NASA Johnson Space Center's Shuttle II (1988)

Image credit: NASA.
Although the fact is mostly forgotten today, NASA launched plans to augment or replace the Space Shuttle even before the first Shuttle reached orbit on 12 April 1981. Much — though by no means all — of this planning occurred as part of joint Department of Energy/NASA Solar Power Satellite studies.

In 1985, U.S. President Ronald Reagan signed a directive ordering the U.S. civilian space agency to develop a Space Shuttle successor. Notably, this occurred before the 28 January 1986 Challenger accident laid bare the Shuttle system's many frailties.

One proposed Shuttle successor was called Shuttle II. Most Shuttle II design work took place at NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, Virginia. Shuttle II first achieved prominence in 1986 in the high-level National Commission On Space report Pioneering the Space Frontier.

LaRC's Shuttle II design evolved — for a time it was to have been a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle. The favored design included a winged manned Orbiter and a winged unmanned Booster, both of which would take off vertically and land horizontally on runways. Both the Booster and the Orbiter would be entirely reusable. LaRC's Shuttle II Orbiter fuselage was meant to be crammed full of propellant tanks, so would tote cargo in a sizable hump on its back.

NASA Langley Research Center's dumpy Shuttle II, 1987. Image credit: NASA.
Shuttle II was intended mainly as a crew transport complementing a "mixed fleet" of launchers that would have included unmanned heavy-lift rockets capable of placing from 50 to 100 tons into space. LaRC envisioned that its Shuttle II would transport a small amount of cargo — perhaps 10 tons — and up to 25 astronauts, of whom only three would be considered Shuttle II crew members. The remainder would be passengers bound for a large advanced Space Station or a Transportation Node station. There they would board Moon or Mars spacecraft.

Although a good case can be made for calling LaRC's Shuttle II the Shuttle II, it was in fact not the only proposed Shuttle II design. The Advanced Programs Office at NASA Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, put forward the sleek Shuttle II design depicted in the last seven images of this post. They portray JSC's Shuttle II as it would appear over the course of a typical mission.

The LaRC design was favored by NASA Headquarters and is relatively well documented. Neither can be said for JSC's design.

In flight: the Evolved Shuttle climbs toward space, probably sometime in the 1990s. Image credit: Eagle Engineering/NASA.
Model of proposed Evolved Shuttle showing major components. Image credit: NASA.
Engineers in Houston envisioned that their Shuttle II might develop from an Evolved Space Shuttle. In the Evolved Shuttle, Liquid Replacement Boosters stood in for the Shuttle's twin Solid Rocket Boosters. The Evolved Shuttle would retain the Shuttle's expendable External Tank and, with minor modifications, the Shuttle Orbiter's Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSMEs). Like the Space Shuttle, the Evolved Shuttle stack would ride to its Launch Complex 39 pad atop a creeping crawler-transporter with its nose aimed at the sky.

Winglets on the tips of the Evolved Shuttle's modified delta wings would replace the Shuttle's single vertical tail fin. Redesigned Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines based on the venerable RL-10 engine would draw liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen propellants from insulated tanks built into the Evolved Shuttle Orbiter wings.

The most dramatic changes would, however, be reserved for the Evolved Shuttle crew compartment. JSC engineers designed it so that it could separate from the Evolved Shuttle in the event of catastrophic failure and operate as an independent spacecraft. Canard winglets meant to improve the Evolved Shuttle's aerodynamic characteristics would separate with the crew compartment and become its wings.

JSC gave no timeline for the evolution of Shuttle to Evolved Shuttle. If, however, JSC's Shuttle II was to become operational in the same timeframe as LaRC's Shuttle II (the early 21st century), then one may assume that the Evolved Shuttle would have made its debut in the 1990s.

Shuttle II ready for a tow to its launch pad. A round panel covering an extendable docking adapter is visible just above the American flag on the fuselage. Image credit: NASA.
The JSC Shuttle II was meant to be towed horizontally on its tricycle landing gear from a hangar to its launch pad just four hours before planned launch. Unlike the Space Shuttle and Evolved Shuttle, JSC's Shuttle II would have no need of the Vehicle Assembly Building, the massive cuboid structure built at Kennedy Space Center in the 1960s for the assembly of Apollo Saturn V heavy-lift rockets.

