back to article New spaceplane proposed for NASA station crew contract

Another candidate to replace NASA's space shuttle in the task of carrying astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) has come forward. Unlike most of the other contenders, it is a winged space plane rather than a capsule. The proposed CCDev spaceplane from Orbital Sciences pictured during ISS operations. …


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  1. WonkoTheSane
    Thumb Up

    Boeing X-20 anyone?

    Pics are a dead ringer for the above.

    Anyway, Thumbs up for moving away from "Spam in the Can" spaceflight.

    1. Nick Gibbins

      Familiar shape

      This doesn't just resemble the X-20 Dynasoar - see also the European Hermes spaceplane and the Russian Kliper:

  2. Pete 2 Silver badge

    You can't get there from here

    The basic problem the americans have with getting stuff to the International Space Station is that they start from the wrong place. The ISS orbit is at a 55° inclination - not unusual for a russian launched payload, and quite convenient for their more northern launch sites. The yanks launched their scuttle from Florida, a long way further south. That means they have to expend a lot of energy to change the orbit of their rockets from their natural 29° orbital inclination. That's fuel which could be better used for putting more stuff up there, or in using smaller/cheaper launch vehicles.

    If you wanted to efficiently launch things to get to the ISS, you'd probably want to launch them from Canada, or Newcastle or somewhere in Alaska if you really had to keep it within the USA. Basically almost anywhere in america would be a better choice than Florida.

    1. Aaron Em

      Yeah, but...

      ...we already had a cosmodrome in Florida, and besides, Alaska is colder than hell -- Major Tom might find it familiar, but everybody else hates it.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      it takes more energy to change orbital inclination from 29 to 55 egrees than they save with the extra velocity gained by launching closer to the equator?

    3. lee harvey osmond

      "The yanks launched their scuttle"?


      Is this perhaps a reference to the stillborn East German reusable spacecraft program, which was to have used lignite fuel?

    4. Code Monkey

      More fuel vs new spaceport?

      They're good points but Shirley the fuel savings can't be enough to construct a new facility, especially one in a remote state that's frozen solid for chunks of the year.

      1. thecakeis(not)alie

        Or, you could just work with your neighbours.

        Edmonton Garrison is an army base parked on top of what used to be the Namao Air Force Base. Namao had one of the longest runways in the world: it was at one point one of the backup landing strips for Shuttle. There's a huge city with gobs of infrastructure and hundreds of thousands of very competent individuals very used to dealing with absolutely enormous (read; much larger than Shuttle + boosters) equipment.

        We have to personnel, the equipment (large crawlers), the space…even a good launch and recovery site! All that would be required is paying the Canadian government to pick up an Army base and move it, then rehabilitate the extant Air Force base. Let’s be honest, moving an Army base won’t cost that much, and what’s there would be a damned near ready-made replacement for Canaveral and Huston all in one go.

        No, the issue is government pork. Efficiency means nothing to bureaucrats, merely who gets what money to pad which expense account and keep which electorate happy.

    5. c0n5p1r4cy

      Whay aye...

      "'d probably want to launch them from Canada, or Newcastle or somewhere in Alaska..."

      "Nyacassle controal, wor gannin for oarbit, ower"

      May I be the first to welcome our brown ale drinking overlords.

  3. jago

    Errata Corrige

    ",,,and will dock with the space station using a hatch situated at the rear, where the Shuttle has its engines...." --- this is obviously wrong. the vehicle docking system (and the related orbital hatch) is located on the 'top' of the plane, as can be easily deduced from the pictures you have posted. it is the small circle that can be seen in the first image, and the buldge that is in proximity of the NASA and Orbital logos in the second image.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      re:Errata Corrige

      escape hatch <> docking port.

  4. LINCARD1000


    Cannot remember the exact spelling. But growing up in the 70's we had a set of science oriented encyclopedias that had a section on future space-craft, including something very reminiscent of this thing, stacked on top of a regular, throw-away booster stack. It was a Nasa project I believe, called Dynosaur or something similar.

    What is old is new again it seems :-)

    As far as getting to and from space goes, I think the Russians have the right idea. Cheap, relatively reliable and single-use (which helps keep the cost down). With re-usability you are getting straight back into "shuttle" territory with all the complexity and cost associated with it. Until technology advances to a point where a *reliable* reusable craft is feasible, KISS I reckon.

    Aliens, because you never know who's watching :-)

    1. The lone lurker

      X-20 Dyna-Soar

      I believe predated nasa in concept and was one of the USAF early attempts to get into space independantly.

