeline where NASA went for accelerating Shuttle development by prioritizing the flyback booster over the orbiter it would have been necessary to use an interim vehicle in order to continue sending people to orbit while the rest of the architecture is still in development hell.

And now, without waiting any longer, here's the launch:
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And since I forgot to do it last time, here's the footage of Odyssey going back to the Shuttle Flyback Landing Facility at Cape Canaveral:
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1974 now is finally over; if all goes well, next year is going to be even more exciting, with the last important tests of the earth-to-orbit shuttle (EOS for short) and many more Skylab B related activities. See you soon!

Edited by Beccab
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17 minutes ago, Austin_Kerman said:

Wow, that flyback booster is amazing!

Thanks! Part of it is definitely because McDonnell's flyback design is more aesthetically pleasing than DC3-like concepts, like this 2sts_g70.jpg

They also look far more interesting, as the others are basically justbigger and less heat shielded orbiters which is boring. About the orbiter, unfortunately McDonnell's choice honestly looks dumb: p336-mcdonnell-douglas-design.gif

It's just a taller, twin engine Orbiter that looks otherwise very similar to the one we got if it wasn't for the big long nose. Luckily, I found a lore (NTRS) accurate solution for that, which I'll talk about more when it's Orbiter atmospheric flight test time :wink:

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Posted (edited)

1975 - The reusable Space Tug
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(Original IPP artwork depicting this mission as initially conceived, made by me in gimp five minutes ago)

The Skylab B crew has just finished celebrating the new year's eve in orbit, and it's already time for them to prepare for some action. They are about to see the arrival of one of the most fundamental aspects of the IPP (and definitely the one that survived it for the most time despite being never realized, returing in a lot of various configurations in the 80s, 90s and even today), which is the Space Tug: a reusable, manned, cryogenically fueled spacecraft that greatly augumented the capabilities of the Earth to Orbit Shuttle in LEO, GEO and even the lunar surface. There's a ton of different proposed designs even for only IPP and it will receive continous upgrades as the program proceeds thanks to its modularity, but for this initial test mission I'm going for the simplest of the group; I've put the design below (taken from here, but the whole series is possibly the greatest documents you will ever find on NTRS. They'll return in various future missions I'll put here, but I really suggest taking a look at it for 650 pages of endless different designs).

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But that's not all: after the successful test of cryogenic fuel handling in orbit on the COLD-SAT last year, another key part of the architecture will be comanifested in the same launch under the form of the small and linear fuel depot depicted below:

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The mini-depot, taken from here (another amazing NTRS document, which took me weeks to find when I was looking for apollo era orbital depot designs) is a depot mostly in the name: in fact, it doesn't even carry fuel in itself, but on separate modules launched by the EOS or an equivalent launcher and discarded once empty. The result is the same however, as it allows filling up the space tug for further reuse in orbit. This is what is going to happen today!

Back to the alternate history's timeline, this year's launches are off to a great start: Odyssey and Constitition are back on LC-39B and LC-39C following another crew rotation at Skylab B, ready to begin the space tug/orbital depot test
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Odyssey is the first to go, carrying inside the newly developed extended fairing the unmanned tug and the refuelling module stacked together; the paint job on the S-IVB has also changed as part of a series of upgrades that the launch system is undergoing

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(thanks to @GoldForestfor correcting the point of the flight in which the Poseidon SRBs should light up)
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After docking the refueling module at Skylab B's northeastern port, the tug relocates to the northwestern one for maintainance and the first of a series of inspections on the vehicle to determine how well it behaves in space.

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After a few days, it's now Constitution's turn: the second part of the test consists in the delivery of the propellant to fill the tug using a tanker on top of the S-IVB, the design of which comes from the Orbital Launch Facility studies that precede the IPP by a few years (depicted below)

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Time for the last test: once the Space Tug relocates to the second fueling port of the mini-depot, the structure undocks from Nuclear Skylab and becomes a free flyer for the duration of the test.
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The cryo fuel transfer is pretty simple: first the RCS system activates to start moving forward the mini depot; so that the fuel settles on the bottom of the tanker; then, from this position the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen can be pumped to the Space Tug to fill its nearly empty tanks. The test is quite slow but successful; for the first time, cryogenic fuel transfer in orbit between different spacecrafts has been demonstrated, mostly in the same way as how it is going to be done in the near future.
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Down on the surface, there are big preparations ongoing for the next chapter since the first full scale Space Shuttle has been completed: the orbiter, named Endeavor in honour of Apollo 15's command module, has just been presented to the public for the first time before beginning the flight tests

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Next up is Endeavour's atmospheric flight tests, as well as some more info on the design!