Nor would it use the twin Launch Complex 39 pads, which were built in the 1960s to launch Saturn V rockets and rebuilt in the 1970s to launch the Space Shuttle. Shuttle II would instead lift off from a new-design pad, and Complex 39 would be given over once again to heavy-lift rocket launches. In fact, the JSC Shuttle II would make a complete break from the massive-scale Apollo-era infrastructure upon which the Space Shuttle relied.

JSC's Shuttle II in launch configuration. The round panel covering the extendible docking adapter is again visible; it leads to a crew access tunnel that runs the length of the spacecraft. Image credit: NASA.
At the launch pad, crew and passengers would board JSC's Shuttle II, then it would be tipped up to point its nose at the sky. Its landing gear doors would be closed, then its ground crew — small compared with the army of personnel that serviced the Space Shuttle — would load it with three kinds of propellants: liquid hydrogen fuel, liquid hydrocarbon (kerosene or propane) fuel, and liquid oxygen oxidizer.

For safety, most of the volatile fuels would be pumped into Shuttle II's four expendable over-wing tanks, while an integral, reusable tank within the spacecraft would carry most of the dense liquid oxygen. Fully loaded with propellants and payload, Shuttle II would weigh about 550 tons, or a little more than a quarter of the Shuttle's weight at SSME ignition.

JSC designers hoped to minimize Shuttle II weight in part by building it from advanced materials. The Space Shuttle Orbiter, with an empty mass of about 85 tons, had a more-or-less conventional load-bearing aluminum-titanium airframe clad in aluminum and lightweight thermal-protection materials. These included thousands of uniquely shaped ceramic tiles and Reinforced Carbon-Carbon (RCC) wing leading edges. Shuttle II, with an empty mass of 50 to 75 tons, would also rely on RCC, "but in larger, load-bearing, monolithic panels." The over-wing tanks would be made from lightweight welded aluminum-lithium alloy.

At launch, Shuttle II's single Space Transportation Main Engine (STME) and twin Space Transportation Boost Engines (STBEs) would ignite simultaneously. The former, designed to burn liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, was envisioned as a second-generation SSME. The latter, located between the STME and the Shuttle II body flap, would burn hydrocarbon fuel and liquid oxygen and employ liquid hydrogen as engine coolant. The STME and STBEs would together generate about 30% more thrust than the Space Shuttle's three SSMEs — between 1.3 and 1.6 million pounds.

Climb to orbit: JSC's Shuttle II following detachment of its outboard tanks and its twin STBEs. Image credit: NASA.
When it reached a velocity of between two and three kilometers per second, JSC's Shuttle II would shed its depleted outboard over-wing tanks and the STBEs. Dropping the STBEs would improve Shuttle II's flight performance by shifting its center of gravity forward. The tanks would break up and fall into the sea, but NASA would recover the twin engines for reuse. JSC engineers envisioned that they would descend in reentry shells, deploy maneuvering parachutes, and land in arresting nets aboard recovery ships.

The STME, meanwhile, would extend its telescoping exhaust nozzle to its full length and diameter to improve its performance in vacuum. Following separation of the outboard tanks and STBEs, the spacecraft would burn only liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen propellants.

Immediately following STME cutoff, the engine's nozzle would retract and the inboard over-wing tanks would be cast off. Upon reaching apogee (the highest point in its orbit about the Earth), Shuttle II's twin OMS engines would ignite to raise its perigee (the lowest point in its orbit) out of the atmosphere. This would place it into a circular "Space Station rendezvous orbit" 485 kilometers high and inclined 28.5° relative to Earth's equator. The inboard tanks, meanwhile, would intersect Earth's atmosphere as they reached perigee and be destroyed.