      The name is derived from 'Dynamic Soarer'

    2. James Hughes 1

      SpaceX have got it right(er)

      A simple *reusable* capsule. They also have plans to reuse the first stage, but not expected to be able to do that for a couple of years.

      As the article hints at, they also plan powered landings to specified locations, so all of the benefits of winged craft, but without the wings as added weight, so more payload.

  5. Graham Bartlett


    Too right - it's a bit strange that it says "new".

    "Spam in a can" has the downside for sci-fi coolness though that it works reliably. As demonstrated by the Shuttle, wings are a liability on reentry.

    I'm curious why no-one's yet tried retractable wings, although of course the retraction method itself is going to be a potential source of problems.

    1. Adrian Esdaile

      Retractable wings?

      That's almost what Burt Rutan's SS1 uses - at least they fold up out of the way and allow an 'any-attitude' reentry.

      Granted, it's sub-orbital; but I am sure a klatch of boffins could nut together an orbital version, given enough cash and Red Bull.

      As for small spaceplanes - thumbs up! Russia's little Spiral tesbed comes to mind, and didn't the ESA have plans for a little lifting body called 'Hermes' in the good old 80's?

      1. Youngdog


        It is really frustrating reading articles about capsules and 30-year-old space plane designs - as if all the innovation and hard work done by Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites and the success of SSO was nothing more than a fluke!

        Rutan (now retired) combined the Wright Brothers pioneering spirit with an almost savant like instinct for aeronautical engineering – and sports a fine pair of pork-chops to boot! The hinged ‘feather’ design for auto-correcting and stabilising the re-entry was nothing short of genius and even though the thing was dropped from 50,000 feet that was still less than a fifth of the altitude reached by SSO.

        Sure the thing was sub-orbital but it was a great proof of concept – take everything that worked with SSO and then look at new engine designs to get the extra push needed for an orbital flight. Strapping something to a non-reusable rocket is wasteful and will always hold back the innovations and technical leaps forward required to take space travel to the next level.

        If you haven’t already I would urge you to watch the Discover Channel Special ‘Black Sky - The Race for Space’ on SpaceShipOne winning the X Prize – even just to appreciate the awesome courage of test pilot Mike Melville (the first person ever to receive commercial astronaut wings) who performed SSO’s first full rocket burn and reached the 100KM target without ANY telemetry data due to a technical fault! I am pretty sure the ‘carrying the equivalent of three people on board’ condition for winning the X Prize was met just because Mike Melville’s massive balls were up there with him.

        1. annodomini2

          The problem is velocity

          Altitude is nothing without velocity for orbit.

          The highest speed achieved by SSO was 2,170mph (according to wikipedia, so it may be wrong!)

          LEO is 17,500mph

          The reason rockets are so big is due to this velocity, launching from a plane gives you ~500mph, but the rocket still needs to be big to give you the 17,000mph deltaV.

          I'm not trying to discredit Rutan's work, I have a lot of respect for what he and scaled composites achieved, but the difference between sub-orbital and orbital is a lot bigger than you think!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Shuttle's spotty safety record"

    Neither Shuttle loss was due to any design failing in the orbiter itself: the first was taken out by a tank of fuel that exploded when blowtorched by a defective solid booster, the other by having its skin punctured by foam falling from same fuel tank.

    Parking the orbiter atop a conventional rocket stack immediately eliminates these failures modes, and was indeed a feature of pretty much every proposed Shuttle replacement, whilst retaining the desirable feature of a controlled descent to a choice of landing sites.

    1. Graham Bartlett

      @Shuttle's spotty safety record

      Trouble is that the Shuttle is only a semi-controlled descent at best. Its a glider, so you don't get a second chance at trying the landing, and its glide ratio is only marginally better than a housebrick. Because of this it comes down at an insane speed, so it's severely limited in where it can land by the length of runway required. And bcos you've got a wing section in the airflow for reentry, you need a *shitload* of heatproof tiles, where failure of one means the whole thing burns up.

      A ram-air chute OTOH comes down nice and slow. It can easily be landed in a parking lot - hell, you can nearly select the parking space. And multiple-stage chute deployment is a 100% sorted technology.

  7. Max Entropy


    I fail to see how this is going to provide outreach to Muslims.

  8. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Powerpoint frequent flier miles

    Actually, it's probably closer to the HL-20 than Dyna-Soar. Anyway, it's yet another in literally hundreds of powerpoint rocketships. I'll believe it when it's on top of a rocket. HL-20 didn't get that far before it was canceled. These consortia of large companies rarely get far.