Edited by Beccab
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1 hour ago, Beccab said:

1975 - It's Space Tug time!
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(Original IPP artwork depicting this mission as initially conceived, made by me in gimp five minutes ago)

The Skylab B crew has just finished celebrating the new year's eve in orbit, and it's already time for them to prepare for some action. They are about to see the arrival of one of the most fundamental aspects of the IPP (and definitely the one that survived it for the most time despite being never realized, returing in a lot of various configurations in the 80s, 90s and even today), which is the Space Tug: a reusable, manned, cryogenically fueled spacecraft that greatly augumented the capabilities of the Earth to Orbit Shuttle in LEO, GEO and even the lunar surface. There's a ton of different proposed designs even for only IPP and it will receive continous upgrades as the program proceeds thanks to its modularity, but for this initial test mission I'm going for the simplest of the group; I've put the design below (taken from here, but the whole series is possibly the greatest documents you will ever find on NTRS. They'll return in various future missions I'll put here, but I really suggest taking a look at it for 650 pages of endless different designs).

But that's not all: after the successful test of cryogenic fuel handling in orbit on the COLD-SAT last year, another key part of the architecture will be comanifested in the same launch under the form of the small and linear fuel depot depicted below:

The mini-depot, taken from here (another amazing NTRS document, which took me weeks to find when I was looking for apollo era orbital depot designs) is a depot mostly in the name: in fact, it doesn't even carry fuel in itself, but on separate modules launched by the EOS or an equivalent launcher and discarded once empty. The result is the same however, as it allows filling up the space tug for further reuse in orbit. This is what is going to happen today!

Back to the alternate history's timeline, this year's launches are off to a great start: Odyssey and Constitition are back on LC-39B and LC-39C following another crew rotation at Skylab B, ready to begin the space tug/orbital depot test
wdfdpNd.png

Odyssey is the first to go, carrying inside the newly developed extended fairing the unmanned tug and the refuelling module stacked together; the paint job on the S-IVB has also changed as part of a series of upgrades that the launch system is undergoing

xDv18tj.png
(thanks to @GoldForestfor correcting the point of the flight in which the Poseidon SRBs should light up)
IzxcatI.pngvOXBIGu.pngjRj6RzP.pngHZGHaSZ.pngtIC6bNW.pngo0kXc3z.pngv2JJtXW.png

After docking the refueling module at Skylab B's northeastern port, the tug relocates to the northwestern one for maintainance and the first of a series of inspections on the vehicle to determine how well it behaves in space.

x2bs5Rf.png

After a few days, it's now Constitution's turn: the second part of the test consists in the delivery of the propellant to fill the tug using a tanker on top of the S-IVB, the design of which comes from the Orbital Launch Facility studies that precede the IPP by a few years (depicted below)

toSteWS.pngJtbrmyI.pngWRAsSmJ.pngmTw0Sa6.pngZ5WtFyb.pngO7RONs1.png0WZiPYx.pngLSMv0A0.png

Time for the last test: once the Space Tug relocates to the second fueling port of the mini-depot, the structure undocks from Nuclear Skylab and becomes a free flyer for the duration of the test.
683qzNS.pngGrQNSZc.png

The cryo fuel transfer is pretty simple: first the RCS system activates to start moving forward the mini depot; so that the fuel settles on the bottom of the tanker; then, from this position the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen can be pumped to the Space Tug to fill its nearly empty tanks. The test is quite slow but successful; for the first time, cryogenic fuel transfer in orbit between different spacecrafts has been demonstrated, mostly in the same way as how it is going to be done in the near future.
KrBmdHS.png

Down on the surface, there are big preparations ongoing for the next chapter since the first full scale Space Shuttle has been completed: the orbiter, named Endeavor in honour of Apollo 15's command module, has just been presented to the public for the first time before beginning the flight tests

Screenshot_11531.pngScreenshot_11532.png

Next up is Endeavour's atmospheric flight tests, as well as some more info on the design!