The Shuttle II OMS would comprise a pair of new-design Advanced Space Engines or RL-10-derived engines. RL-10 had the advantage of a long flight history; derivatives of that engine have propelled upper stages and spacecraft since the 1960s. Liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for Shuttle II's OMS and the Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters would be stored in double-walled, heavily insulated tanks in its tail section. Some propellants from the tail section would be combined in next-generation fuel cells to generate electricity and water for the spacecraft.

A crew access tunnel would run aft from the forward crew compartment for most of the length of the fuselage. Midway along the tunnel, on its left side, Shuttle II's docking adapter for linking up with the Space Station would be stowed behind a streamlined panel. The round panel is visible near the American flag in images that display the left side of the Shuttle II model. Prior to rendezvous with the Space Station, the panel would hinge out of the way, then the crew would extend the cylindrical docking adapter.

The image above shows Shuttle II in its orbital configuration with inboard tanks in place; this is apparently a photographer's error, since image captions make plain that the inboard tanks would separate immediately after STME cutoff, before the crew opened the payload bay. Image credit: NASA.
JSC engineers chose a novel method for exposing Shuttle II payloads to space: the crew would disable the OMS engines, vent and disconnect hoses that had linked the over-wing tanks to the STME, disengage locks, and hinge the tail section downward using electric motors. RCS thrusters in the tail would continue to operate; to minimize flexible wiring links between the main fuselage and the tail section, engineers proposed that the astronauts control the RCS thrusters via a short-range radio link.

Hinging the tail section down would expose a large round window and the open aft end of the 15-foot-wide-by-30-foot-long cylindrical payload bay. Astronauts at an aft workstation would look out through the window as they extended the cradle bearing their mission's payload. The photo captions do not name specific Shuttle II payloads, but it is logical to assume that these would include experiment packages for mounting on the Space Station and reusable Station logistics modules packed full of supplies and equipment. The payload bay would include an airlock for spacewalks and a pair of robot arms.

Unlike the Space Shuttle and Evolved Shuttle payload bays, the Shuttle II bay would normally not include radiators for dissipating heat generated by onboard equipment and astronaut exertions. Instead, Shuttle II's radiators would be built into the top surface of its wings. Supplemental radiators would be mounted on the payload cradle before flight only if "special purpose, high heat load conditions" were expected.

Before return to Earth, the astronauts would retract the payload cradle, then hinge shut the tail section. Shuttle II would include triple-redundant electric motors and a mechanical backup system for closing the payload bay "to assure that the vehicle configuration for entry [would] not have paths for hot plasma to enter the vehicle interior." During the first few Shuttle II flights, an astronaut would exit through the docking adapter and clamber over the fuselage to inspect the hinge area and seam between the tail section and the rest of the spacecraft. He or she might carry a repair kit "to fill any voids."

Reentry would occur as in the Space Shuttle Program; that is, Shuttle II would turn so that its aft end pointed in its direction of flight, then its OMS engines would ignite to reduce its orbital velocity. The spacecraft would then flip to point its nose forward as it fell toward the atmosphere. Following reentry, Shuttle II would glide to a runway landing.

JSC's Shuttle II in landing configuration. Image credit: NASA.
Unlike the Space Shuttle, which even after the Challenger accident included few realistic options for crew escape in the event of catastrophic failure, Shuttle II could in theory protect its crew through all phases of its mission. Like the Evolved Shuttle, Shuttle II would include a separable crew compartment; after separation, Shuttle II's canard fins — proportionately larger than those of the Evolved Shuttle — would become the crew compartment's wings.

The crew compartment aft end would include launch escape/deorbit rocket engines, a crew hatch, and a deployable aerodynamic flap. Following separation in orbit, the crew compartment could support 11 astronauts for up to 24 hours. This endurance was meant to ensure that Earth's rotation could bring into range a suitable landing site on U.S. soil. The crew compartment would touch down and slide to a halt on extendable skids.

Crew cabin separation on the launch pad or during ascent. Image credit: NASA.
Crew cabin separation in orbit or during reentry. Image credit: NASA.
JSC engineers acknowledged that wind-tunnel testing might show that the Shuttle II crew compartment shape was not flight-worthy in all abort situations. They proposed that inflatable or extendable structures "be employed to obtain an acceptable configuration for hypersonic, supersonic, and subsonic controlled flight."

