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NASA intends to build and fly a small fast crew transporter by 2008 to carry people to and from the International Space Station. A space plane also could remain in a station dock as standby lifeboat for emergency evacuation of astronauts.
Designs. The flat manta ray designs shown on this page are by Orbital Sciences Corporation. Designs by others show a long and slender plane with stubby wings. Both would land on a runway like the existing space shuttle fleet.
Yet another design makes the transport into a bell-shaped capsule like the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and Russian Soyuz transports of the 1960s. The capsule would land by parachute.
Launch. The space plane could be launched by powerful and reliable American Delta and Atlas rockets.
Orbital Space Plane rides Delta rocket
click to enlarge Orbital Sciences Corporation concept
The space plane will be able to fly with or without a crew. An automatic guidance system could fly the plane by remote control to rendezvous and dock with the International Space Station or return to Earth. Without a crew, the plane could haul cargo to the orbiting laboratory.
Capacity. As many as five astronauts and cosmonauts could fly in the space plane, allowing the ISS to continue to have three long-term residents. Before the shuttle Columbia disaster, the permanent crew included three persons. However, after Columbia, the three-seat Russian Soyuz transport, reconfigured to carry two persons plus one seat of supplies, was the only escape vehicle available for transport and escape.
NASA had started planning for the space plane as a lifeboat before the Columbia disaster in 2003. The plane would be 47 feet long with a wing span of 34.5 feet.
A typical space plane crew would consist of a commander, a pilot, and three ISS expedition crewmembers. The vehicle also could carry 16 lockers for small payloads, experiment samples, or flight crew equipment.
The orbital space plane could accommodate five crewmembers for four days in orbit. With both a space plane and a Soyuz capsule docked at the station, seven astronauts living aboard the ISS could leave safely in an emergency. Also, the space plane itself might have seven recumbent seats to minimize the effects of reentry acceleration on the bodies of the returning astronauts.
SOURCE: artist concepts on this page are courtesy of Orbital Sciences Corporation
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