Promising Future for New Spaceplanes

February 9, 2024
February 9, 2024 Hal Jordan

Promising Future for New Spaceplanes

The NASA space shuttle, which completed its operations in low-Earth orbit in 2011 after 30 years of service, marked the end of an era. Following its retirement, NASA shifted its focus to the Orion, a conical capsule reminiscent of the Apollo missions. This transition aimed to equip NASA with a spacecraft suitable for deep space exploration, including missions to the moon.

In recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in spaceplane designs. The US Space Force, previously the US Air Force, has been deploying the X-37B, a robotic spaceplane, into low Earth orbit on classified missions since 2010. Similarly, China has developed its own military spaceplane known as Shenlong.

The upcoming year may witness the test flight of Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser, the first commercial spaceplane capable of orbital flight. If successful, the Dream Chaser could serve as a means to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) with cargo and potentially transport crew members in the future.

Spaceplanes offer distinct advantages over traditional capsule designs. They have the ability to fly or glide in Earth’s atmosphere and land on runways, offering a smoother and more controlled landing compared to capsule-based water or ground landings. Additionally, spaceplanes provide increased maneuverability during re-entry, expanding the potential landing areas on Earth’s surface.

Despite these benefits, spaceplanes present challenges. Their complex design and heavier structure, particularly the winged body shape, necessitate robust thermal protection systems (TPS) to withstand the extreme temperatures experienced during re-entry. Furthermore, the cost-effectiveness of spaceplanes relies on their reusability, highlighting the importance of multiple-use missions.

Interest in spaceplanes dates back to the early days of human spaceflight, with projects like Dyna-Soar in the US during the late 1950s. However, subsequent endeavors such as the European Hermes and Japanese HOPE programs were canceled due to financial constraints. Even the Soviet Union’s Buran program, which achieved a successful spaceflight in 1988, was discontinued following the collapse of the Soviet regime.

The tragic loss of the Columbia shuttle in 2003 underscored the critical importance of effective TPS in spaceplane design. Despite setbacks, newer spaceplane designs aim to mitigate such risks by launching atop conventional rockets, eliminating concerns about falling debris during launch.

Currently, the US-operated X-37B stands alongside China’s Shenlong as operational spaceplanes capable of reaching orbit. Dream Chaser, with its unique design and capabilities, is poised to join their ranks pending successful testing.

Looking ahead, advancements in design techniques, materials, computer modeling, and propulsion systems suggest a promising future for spaceplanes. As governments, space agencies, and private companies continue to invest in research and development, spaceplanes could become a routine means of space travel, ushering in a new era of exploration and innovation.

Reference: 

A new generation of spaceplanes is taking advantage of the latest in technology – phys.org

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THIS WEEK IN STAR TREK HISTORY

10 February
1897 – Dame Judith Anderson is born.
1929Jerry Goldsmith is born.
1937Ronald R. Rondell is born.

11 February
1932Paul Comi is born.
1981Kermit Murdock dies.

12 February
1937Bobby Clark is born.
1940Richard Lynch is born.
2011Kenneth Mars dies.
2020Cheryl Wheeler Duncan dies.

13 February
1928Gerald Fried is born.
1931Jamake Highwater is born.
1932Susan Oliver is born.
1944Michael Ensign is born.
1951Ellen Bry is born.
1958Scott Burkholder is born.
1959 – Norway Corporation, Inc is founded by Gene Roddenberry; his production company through which he will handle his business dealings with the motion picture industry.
1959André Bormanis is born.
1966Neal McDonough is born.
1990Ken Lynch dies.
2004Jim Rugg dies.
2006Andreas Katsulas dies.

14 February
1942Andrew Robinson is born.
1962Kirk Randolph Thatcher is born.
1970Simon Pegg is born.
1992Angelique Pettyjohn dies.

15 February
1917  Meg Wyllie is born.
1920Harold Michelson is born.
1923Keene Curtis is born.
1942Sherry Jackson is born.
1955Christopher McDonald is born.
1968Joel Harlow is born.
2007Walker Edmiston dies.
2014Cliff Bole dies.
2016Anthony Fredrickson dies.

16 February
1957LeVar Burton is born.
1967Pasha Lychnikoff is born.

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The United Federation Starfleet Blog is written by Fleet Captain Hal Jordan and is published every Friday. Join in the discussion! Engage with us on Discord at: discord.io/ufstarfleet

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