This is hilariously absurd and I love it, incredible recreations and I can't wait to see what comes next! 

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2 hours ago, Beccab said:

Down on the surface, there are big preparations ongoing for the next chapter since the first full scale Space Shuttle has been completed: the orbiter, named Endeavor in honour of Apollo 15's command module, has just been presented to the public for the first time before beginning the flight tests

Screenshot_11531.pngScreenshot_11532.png

This is really awesome!! Wow!

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1975: Orbiter approach and landing test
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It's time for the last key test before the beginning of the orbital flights: the EOS Endeavour, mated to the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft, will depart from the Edwards Air Force Base and then glide back to the runaway on its own. You may notice a few differences from the real Approach and landing tests: for example, in this mission...
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this is how the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft looks like :wink:. The design was one of the various airplanes proposed to carry the orbiter, this one in particular by Boeing; it was chosen this time because of the higher mass and larger dimensions of this Shuttle, and plus, it looks cool

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And now, without wasting any more time, we have liftoff:
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Once the SCA has reached operational altitude, it's time to release the orbiter...t3FT3GP.pnga9z2lLI.png
...and light this candle!
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The 4 air-startable SSME light up at the same time, pushing the orbiter up by a few hundreds of meters; it's a rather short flight, but enough to testthe conditions the shuttle will endure after stage separation in a real flight
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The deployment of the drag chute concludes today's flight; the conditions Endeavour will now be reviewed throughly, and a few more approach and landing flight tests made to gain experience with the way the shuttle glides at subsonic speeds. The first orbital flight has never been closer!

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These are some beautiful crafts and pictures! I do have a question though. Why is the fly back booster manned? It doesn't seem to have any upsides since the crew wouldn't be going to orbit while keeping the downsides of needing crew to launch a cargo mission along with the risk of having your crew die if something goes wrong. Did NASA not think they could have autonomous landing technology ready at that point in time?

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Posted (edited)
44 minutes ago, CDSlice said:

These are some beautiful crafts and pictures! I do have a question though. Why is the fly back booster manned? It doesn't seem to have any upsides since the crew wouldn't be going to orbit while keeping the downsides of needing crew to launch a cargo mission along with the risk of having your crew die if something goes wrong. Did NASA not think they could have autonomous landing technology ready at that point in time?

Hmm, good question. It's worth mentioning that this flyback was originally studied only to launch the Shuttle orbiter, with the Expendable Second Stage part being mostly a side effect that was added later, which means that if something went wrong you would have had crew losing their life even if it the flyback was unmanned. I wouldn't be surprised if this was similar to the case of the real Space Shuttle, which was technically capable of launching and landing autonomously from the first launch but was made artificially unable to do so for the influence of the astronaut cops (partly because of concerns that the shuttle would extend the landing gear erroneously during reentry destroying the orbiter).

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28 minutes ago, CDSlice said:

These are some beautiful crafts and pictures! I do have a question though. Why is the fly back booster manned? It doesn't seem to have any upsides since the crew wouldn't be going to orbit while keeping the downsides of needing crew to launch a cargo mission along with the risk of having your crew die if something goes wrong. Did NASA not think they could have autonomous landing technology ready at that point in time?

I can't speak with any certainty, but I don't believe autopilot technology had advanced enough to allow for autonomous landings, and even with such capabilities, the Astronaut corp put immense pressure on NASA not to include it, as they did not want NASA's flagship spacecraft not to need pilots.

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22 hours ago, billbobjebkirk said:

I don't believe autopilot technology had advanced enough to allow for autonomous landings

Buran made a completely autonomous landing on its first flight, only a few years after the shuttle.

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1975: Skylab B expansion & more
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This was a long year for Odyssey and Constitution: with 7 launches (five of which crewed), the launch cadence is starting to increase exponentially. An important milestone was also reached at the end of the year, with the beginning of the continous inhabitation of the space station and the handover in orbit of the station from the commander of Skylab 11 to the one Skylab 12! In preparation for the first EOS mission , Skylab 11 also added a pressurized docking adapter to the western aft port to allow easier docking of the Orbiter with Skylab

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In order to adhere to the busy launch schedule of the next few years, a new booster makes its debut with an uncrewed launch: here's Ingenuity, the third manned flyback!