They also proposed that the Shuttle II crew compartment become the Space Station's Crew Emergency Rescue Vehicle (CERV). The CERV was conceived as a "lifeboat" for use if the Space Station had to be evacuated rapidly, if a crew member became seriously ill or injured and needed hospital treatment on Earth, or if Shuttle II became grounded due to malfunction or accident and could not retrieve a Space Station crew.

The JSC engineers noted that the Shuttle II crew compartment/CERV, like Shuttle II itself, would subject its occupants to no more than three gravities of acceleration or deceleration. This would help to ensure that, during return to Earth, it would not inflict additional harm on a sick or injured Space Station crewmember.

NASA continued to attempt to develop a Shuttle successor — a winged spacecraft that would enable it to apply the lessons learned from the Shuttle Program. Some proposed complex new vehicles employing scramjets; others, vehicles smaller and less capable than the Shuttle tailored mainly for Space Station crew rotation and crew escape. Unfortunately, the space agency's budget was not expanded to permit simultaneous ongoing Shuttle operations, Space Station development and assembly, and development of a Shuttle successor.

By the mid-1990s, many in the Shuttle Program had changed their tactics; they declared that the Shuttle should continue to fly at least until 2010. In 2001, Boeing proposed that the Shuttle should fly until 2030.

The 2003 Columbia accident ended such plans. When the Shuttle was retired in 2011, a new NASA Shuttle design was as far away as it had been during Shuttle II planning in the late 1980s.


Caption Sheet, NASA Photo S88 29029, Shuttle II Candidate Configuration, 1988.

Caption Sheet, NASA Photo S88 29035, Shuttle II Launch Configuration, 1988.

Caption Sheet, NASA Photo S88 29032, Shuttle II Post-Boost Flight Configuration, 1988.

Caption Sheet, NASA Photo S88 29028, Shuttle II Orbital Flight Configuration, 1988.

Caption Sheet, NASA Photo S88 29026, Shuttle II Entry and Landing Configuration, 1988.

Caption Sheet, NASA Photo S88 29024, Shuttle II Pad Abort Crew Escape, 1988.

Caption Sheet, NASA Photo S88 29030, Shuttle II Crew Escape System, 1988.

Caption Sheet, NASA Photo S89 34837, Evolved Shuttle, 1989.

"Shuttle II Progress Report," T. Talay, NASA Langley Research Center; paper presented at the 24th Space Congress, 21-24 April 1987, Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Pioneering the Space Frontier: the Report of the National Commission on Space, Bantam Books, 1986.

"At 15, A Safer, Cheaper Shuttle," J. Asker, Aviation Week & Space Technology, 8 April 1996, pp. 48-51.

"Boeing upgrade would keep Space Shuttle flying to 2030," G. Warwick, Flight International, 8-14 May 2001, p. 37.

More Information

Electricity from Space: The 1970s DOE/NASA Solar Power Satellite Studies

What If a Space Shuttle Orbiter Had to Ditch? (1975)

One Space Shuttle, Two Cargo Volumes: Martin Marietta's Aft Cargo Carrier (1982)


  1. Do you have any idea where that model ended up? In a museum somewhere, or maybe still sat in the office of an executive somewhere?

  2. I can't say where this model wound up. Oftentimes, folks involved in conceptual spacecraft studies take the stuff they generated home after the study ends. The usual fate of such things is to eventually be thrown out. The kids end up with a big pile of stuff after dad (it's usually dad) passes away, and they have little interest in it, so it is destroyed.

    Sometimes I get calls from folks who have models and other items left behind by dad. Usually they want to find a way to sell them. Some want to donate them to a museum. There are auction houses that do space stuff. Oddly enough, they sometimes misidentify what they sell, associating it with a flown program, not a conceptual study. I suppose they do that because it helps to sell the artifact. Folks have enough trouble keeping track of Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, ASTP, and Shuttle - how can know enough about conceptual studies to know that an artifact is worth buying?

