Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterA space vehicle is basically any vehicle or space craft used in space flight or exploration. The most common form of space vehicle is space craft. Space craft currently being used are the U.S. space shuttle and the Soyuz space craft. Both are propelled by a combination of liquid and solid propellant rockets to get into space. When they reach low orbit they both rely on liquid propellant rocket engines. The lunar vehicles used to explore the moon during the Apollo missions would also qualify as space vehicles.
The major developments concerning modern space craft is propulsion. Scientists are look at propulsion systems that can use fuel more efficiently, alternate forms of propulsion like ion engines or magnetoplasma drives. They are also looking to find new systems that can help space craft get around the solar system and beyond much faster than conventional rocket engines. One good example is the VSMIR engine now being tested on the International Space Station. The engine with the right size and configuration would cut a 3 month journey to Mars down to just 39 days.
There are also discussions of designing air breathing space craft that would be able to reach escape velocities within the Earth’s atmosphere without having to waste propellant. To this end a lot of testing has been done on hypersonic aircraft. NASA has already successfully tested hypersonic ramjet technology with the X-43 test craft. However there are still major barriers to overcome. One is that hypersonic aircraft must start at a minimum speed of Mach 2 or 3 to work properly. Some research is now being done to see what can be done to solve this problem whether by launching a hypersonic craft on a rocket or developing a hybrid engine.
Another interesting development is that private companies are now starting to build space craft of their own. This is allowing for the start private spaceflight. Just like how military development of airplanes lead to the creation of the commercial flight industry, companies like Virgin Galactic and Space X are looking to one day make space flight just as affordable.
Another kind of space vehicle is space stations. These are basically space craft that stay in orbit. They are normally used for research. However private companies are looking at developing space tourism where people can spend a vacation in space aboard privately built space stations.
We have written many articles about space vehicles for Universe Today. Here’s an article about the Discovery space shuttle, and here are some space shuttle pictures.
We’ve recorded an episode of Astronomy Cast all about the space shuttle. Listen here, Episode 127: The US Space Shuttle.