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Was the Space Shuttle an inherently bad idea?

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Nibb31

Description says (I couldn't find any english description) it could put 30 tons into orbit and bring 20 tons back to Earth. Dry mass 80 tons, mass after separation from launch vehicle 88 tons, 800-km cross range capability.

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100 tons underneath a parachute? There are practical limits to the size of a parachute in real-life. What's the source for that picture?

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Even if SRBs are more reliable than liquid engines, they make the design unsafer. They cant be shut down and cant be jettisoned until they decide to burn out. This makes it impossible to incorporate redundancy or abort modes into the design.

Any propulsion system has a certain failure rate, this makes it a foreseeable failure. A designer takes this into account by either redundancy (typical in civil aviation) or escape systems (typical in military aviation). The shuttle system had neither.

I don't find it important whether human error, environmental influences or material flaws cause such an engine failure - It's just a question of time when it happens, and a question of quality of design how that problem is handled.

@Firov No, I'm not saying they put wings on the thing just to fool people. But don't they make the thing look super awesome? Was that super awesome look perhaps one of the many reasons why this particular design was chosen? And since you mention the Air Force: They might have liked the fact that every mission required an experienced pilot on board to get this thing back home? Thats like reserving a seat :)

@PakledHostage

Yea, I think I see your point. Back in the days they thought it would be nice to have square windows on airliners just to realize that it was not such a clever idea a few hundred deaths later.

I still don't think you can compare something like the shuttle to a civilian airliner, comparing it to an experimental military plane would be more appropriate. On the latter you expect failures and unforeseen events and try your best to counterbalance them with ejection seats and safety systems.

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But don't they make the thing look super awesome? Was that super awesome look perhaps one of the many reasons why this particular design was chosen?

Ever heard of saying "Ugly planes don't fly"?

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...shuttle alternatives...

But once again, what is the mission ?

Space station construction ? Payload in LEO ? Payload in GEO ? Science experiment that can be return to Earth ?

A spacecraft is like any other technology, it is an answer to a question. The Saturn V was an answer to the question : how can we put two men on a moon and bring them back ? The Ariane 5 was an answer to the question : how can Europe conquer the market of commercial satellites ? The wheel was an answer to the question : how can we move heavy payload around with few effort ? But what question the Space Shuttle was suppose to answer ? And saying "all of them" is not serious.

So to concentrate on the topic : I don't think the Space Shuttle is a good or a bad idea. The problem is : it is an idea, not a solution. That it is why it is a dead-end.

And perhaps one day the concept of a space shuttle will be back on the table, when there will be a clear mission for it.

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But once again, what is the mission ?

Space station construction ? Payload in LEO ? Payload in GEO ? Science experiment that can be return to Earth ?

According to the link above, it was it was supposed to be Soyuz successor:

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The ship is put into orbit by a powerful rocket (initially from the N1 family, after Glushko's assignment - RLA-130V), carrying modules (blocks) for the assembly of the big space station.

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She idea behind the Shuttle was a good one, the implementation was rotten. And that rotten implementation was chosen because it was the only one that could get funded by a political system that cares only and exclusively about how many votes each budgeted dollar is going to get you.

Thus the contracts had to be spread out over as many congressional districts as possible, leading to far too many compromises and bad design decisions for no other reason that to incorporate something into the design coming out of some factory with ties to a specific congresscritter.

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According to the link above, it was it was supposed to be Soyuz successor.

The ship is put into orbit by a powerful rocket (initially from the N1 family, after Glushko's assignment - RLA-130V), carrying modules (blocks) for the assembly of the big space station.

I'm sorry, I don't read Russian.

Ok, I'm still not convince it makes sense. The Russians build Mir with conventionnal rockets and it worked great. And I don't see how a brand new ship can come cheaper and safer than the Soyouz as a crew taxi. In any case, it is necessary to design the station before, or alongside the spaceship that would built it.

Granted, it seems to correct some problems of to the american shuttle (mainly the big wings and the radial attachment). But with the ISS service extended, I don't see any new Russian-involved space station in the neer future, therefore no new ship (well, on a ingeenering point of view of course ; the fact that the space shuttle was considered pretty much useless after the Challenger accident didn't stop the Americans from building Endeavour).

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Thus the contracts had to be spread out over as many congressional districts as possible, leading to far too many compromises and bad design decisions for no other reason that to incorporate something into the design coming out of some factory with ties to a specific congresscritter.

That's often claimed - but there's pretty much zero evidence supporting it. (And no, the often cited SRB's aren't a case of that. Monolithics were rejected on technical grounds.)

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100 tons underneath a parachute? There are practical limits to the size of a parachute in real-life. What's the source for that picture?

That was a lots of parachutes.

Guess they also use retro rockets.

Downside of parachutes is that its hard to control where to land, if you land something large and fragile its easy to damage it.

Powered landings are probably better but harder to do technologically.

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The shuttle was a good idea (Idea as in "a reusable vehicle to get people and payloads to orbit" not as the final shuttle design) but they managed to put it in practice by lying about capabilities and making false promises, pretty much like you average indie dev.

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We've all heard about the many mistakes of the space shuttle. The cost cutting, fragility, expense of launch, etc. What I'm wondering if any of the experts here can shed some light on, is if the concept was bad, or the execution was bad.

Was the basic idea of a mostly reusable piloted spaceplane to launch humans, satellites and cargo a bad idea? Or was it NASA's execution that was bad?

The space shuttle seems to have come from the union of several bad ideas:

Bad idea #1: strapping a spaceplane to the side of a rocket. The Challenger disaster happened because of an SRB failure, but if the shuttle had been a capsule with a proper LES, the astronauts would probably have survived. The Columbia disaster was directly caused by putting a huge, fragile heat shield in the path of any debris that happened to fall off the launcher (not to mention bird strikes).