    Many museums - including, surprisingly, the National Air and Space Museum - turn away models they do not know about. Often they do not know about models of conceptual spacecraft, so they do not accept them. Researching things like this is not all that difficult, especially when historians like myself exist.

    Oftentimes models are retained by the company that did the study. When some corporate change occurs - divisions abolished or combined, companies sold or bought, or even just a new mid-level supervisor who wants to (literally) clean house - "old stuff" gets tossed. The 1990s, after the fall of the USSR, when many US aerospace companies merged or went out of business, was a terrible time for the preservation of spaceflight archives and artifacts.

    Corporate and government disinterest is one of the reasons often cited when individuals take stuff home. Of course, as I noted above, that does not ensure that an artifact will have much longevity.

    This kind of thing has happened throughout human history. It's why folks get excited when they find intact 300-year-old furniture pieces, for example. It's unfortunate, but we aren't very good at preserving our past, all things considered.


    1. This seems to be somewhere between Buran and Columbia--one SSME only.

      Here is some more Shuttle II art you may not have seen:

      Here is a paper on a similar engineless orbiter would look like:

      Shuttle derived vehicles

      Let me steal a quote from this website:

      An engineless orbiter developed from a “challenge”
      by an individual at NASA/MSFC regarding the ability of
      the orbiter to evolve into an unpowered vehicle,
      something like the Russian Buran. This worked out very
      nicely, as seen in Fig. 21, by adding a payload bay
      segment at the aft end of the bay (as noted above for the
      stretched orbiter) and moving as much equipment into a
      new faired aft body as possible to compensate for the
      removal of the engines and thrust structure. The subsonic
      L/D increased to an estimated 6.02 as a result.

      I'd want turbojets, of course--for go around

      Jeff Wright--publiusr

    2. Jeff:

      Thanks for the links. I like links.

      It seems really different from Buran to me, what with the overwing tanks, horizontal tow, detachable STBEs, lightweight construction, and small cargo volume. As you know, Buran was basically a Shuttle stack with main engines on the ET and LRBs, all disposable, though there was talk of developing recovery systems.

      Agree with you about the turbojets!


    3. Jeff:

      Meant to add - the engineless orbiter reminds me of HOTOL. Not in terms of function, but it terms of shape.


    4. One request I'd like to make if I may.
      I'd like you to do a series on advocates of shuttle-derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles

      A good title might be 'The Other Hidden Figures"

      Folks have pushed for SD-HLLVs for many years.
      ALS/NLS, Magnum/BMDO launcher, CaLV, Ares V, DIRECT/SLS

      It seems these guys never get any respect.

      The old lie is that it is a jobs program--and that Congress/Senate told NASA to build this.

      The fact is--SD-HLLV advocates have been pushing this for decades--before Congress actually began to listen.

      HLLV advocates find that planetary scientists used to chain-smoking Delta IIs didn't want to share budgets with rocketry development--libertarians who hit NASA on building rockets--alt.spacers who want to raid its budget--and Air Force EELV advocates who pushed for Rube Goldberg depots.

      Never has a group been so put-upon as SD-HLLV advocates, who just saw Michould hit with a tornado--and I didn't find any well wishes on the space message boards who reached out to console them.

      I wish somebody would write a piece showing appreciation for all their work.

      They are the other Hidden Figures--and get no respect.

    5. I'm afraid I don't have much on this topic in my files. I have some stuff on Saturn V variants, and a few odds and ends on Shuttle-derived vehicles, but nothing I could turn into a decent post. Do you have access to SD-HLLV design documents? Or could you point me toward SD-HLLV documents? I'd need serious study documents, not PAO stuff or news articles (though PAO stuff/news articles is sometimes useful). My policy is to base my posts on study documents.


    6. On SD-HLLV try those PDF

    7. Michel:

      Bravo! These are excellent. Thanks!