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To increase the payload to orbit further, new materials have been adopted in the construction of this orbiter, including a new "SOFI" insulation covering the hydrogen tank and less paint over the structure. If it proves to work and to be more efficient than the standard aluminium hull, it's planned to be adopted in the existing (and future) orbiters as well.

Its first payload is the Astronomy Remote Module, an optical telescope that should increase greatly the scientific value of Skylab B

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As the telescope begins studying the universe, starting from the M100 galaxy, an even more important event happens down on Earth: the rollout of the first, complete Earth to Orbit Shuttle, exiting the VAB and going towards LC-39B for its maiden launch!
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See you on the next post for the 1976 launch of the Endeavour and Odyssey!

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1976 - The Earth to Orbit Shuttle
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The time has come.  After being delayed of almost a year since its original launch date the most complex machine ever built by mankind, the EOS Endeavour, is on the launchpad ready to lift two brave people to LEO and back in its maiden flight!

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But first, let's start with some lore tidbits. I'll go off topic a bit before going back to the alternate history's timeline, so feel free to skip this section if you aren't interested. As I mentioned previously, the flyback booster is McDonnel Douglas/Martin Marietta's proposal for the Space Shuttle phase-B study, where the Phase-A concepts for a fully reusable space shuttle were refined to better fit the agency's needs and prepare for production (Phase-C, instead, came because Nixon cut the funds needed for the phase-B concepts by a lot and NASA had to retreat and settle for a partially reusable & expendable tank design)

Spoiler

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I know what you're thinking  - the Endeavour of the approach and landing tests doesn't look like the MDAC phase B Shuttle Orbiter at all! That's because the orbiter proposed was a rather ugly and tall shuttle, hard to kitbash and not really worth it for such a dumb looking spaceplane (see below)
 

Spoiler

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From the scarce evidence I found, however, it seems that between phase A and B there was another orbiter studied by the two companies for that booster, which coincidentally was also at the same time the IPP was proposed. You can see it in this rather interesting graphic as the second configuration, mated to the same flyback we have seen
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Now, when I found that graphic I really didn't have an idea of what the hell I was looking at - the low cross range orbiter is from McDonnell's phase A, while all the boosters are from Phase B and the high cross range orbiter didn't appear in any study I could find. But then I also found somewhere a second, important graphic that depicted precisely the orbiter I was trying to find and completed the picture:

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That's the Martin Marietta Spacemaster! https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/model-space-shuttle-martin-marietta-spacemaster-two-stage-concept-196/nasm_A19740729000

Spoiler

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It seems that at some point in the MDAC+Martin collaboration they studied putting together what they had developed separately for a quick and dirty option to have a high cross range orbiter that satisfied NASA's requirements, which means putting the Spacemaster atop the Douglas Phase-B booster and sending them to orbit this way. Of course, the little evidence I have could also mean that the guy that had to put up graphics read the notice wrong and put there the Spacemaster instead of the intended orbiter, so this concept may have never existed, but it looks rather nice!

Enough talk, it's time for John Young and Fred Haise to go to space!:cool:

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For its maiden flight, Endeavour is carrying in its cargo bay a low risk, low mass payload: the Power Extension Package, an old proposal to augument the Shuttle's capabilities with a deployable solar panel
 

Spoiler

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While the vehicle is on its way to the space station and with the PEP placed the field of view of the cockpit, the deployment sequence can begin

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The crew can now move to Skylab B for a three days stay to check out the orbiter- the Apollo spacecraft has been outfitted to be able to accept five crew members on the way down in case of an emergency, and any problems encountered during the inspection that would prevent the EOS from surviving reentry would result in the crew reentering in the CM instead. As no such problems are identified, the return sequence can now begin!

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To reduce risks, no EVA has been planned for the crew during this initial flight, which means that the PEP cannot be retracted and needs to be discarded to reenter the atmosphere separately just before the payload bay gets closed, the spacecrafts rotates of 180 degrees and the deorbit burn starts

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  • 4 weeks later...

1976: Flying by the d'Arrest comet

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Heya, long time no see! While probably I won't be able to start making regular posts for about a month as I'm still preparing for finals, I found some time to prepare for the next EOS mission, which marks the beginning of the unmanned planetary exploration in the integrated program plan.