Bad idea #2: Not traveling light. The shuttle had to bring its heavy main engines all the way up to orbit and back, and the external tank almost to orbit. A reusable multi-stage rocket could have ditched the main engines at lower altitude for a better payload fraction. The shuttle's large cargo bay was also a problem: compare the shuttle to something like Dream Chaser in terms of how large an area needs to be heat-shielded. This is only useful for one specialized task: returning cargo to Earth. For pretty much anything else, it would be much cheaper to use a payload fairing like every other launch vehicle.

Bad idea #3: Launching crew and cargo on the same vehicle. If you're launching a satellite, the crew and their heavy life support systems are pretty much dead weight. If you're launching crew to a space station, you probably don't need to carry 20 tons of cargo, making the cargo bay even more dead weight than it already was.

The space shuttle was only really good at two specialized tasks: on-orbit maintenance of satellites, and space station construction, both of which could still probably have been accomplished without a 100 ton spacecraft.

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All it needed was an LES.. that's it. No.. that would not have saved Columbia, but that was pure negligence. So was challenger, but that crew could have been saved with a LES. Just imagine the shuttle as is with an srb tower on the nose and a crew cabin that could detach. .. How many cameras you figure were focused on that launch? Because if I recall that rogue stream of exhaust gas burned for a few seconds before igniting the center tank. I can only imagine watching the launch back then in mission control, thinking.. "That's.. not right." Then boom.. I would've had a hard time sleeping for a long time.

As for all the good times.. we built the ISS with it. That's a pretty good accomplishment. And as long as the word "routine" never again veers its ugly head at NASA ( Or for anyone ) we should be good in the future.

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How many cameras you figure were focused on that launch? Because if I recall that rogue stream of exhaust gas burned for a few seconds before igniting the center tank.

Have a read through the description of the Challenger accident sequence. The breach of the right-hand SRB wasn't obvious until the footage was reviewed by the accident investigators. The final destruction only started when the R/H SRB broke free of its lower attach fitting at 72.284 seconds into the flight. Evidence of the aft bulkhead of the external tank failing isn't seen until almost a second later. At 73.162 seconds, there is evidence that the right-hand SRB has pivoted into the upper section of the external tank and caused its rupture. The hydrogen tank had been leaking since about 66 seconds into the flight but there was no "explosion" until after the R/H SRB broke free and penetrated the liquid oxygen tank.

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USOS has been designed the way it did because there were shuttles, not the other way around. And honestly I gotta say I prefer Russian way of doing things, where they can assemble the station all automatically even before first crew arrives. Imagine that we're building a station in lunar orbit. If done in "Russian" way (unmanned) in can be assembled and checked out before crew comes in, and in case of some contingency they do have a safe shelter that is a station, while in case of manual assembly they could be doomed as it is not known if station would actually be available prior to crew lift off.

And using SRBs for manned craft without abort is just accident waiting to happen - it's not a matter of "if", but only "when".

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That was a lots of parachutes.

Guess they also use retro rockets.

Downside of parachutes is that its hard to control where to land, if you land something large and fragile its easy to damage it.

Powered landings are probably better but harder to do technologically.

Yes, the article says this vehicle used soft landing engines to drop vertical speed and ski gear to drop horizontal speed.

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All spaceplanes have one big problem - you are taking wings into space. ... Which doesn't make sense really

If the shuttle would be a real space plane it would use its wings to carry its own weight during a significant part of ascent, not only during descent.

Edited by rkman

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Can someone explain me why was actually shuttle used to launching regular satellites in its early years?

They shurely had regular rocket to launch stuff too? Unmanned launches deliver cargo as goog as crewed shuttle, so they must have thought on possibility of using crew to solve some possible problem on space or even takingcargo back if it failed to deploy...

But single start of sts costs are simply higher that costs of building most sattelites they launched using shuttle, right (someone correct me if i am wrong), so it woudl be cheaper to launch satellite using regular rocket and eventually leave it on orbit if it failed to deploy... I just dont get it.

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Yeah, but the A-10 shot that theory all to hell. :D

Oh by the way, i like A-10 desing, i woudlnt call it ugly, it has this "star wars" look for some reason.

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Can someone explain me why was actually shuttle used to launching regular satellites in its early years?

Because that's what it was designed to do. The main goal of the Space Shuttle (where it failed spectacularly) was to provide cheap access to space. The only way to reduce costs is to increase launch rates. Therefore, NASA and USAF envisioned that STS would replace all their other launchers.

They shurely had regular rocket to launch stuff too? Unmanned launches deliver cargo as goog as crewed shuttle, so they must have thought on possibility of using crew to solve some possible problem on space or even takingcargo back if it failed to deploy...

The US didn't have many other options in the early 80's. The Saturn family had retired, the Titan and Atlas families were getting old, extremely expensive, and were never extremely reliable. They weren't being replaced because the plan was for STS to do all NASA and USAF launches.

The USAF had to wait until the 90's to get the EELV program (Delta IV and Atlas V) after realizing that the Shuttle would never be economical.

Edited by Nibb31

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Space shuttle was inherently a bad idea. Actually the concept behind the idea is good, a reusable spacecraft. But the way they went for it was bad. The thought only went to the fact that it need to come back as a plane was the bad idea. That concept will add unnecessary weight in the way of wings and pilot controls and uses a runway to land. This weight we can avoid. To have reusablity, I am sure it costed more than the throwaway rocket launching costs. 

Propulsive landing is the best, it takes much smaller total rocket to acheive the same thing shuttle did. Space X Falcon rocket. And it's first stage sucessfully came back for reuse. There is a lot of work to be done in this area, but the path which SpaceX takes is the best path. Low cost, less fuel, and safe landing.

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