  3. I have childhood memories of Odyssey, Popular Science and Popular Mechanics writing about these concepts. Did any of these concepts ever advance beyond the paper studies? Obviously no Shuttle II was ever built, but did they lead into some system that was incorporated in the Shuttle or later?

  4. Your mention of the kids magazine ODYSSEY, in particular, makes this a depressing question. It's as though we promised a generation great things and then just blew them off.

    I wondered from about 1984 about why we weren't seriously working on a Shuttle successor (not replacement - successor, as in aviation). Especially after CHALLENGER.

    But never mind - the studies I refer to in this post didn't get much past the paper stage. Folks wrote some software, and some wind tunnel tests of the LaRC Shuttle II configuration were performed (not sure about the JSC Shuttle II - I think not). I haven't been able to think of any contribution they made to the actual Space Shuttle, though they certainly would have laid some groundwork for a future paper study.

    As I recall, the National AeroSpace Plane (NASP) played a role in Shuttle II's demise. It promised so much more than Shuttle II, but it was too advanced and expensive. The collapse of the USSR also played a role. We tried to get a small Shuttle out of the Station crew escape efforts, but that failed.

    Sometimes the promises are all we get. We focus on the latest, nothing happens, and then we fall for the next one.


    1. I was born in 1979. When I think of space milestones in my life almost all come from the robotic program: Voyager II at Neptune and New Horizons at Pluto, Pathfinder on Mars and the later rovers. From HSF I remember the first mission of the Endeavour where they caught the spinning satellite and Expedition 1, but honestly none of the two excited me the way the Curiosity landing did. By the time I was old enough to devour all the space books both in children's and adult sections of the public library it was obvious that post Challenger the shuttle could not deliver the routine and easy access to space these books promised, yet by the force of bureaucracy the Shuttle persisted. I was always wondering though, did any of these potential upgrades touted in the magazines of my childhood ever pan out? Keep up the great work, your blog often feels like a what ever happened to segment

    2. Shuttle evolved, though not as much as we'd have liked. We saw a lot of upgrades and improvements over the years. NASA pulled off some impressive Shuttle missions - Shuttle-Mir, though politically driven, saw the US Shuttle stand in for the scrapped Buran-Energiya, which was pretty cool. And, despite Columbia, we managed to launch and assemble much of the ISS.

      None of that was exploration, but it helped us build experience. Experience for what? I don't know. We'll have to wait and see.

      I remember hopping around the living room when Mars Pathfinder landed on Mars. I'd done something similar in 1976, when Viking 1 landed. Cassini has been amazing. I have a special fondness for Magellan - I got to visit with the spacecraft shortly before its launch, watched it launch on board the Orbiter Atlantis from the KSC press site, and now explore the surface via detailed geologic maps based on Magellan data.

      My favorite exploration model is humans in orbit around distant worlds, teleoperating robots without time delay on surfaces or in atmospheres. This model has made sense to me for a long time. The orbiting spacecraft would provide an environment that would keep the crew healthy. The same piloted spacecraft could visit multiple worlds over time. The cost of developing teleoperated robot explorers would be less than the cost of specialized piloted landers and surface equipment, such as space suits.

      It's not the exploration model most of us imagine, but it makes a lot of sense at our stage of development. Later, we'll land crews where it makes sense to land crews.


  5. David,
    Thank you for sharing this fascinating and sexy 'paper shuttle.' I wish it had become real, if only for the pleasure of seeing such a sleek beast fly. (Referring of course to JSC's Shuttle II - LaRC's would have been functional, I'm sure, but it's not pleasant to look at!)
    One question: pre-flight, how would ground crews load payloads into JSC's Shuttle II? Would the aft section be fully separable for payload integration, or would the forward half have been held aloft and the aft pivoted down as in space?

  6. You know, that's an excellent question. Nothing I have on this provides an answer. I could see them lowering the tail into a large opening in the floor of the hangar, probably supported by some sort of cradle to take the strain off the hinges. But it also makes sense to detach the tail. If I had to choose, I think I'd go for the first option because it would be more way cool to see. Also, it would seem to be less "intrusive" (probably not the right word) - that is, it would keep the vehicle whole and cause it to move in ways it was meant to move.