    Including Boeing and LockMart, Musk is the only guy putting his money where his mouth is.

  9. benkid77

    Great stuff, but a bit late

    All good stuff and I'd love to see these spaceplane technologies in action, however I can't help but think that all this should have been happening about ten years ago.

    As of 2010, it appears that the ISS is going to last until around 2020. If that's the case then we're already past the halfway point of the ISS program chronologically speaking (which started in 1998).

    By the time these technologies have been further developed, refined, flight tested and the inevitable delays and setbacks have pushed the schedule back, it seems optimistic to assume that that this technology will actually be able to deliver before the ISS is de-orbited.

    I sincerely hope I'm wrong, but the ISS needs something up and running like this now, not a decade from now.

    The Russians have their good old Soyuz and Progress craft up and running now. Doesn't matter that they are based on old technology. What matters is that they are up and running now. This is so important, given the impending retirement of the shuttle fleet.

    But if only someone had the foresight to start kick-start these spaceplane projects back in 2000, then they may have been far more useful for the ISS program.

    1. annodomini2

      More like 50

      As many have posted there are similar concepts dating back to the late 50's, early 60's.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "Doesn't matter that they are based on old technology. "

      Quite true.

      "What matters is that they are up and running now. "

      And the fact they the current agreed price for US astronauts is $47m dollars a seat. Take it or leave it.

      On that basis it's surprising some partner did not do a capsule by now. However only Ariane 5 is meant to be crew rated (holdover from the Hermes lets-copy-the-X20 plan) and I suspect ESA view paying the Russians as a cheap way to keep them funded and not doing deals with states to spread the technology. The ESA ARD proejct demonstrated they can do a complete launch and recovery cycle.

      The logical players would be the Japanese, but I don't think they ever looked at crew rating their LV's.

  10. Carlo Graziani

    This Is Trouble For SpaceX

    Beyond any technical merit this proposal may have, it's probably a shoo-in if the money doesn't evaporate. Orbital Sciences is well-known for its cozy relationship with NASA.

    Have a peek at its Senior Management Bios: they are very heavy with erstwhile NASA management types, and current NASA management types can look upon them with envy and hope for their own futures. In fact, this relationship is what kept OS in business during that half-decade-long series of fiascoes called the "Pegasus XL" program. NASA Launch Services kept them alive, fending off outside competition that was beating a path to their door, until OS's mediocre engineers finally managed to produce an actual working vehicle instead of an unstable roman candle.

    There is no doubt in my mind that this is why OS was selected by their partners to head this particular consortium. Musk and SpaceX are outsiders. Their path to success just got a lot steeper.

  11. lee harvey osmond

    "The Shuttle's spotty safety record"

    Yeah. One horrible accident caused by having an unduly complicated rocket stack, and another caused by being in a debris stream next to the rocket stack instead of being in clear air on top of it. And lots and lots of safety scares, mostly to do with fuel system plumbing and the like because of having liquid-fuelled rocket main motors mounted on the orbiter.

    ... None of which would be a factor for the spaceplane under consideration.

  12. malenfant

    Re: You can't get there from here #

    That's not as significant of a factor as you imply. The USAF were aiming to launch shuttles into a polar orbit from Edwards... The main reason the shuttle underperforms at sending payload to the ISS is because out of a total 70 tons of payload the STS system wastes 50 tons on wings tiles, airframe and other assorted bits of airplane crap that aren't mission relevant... This compromises payload far more than the stations orbital inclination.

    Also moving the launch site further north will not magically give you back the assist that comes from launching to an equatorial orbit from an equatorial location. Whatever orbit your launching to then The equator is at least as good a place to start as any. For low inclination orbits then you get an assist because of the greater linear velocity you start off with by being further from the earths rotational axis. As you manouver into a higher inclination orbit then you surrender some of that component of your speed but if you started out further fromt the equator then you would never have had it in the first place. A low lattitud launch site is as good a place as anywhere for launching to a higher inclination orbit.

    That said Kennedy is not a great place to launch to 51 degrees from. I think the problem is not so much it's latitude but the restrictions on overflight. Rockets are forced to launch close to due east and this requires a later plane change that eats out of the shuttles OMS fuel.

    The reason that the ISS orbit is more favourable to Baikonur than Kennedy is because the Proton and Soyuz rockets and their associated spacecraft flat out do not have the extra delta V for the plane change wheras STS does ...also I suspect the russian boosters lack avionics for a dogleg manouver. Proton first stage was still using analogue computers when zvezda and zarya launched...

