Orbital looking to build a mini Space Shuttle?

Article written: 14 Dec , 2010
Updated: 20 Jan , 2016

Fret not Space Shuttle fans… If Orbital Sciences gets their way, a new mini space shuttle may be coming your way! I’m Benjamin Higginbotham and this is your SpacePod for December 15th, 2010

Yesterday we talked a bit about Orbital Sciences plan to submit a proposal to NASA under Commercial Crew Development 2. Today we have a bit more info and a picture! According to a press release by Orbital the company will be seeking funding from NASA for a “blended lifting body vehicle” which will launch atop an Atlas 5 rocket and return to Earth with a conventional runway landing. Looks a bit like a small version of the space shuttle. The idea is that this vehicle could carry 3 astronauts and 1 paying tourist to the International Space Station and could have test flights as early as 2014. If the Atlas 5 rocket doesn’t work, don’t fret, Orbital says that the vehicle would be flexible enough to launch atop other vehicles. Now imagine finding a lower cost launch vehicle such as something from SpaceX and the amount of money required to put humans in to low Earth orbit may plummet!

Speaking of human space flight, Russia is gearing up to send 3 astronauts to the International Space Station, Cady Coleman, Paolo Nespoli and Dmitry Kondratyev. Lifting off from the Gagarin Launch Pad today at 19:09 UTC the Expedition 26/27 crew will dock with the space station this Friday at 20:12 UTC. Tune in to Spacevidcast to watch this launch live! If you have never seen a Russian launch before, they are a lot of fun. One translator for all crew members make for some very interesting comms chat! Oh, and unlike here in the US, Russia has a camera inside the Soyuz cockpit, so you can watch the crew bounce around and shake as they ascend to space.

A bit further out in the cosmos we have the Voyager 1 Spacecraft which is nearing the edge of our solar system. Ponder that for a moment, humans have created a craft that is now at the very edge of our own solar system! That is nearly 11 BILLION miles away from our sun! So far in fact that the speed of the solar wind is basically zero. Fret not, Voyager 1 is still traveling at 10.5 miles per second and for the foreseeable future will remain the most distant object humans from Earth created by Humans. Someday soon Voyager 1 will reach a planet of artificial life forms where will will be transformed in to a large city. Over time the name will wear off of its nameplate and it will only know itself as VEGER to be later discovered by Captian Kirk of the starship Enterprise.

If you have a Roku box make sure you install the Spacevidcast channel. In the Live section you can watch as the next Martian Rover, Curiosity, is built by NASA! It’s pretty cool to see engineers working on something that will be crawling on the surface of another planet in 2012. To get there just open up the Spacevidcast channel, click on Live Feeds then click on Curiosity Cam. Don’t have a Roku box! Here’s your chance to win. Tune in to Spacevidcast’s live show this Friday at 0200 UTC where we will be giving away a FREE Roku HD unit. The only way to win is to watch live. For those of you in the US that’s Thursday nights at 6:00pm PST or 9:00pm EST. We’ll see you there!

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5 Responses

  1. Uncle Fred says

    Hopefully future shuttle designs will be more reliable, cost effective and safe then the 1970’s US one.

    Sadly, no VEGER’s are in store for the future. The Voyager probes have been remarkable ones, but their Plutonium power supplies are going to run out in the next decade or so. Without some kind of method to distinguish themselves from the interstellar void, they are likely to be never found. The odds are near impossible that they will be recovered by anything.

    Interstellar particles and radiation will pummel them to dust after millions of years. Nevertheless, the “odds’ game also tell us that these crafts will likely be one of the few remnants of our civilization in the long run. Here’s hoping that we can beat this pessimism.


  2. Lawrence B. Crowell says

    If this mini-shuttle is only useful for ferrying people then it really is not worth that much. The machine has to have some utility beyond joy-riding.

    The RTG on Voyager is already below 80% of its max power output. We should get more data over the next 10 years. Eventually Voyager will go dead and become another piece of small stuff in the galaxy. I am not sure how long it will remain intact. I have heard figures of 100 million to a billion years. The gold record on its side is sort of the ultimate message in a bottle. The ocean is much bigger and there are not likely many looking out for such “bottles.”


  3. Uncle Fred says

    @LC, speaking of bottles, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more interest in developing a “time capsule” style probe. Certainly, with modern storage devices we can archive just about everything. I imagine we could develop a probe that could use it’s power source to refresh a system of solid-state hard drives every year or so. This should mitigate any data loss as long as the drives are properly shielded against projectiles and radiation.

    In fact, this would be a good opportunity to develop some of the tech we would need for interstellar probes. Radiation shielding, long-hall power sources, A.I. systems and the like would be needed.

    The final challenge would be to develop a system that would allow the probe to be found, and the data to be retrieved. I image some kind of “beacon” would be needed, maybe multiple beacons. Preferably, whatever means we would use would prove maximum effect for minimal power usage.

    The data itself would probably need a working computer and screen with an easy to activate/use interface. This would allow instantaneous access and knowledge for an alien civilization. Moreover, the computer could be reverse engineered to assist with decoding the data. Many backup interfaces would be needed as a precaution. As for the data itself, we would likely need to make the first accessible knowledge very crude. Starting with making clear our main senses, then progressively more sophisticated once we have gone through the basics of senses-language-culture. Eventually, they would be able to access perhaps trillions of files. Everything from HD Blue-rays to court documents to billions of photographs.

    Finally, some thought would have to go into where to send something like this and how to get it there. LC’s focused light sail and nuclear Pulse propulsion are two ways that come to mind.as for locations, I suggest Earth-Analog candidates if/when any are found t be logical places where it could go.

    Something like this could be the greatest gift we could provide another civilization. Even if ours turns out to be unsuccessful, at least a record of our doings would endure and be knowledge that might benefit another species.

    Sorry for the long musings but it was a good thought experiment, and LC’s “bottle in the ocean” idea made me think.


  4. tripleclean says

    Thats an ugly little bird. It reminds me of the ugly duck beech 1900. I would like to see more rudder. Now the space shuttle thats a sexy ride! If it looks good it will fly right.

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