    Frankly, I think the tail arrangement is questionable. If they'd built this thing, I bet they'd have gone for payload bay doors. Still, it's fun to contemplate this novel arrangement.


  7. Another fine and engaging article about something of which I had only glancing awareness. Thanks David.

  8. Hi, David,

    Great blog and all but I'm not here to talk about that. I'm here to talka bout Twitter.

    In future, could you PLEASE refrain from political retweets? Or at least create a separate account for those?

    1. I don't know what country you live in - here in the US we have a Constitutional crisis on our hands. I care about what happens to my country. Involved, responsible American citizens are doing what they can. I spread information that I judge to be significant.

      If you are from another country and our politics don't interest you, you might want to unfollow me and just check the blog periodically for new posts.


  9. The US Shuttle program, as it actually unfolded, is the perfect example of something which instead of being used as a tool in order to achieve some other purpose (regardless of whether it should have been developed in the first place), became an end in itself.

    1. I've not responded sooner because I'm not clear on what you mean. The Shuttle's purpose evolved over time.

      I'll make one comment - Apollo was impermanent, so NASA's piloted spaceflight centers sought a means of becoming a permanent part of the NASA budget. Reusability made the Shuttle a handy way to keep the piloted program alive. Once ISS was established, that also became a way to keep the piloted program alive. In that context, Shuttle cancellation can be seen as a cost-saving measure, since only one permanent piloted program was necessary.


  10. I remember seeing a poster on this at ISDC 2000, in Tuscon, Arizona. For the Present, i.e the year 2000, they showed the familiar space Shuttle visiting the Space Station as it was in 2000. For the intermediate future, i.e. 2016, they had a version of the Shuttle II visiting a completed ISS. For a more distant future, i.e. 2032, they had a copy of Robert McCall's famous "2001: A Space Odyssey" poster showing a dagger like Orion Shuttle leaving the wheel like Hilton Orbital. It was kind of disappointing since it showed that future as still being 32 years distant.

  11. I have attended very few conventions like the ISDC because they so rarely get things right. I know they can be fun, but they remind me of science fiction conventions (which also can be fun, but they have no pretensions about being real). Anyway - by 2000, they really had no excuse for expecting an advanced Shuttle by ISS Assembly Complete. They could have shown the X-38 lifting-body lifeboat since that wasn't cancelled for a couple of more years.

    I'll make a pitch here for my favorite c. 2030 space station - I want a spinning variable-gravity facility. That would permit us to determine whether the moon and Mars have enough gravity to stop bone demineralization and other negative biological effects of weightlessness. That way, we could plan lunar/Mars mission of acceptable durations. It could also be used to determine what the minimum gravity we need is. When I say "we," I mean also food plants and the like - all the things we need to live in space. If designed properly, such a station could become a prototype interplanetary transport.


  12. I agree with the aforementioned about the shuttle, but as it was finally conceived, that is as a stand-alone system, without the space infrastructure it was originally intended to support, it was essentially a dead-end project. It got some real purpose and destination only when it begun flights to Mir, but this was of course not its original purpose and had world politics been different, that is if the cold war hadn't ended by then, it wouldn't have done even that.
    Speaking of shuttles, the Pioneering The Space Frontier report included the design of a space plane quite similar in appearance to the Orion III shuttle in 2001 A Space Oyssey. That space plane made also an appearance in a depiction of the "Dual Keel" design proposal for Reagan's 1984 station. Was something like that ever even remotely proposed/discussed?

  13. OK, I see what you're saying. Please pardon my confusion. I think the thing to keep in mind is that Shuttle kept NASA piloted spaceflight alive. A continuation of Apollo would have done the same thing (much as an continuation of Soyuz has kept piloted spaceflight alive in Russia), but Nixon wanted the JFK/LBJ Apollo Program gone for a host of reasons, none of which in retrospect were very good. Shuttle went through many phases, and one can argue that it had purposes that fit into those phases. Furthermore, those purposes were different depending on what entity was involved. For Congress, Shuttle had one set of goals, for the Executive, Shuttle had another, for NASA, yet another. The chief purpose for NASA was to keep piloted spaceflight alive.

