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Sturgeon

STS Family Discussion Thread

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This is a discussion thread for the greatest horror villain of our time, the Space Transportation System, more commonly known as the Space Shuttle.

First, I want to say something positive about the Space Shuttle, and that's that it, and its offspring SLS, has one of the most ingenious launch arrangements out there. Sure, solids may not be the absolute best thing ever for manned spaceflight, but the "two high t/w boosters, one central core with mega-awesome high ISP high thrust engines" arrangement is seriously a great idea. The fact that they pulled it off is even more awesome.

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One of the other good things about the Shuttle is the amount of experience it gave us with orbital assembly (things like ISS).

 

On the other hand, it's got quite a few drawbacks. The payload fraction is utterly terrible for the size of the launch vehicle. Its economics were terrible; turnaround time and refurbishment cost were way higher than what was promised. A massive 7 person+cargo vehicle isn't the place to work out the kinks with how to use a spacecraft (something like the X-37 is).

 

Then, of course, there's the safety aspect. Something fucks up in the first stage of your Soyuz or Apollo, you hit the LAS and hopefully outrun the fireball. If something goes wrong on STS before the solids separate, you die. Or you ride it out until the solids fall off, then you get to try RTLS.

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Personally, I think a much better choice would have been continued development of expendable launch vehicles, based on the Saturn architecture. Keep Saturn V around for large payloads and/or launching space station components (instead of ISS, you might end up with a couple Skylabs bolted together). Use other Saturn derivatives for lower payloads; something like INT-21 for heavy stuff, and INT-17 for manned payloads and lighter stuff. INT-05 might also be a possibility, though I'm not sure if I'd trust it for manned launches. As time goes on, gradually upgrade the vehicles (new computers, replace J-2 with J-2X, HG-3, RS-25, etc., replace F-1 with uprated version or new Kerolox engine, etc).

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