As the IPP was comprehensive of more or less every decently important mission NASA could think of at the time, probes weren't left alone. As you might have guessed from the title, the first is planned to jumpstart the exploration of the comets in the solar system by making a close flyby to the d'Arrest comet, the easiest to approach in 1976. The Venus Explorer Orbiter was also planned to launch this year, but problems in the Space Tug development schedule and in the spacecraft itself delayed it indefinitely. 

The design I went with for the flyby is the one below, derived from Mariner 10:

Spoiler

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(source: NTRS doc 19760016041, titled "Planetary mission summaries. Volume 1: Introduction and overview")

It's time to roll out the second orbiter: "Orion", named after the Apollo 16 LM and the spaceplane in 2001: A space odyssey, is ready to reach orbit with the EOS-3 mission.
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Onto the launch itself, the way probes would have been launched under IPP is quite complex: first two space tugs are sent into orbit, then they are mated together and only at this point the probe is launched on an EOS, put on top of the space tug pair and launched to its destination. After that, both tugs start a boostback manuevre and return to an orbital propellant depot to be refueled and reused.

Spoiler

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(source: NTRS doc 19710011980 , titled "Pre-phase A Study for an Analysis of a Reusable Space Tug. Volume 4 - Spacecraft Concepts and Systems Design Final Report")

However, for this first mission a lot of parts are missing - the only tug currently active has no aft docking port and an insufficient amount of hydrazine to complete the manuevres necessary to return to Skylab B without endangering the crew, meaning that only a part of the objectives can be reached in this configuration. The d'Arrest flyby window is unfortunately quite tiny as it's often the case with comets, which means that the mission will still proceed by expending both tugs; on top of that, there's no manipulator module in either, which means the upper tug and d'Arrest Mariner are going up together in the same EOS

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While most missions won't carry the Power Extension Package with them, this time it's necessary - in fact, Orion will have to wait for almost a month in free flight for the next part of the mission to begin, conducting research and testing in the meantime.

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(Skylab B as it looks like in 1976, with its crew of 4 awaiting for the second tug's arrival)

After completing an initial burn to align its orbit with the one of Skylab B, the tug/probe assembly can approach the station's Keep Out Sphere to dock with the fully fueled tug stationed there. As the station is inhabited by the crew left there by Endeavour while it undergoes refurbishment after EOS-2, an Apollo CM is kept docked in case of emergency - a standard procedure now that there's so few orbiters, and none currently available.

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After a final checkout by the Skylab crew, it's time to launch!

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While the second tug continues boosting the probe further and further away, the mission of the first stage isn't over yet: the remaining fuel isn't enough for a return to Skylab, but it can still reduce its now elliptic orbit enough to become a target for a rendezvouz with Orion in what will become the orbiter's first attempt at catching a satellite!

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(MMU design based on the Gemini AMU)
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After removing the avionics and black box to analyze the full data gathered on the ground, the tug is separated from the EOS and the preparations for the reentry begin - this is the first flight that will return to Cape instead of landing at Edwards, thus allowing for a less painfully slow refurbishment process.

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With the EOS-3 mission coming to a close, so does the d'Arrest Mariner: after separating from the tug...

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... and reaching the target comet...

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...this marks the first stress test of the system as a complete success. See you in the next post!

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  • 2 weeks later...
Posted (edited)

1976: The dawn of the Earth to Orbit Shuttle
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For this new post I decided to take a break from the main IPP-centered schedule to focus on the EOS; in particular, I took a few of the hundreds (thousands?) of proposed-but-cancelled missions that were proposed for the Space Shuttle, some because of the exorbitant cost that our shuttle had per launch and others for safety concerns following the Challenger disaster. Three orbiters for seven payloads, all proposed between the late 70s and early 80s to make use of what they hoped would be a cheap way to get to orbit in the next few years

Part 1 - To boldly see where no man has seen before

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After the triumphant maiden flight of Orion, the first of a new series of Shuttles has launched from Cape Canaveral: It's Enterprise, which thanks to the data aquired in the first half of 1976 with the first three EOS missions has less ceramic heat shielding on its upper side (kind of like Columbia vs Endeavour) and can carry almost two more tons inside its cargo bay. While Endeavour is on the ground being prepared for its own launch that will appear shortly, the crew of EOS-4 has started deploying the important payloads of Enterprise: the Pinhole/Occulter Facility and the SIRTF.