    I think that conceptual space plane was one of the National Aerospace Plane (NASP) designs. Reagan proposed it as a Shuttle replacement and intercontinental hypersonic transport. Developing it would have cost too much. Some development work took place, but it didn't get very far.


  14. I see, I am fully aware of NASP. but wasn't aware that this was one of the proposed designs for it, its similarity with Orion III was such that when I first saw that image I thought that it was just some artist's imagination, just to fill the picture, not something actually proposed. However, seeing the design of Shuttle II on this post, I understood that it was the first space plane pictured there, and thought that the second one in the picture, the NASP-related one, must have been an actual design.
    A continuation of the Apollo program would have the same effect, but in a more integrated form, possibly with Skylab B if completed or something similar serving as space station and destination, and served by something like an advanced Apollo or Big Gemini. The shuttle as actually utilised, apart from having no real destination until 1995 at least, had no escape system, something bordering on the criminal. Space activities certainly mean risk, but there have to be good reasons for those risks to be taken.

  15. There were several NASP designs - all conceptual. Of course, the image could be from the artist's imagination (Bob McCall painted many - perhaps most - of the image in PIONEEERING THE SPACE FRONTIER). I'm handicapped because I'm not sure which images you are looking at. Do you have page numbers?

    I agree about the acceptance of risk - lots of wishful thinking in the Shuttle Program.


    1. I am actually talking about two different images, one on page 114 of the Pioneering The Space Frontier report and one on Encyclopedia Astronautica's entry on the Dual Keel station. I think that there is some confusion on this matter, this particular configuration reported being either an X-30 concept or the configuration of NASP itself, although the most common image to be found on media is the Rockwell twin tail design. It is however my understanding that the X-30 was going to be a technology demonstrator for NASP, just as X-33 was going to be for VentureStar.

  16. In the article you mention that the Shuttle II would have been a quarter of the weight of the original shuttle. Would it be safe to assume that Shuttle would have been roughly the same size as any of the Shuttle Orbiters?

    1. Robert:

      I think that it would have been a little smaller - the fuselage diameter certainly seems to be less than that of the Shuttle Orbiter.


  17. Thank you for this post. I probably missed it, but where exactly were the separable booster engines in the launch configuration?

    I worked on Shuttle most of my career, and would dearly loved to have worked on a successor.

  18. Bill:

    My apologies for the long delay in responding. I've been neglecting the blog due to health issues, but now I'm back!

    That's a good question - they are not obvious. I think the STBEs are best seen in the sixth image from the top - the one showing Shuttle II in launch position (vertical). One is visible next to the body flap (it's silver-gray). You can see where the STBEs were attached in the seventh image - below and on either side of the STME, just above the body flap. On the model, holes mark the attachment points. There's an aerodynamic "flare" or housing on the fuselage that also helps to mark their positions.

    Please let me know if this remains problematic.


  19. So It seems Shuttle II would have half the payload capacity as Shuttle 1. I guess big USAF spy sats would go on the Titan IV. Also, all of the oxygen was carried internally?

    1. Tim: I don't have as many technical details on this concept as I'd like — basically, I have pictures of the model and some fairly detailed captions for those pictures on separate (though attached) sheets. The captions say that "most" LOX would be in an integral tank, which might imply that some would be carried in the over-wing tanks, though in the captions referring to the over-wing tanks there's no reference to LOX. I suspect that there's liquid oxygen on board for life support or fuel cells that is contained separate from the LOX main tank, or even a tank in the separable crew compartment to provide LOX to its engines so that it could deorbit after separating from Shuttle II. As for satellites, Shuttle II was meant as a Space Station transport. It would have carried crews, supplies, and payloads for Station — it would have carried no satellites (unless, I suppose, they were intended to be deployed from Station as part of Station experiments — I don't have any details on that, though it seems that it would be possible). dsfp


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