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Spoiler

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The Pinhole/Occulter Facility was a proposed Shuttle-based telescope that, as the name suggests, used a large occulting system both to make high resolution x-ray observations and to observe the corona of the Sun. Originally ideated in 1977, this system would end up being cancelled and superseded by standalone, free flying space telescopes like Chandra. More important was, instead, the SIRTF:
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Spoiler

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The Shuttle InfraRed Telescope Facility was a large infrared telescope, proposed first back in 1976 in OTL and then remaining half a step away from cancellation for a looong time. As the best way to study young stellar objects and exoplanets, it would always have been an extremely important space telescope to have; but with every dollar being put into the Shuttle program itself, the SIRTF would only fly almost three decades later and after countless redesigns, transformed into a non-refuelable and free flying infrared telescope. It's in fact the Spitzer Space Telescope, launched in 2003 on a Delta II, that inherted the long legacy of the SIRTF and its proposals.

Part 2 - Infinite power

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While Enterprise is beginning preparations for reentry, it's finally time for Endeavour to begin her mission - the third one since her deployment in January earlier this year. With it comes another upgrade, this times with the booster: in fact Ingenuity, the first flyback using unpainted SOFI insulation, was finally certified to launch a crewed Orbiter almost a year after its last launch!

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Spoiler

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The payload on this mission is only one, but very important: it's a passively stabilized, orbital stored solar array, derived from the Power Extension Package that flew three times already. Its much larger power capacity allows it to greatly increase the capability of the Shuttle in orbits not already covered by a space station, and the fact that it's permanently in space has its benefits as well; but I'll get to that later. For now, it's time for the Endeavour crew to initiate the complex deployment of the space platform:

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The four mayor steps are these:

- first the platform is relocated to the dedicated port in the cargo bay of Endeavour
- the main truss is then extended from its original stowed position that it was put in during launch, reaching its final configuration
- two long booms are extended from it, in order to stabilize the platform thanks to the gravity gradient while in free flight
- finally, the solar panels are unfurled and the additional radiators extended, allowing the shuttle to begin receiving power

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The orbiter remains docked there for a few days to fix eventual problems as they occur; after that, Endeavour can undock and return back to the Shuttle Landing Facility at Cape.

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But the platform won't remain unused for long: it's now Orion's time to launch, with a payload bay packed of new, unflown scientific payloads

Part 3 - The commercialization of space

It was a hot day of the late 70s or so when someone at the Marshall Space Flight Center had a sudden revelation: what the hell could NASA put on a Shuttle launching on a weekly cadence that they could possibly afford? That's how the MEC and the EOO were born

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The first, the Materials Experiment Carrier, is a shuttle optimized system capable of carrying six MEA (Materials Experiment Assembly, basically containers with different experiments selected by NASA for each flight) at the same time coupled with a single SES (Solidification Experiment System, an experiment to understand the way metallurgy happens in space - melting, solidification, quenching, etc). Together with it goes the EOO (NOTE: the original name of the payload is EOS, Electrophoresis Operations in Space, but to avoid mistaking it with the other EOS I've renamed it to Electrophoresis Operations in Orbit), a payload conceived purely for commercial use to begin studies on how to produce pharmaceuticals in zero g.

Spoiler

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However, these payloads aren't meant to remain on a shuttle by itself; they need to remain in space for many months to complete their objectives, which an Orbiter can't do in free flight. It's time for the space platform to begin its second purpose, which is to host payloads and power them indefinitely.

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There's two more payloads flying inside Orion, the pressurized RAM (which you probably heard of as Spacelab) and the Very Long Baseline Interferometry telescope. The function of both is pretty self explainatory, but the difference with the EOO and MEC is that they won't leave the orbiter; the other two, instead, must now be moved by the robotic arm to their permanent position on the platform

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MEC:
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EOO:
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With this done, this new post is now over. The next one will unfortunately take a while, both because it's quite complex (with the construction of the first orbital propellant depot, large enough to fuel multiple S-II) and because I have finals this month; if it comes out, I also would like to try upgrading from Ad Astra to SOL. I may have it ready by the end of June, but very early July is more likely, so I want to leave you with one last screenshot, my favourite of this bunch. Goodbye!

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Edited by Beccab
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23 minutes ago, Naeth Kerman said:

What's the part you used for the grid on the payload in the cargo bay?

Nice part choice btw

That's I believe a part from the in-dev version of Habtech2

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