    Anyway, I expect the spaceplane to go the same way as the airship and they flyingboat. A misguided attempt to impose the prejudices of one transport method onto the realities of another.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "The main reason the shuttle underperforms at sending payload to the ISS is because out of a total 70 tons of payload the STS system wastes 50 tons on wings tiles, airframe and other assorted bits of airplane crap that aren't mission relevant... T"

      I think you'll find getting both liquid and solid propellant engines which underperformed by 2-3 secs of Isp did not help things.

      Note the wings were *vital* to the USAF's desire for once around return to launch site operation, now suspected primarily for their plan to capture hostile USSR satellites.

      Had they only asked for it to be supportable from any reasonably sized military airfield (and figure out how to recover it from there) the design would have been *very* different..

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's just hope

    Orbital can build rockets better than they Photoshop - there's a nasty reflection cockup going on there.


    Yep, you're thinking of the USAF X20 DynaSoar program.

  14. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    So, having not launched a *single* copy of their Taurus II/Cygnus design

    They want to scrap the design (which was *meant* to feed into the CCDev programme) and build a new one.

    Note this is a *classic* con-tractor play to NASA.

    1) Shape designed to appeal to some sections of senior NASA management.

    2) Spread the work ("keeping the rice bowls filled") across multiple con-tractors (with the implied farming out of some of this research to various NASA centres, keeping their days filled).

    3) Need for a *big* budget to actually build it.

    4) *Nothing* about this exists except the Powerpoint slides.

    In fact there are actually 2 answers to the "Cross range" problem, if you simply *must* have it.

    1) Design and size a *system* architecture (wings, body engines, landing gear and associated *infrastructure*) to be able to land *without* needing the lake bed at Edwards to do so. Not necessarily into a civilian airport but just a *normal* runway with the services that a normal military airport could provide in terms of air conditioning, power etc until the support plane (planes?) arrives to deal with it. This has *never* been tried. It would be more attractive if someone designed a concept which can "self ferry" (no one delivers a new Boeing by *road* to its operator. They just get a skeleton crew to *fly* it in). I'd guess a likely support plane would be a C17 or a an 225

    Solving those problems would take *real* engineering skill.

    2)Use a design with the best available hypersonic L/D known. AFAIK this is the USAF Flight Dynamics Lab version 5 shape. It is *meant* to have good enough L/D (c3 at >M5) to offer *hemispheric* coverage (+/- 90 Deg cross range).

    Oddly I've never heard NASA *consider* using it and AFAIK no one has flown it to orbit to see if it really live up to its claims (logic suggest USAF would have flown at *least* a small one by now as a black programme, as it's meant to be head and shoulders above all contenders. But who would know?)

    OSC continue their journey from pioneering aerospace company to government con-tractor.

    IMHO only one icon appropriate.

  15. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Virgin Galactic

    Looks like Virgin Galactic wants to sell seats to orbit on it. See

    Now that's a VG ticket I'd buy! Maybe with Branson involved, it'll get pushed to completion.

  16. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    A note on X-20 Dyna Soar, Hermes, X33 and Ariane


    Cancelled by Robert McNamara due to increasing weight without increasing payload (in fact the payload was shrinking), instability concerns over the wings at the front of a Titan launch vehicle and IIRC a continually rising budget.


    Championed by France, funded (and ultimately canceled) through ESA due to continuing weight growth and reducing payload (by the end they were planning to put most of the environmental control/life support system in an expendable package to jettison before re-entry)


    Lifting body shape supposedly designed to demonstrate altitude compensating linear plug nozzle and reuseability. Cancelled after over $1.1Bn spent (including a chunk of the budget for the flight test programme). NASA bent over backward to make this one fly and LockMart laughed all the way to the bank.

    Ariane 5

    Designed to carry Hermes and in principle the only non Russian designed crew rated launcher outside the US.

    Anyone spotting a pattern hear with lifting bodies?

    weight growth -> payload shrink -> budget rises -> cancellation

    Looks *so* cool though.

    BTW the Russian Shuttle followed the orbiter winged fuselage closely. It was *not* a lifting body either. AFAIK only the USAF ASSET/PRIME programmes tested anything close to such shapes at anything close to orbital velocity.

    AFAIK the only European shuttle that has flown successfully is the EuroSEC Doppleganger.

    I'm off for a drink. Anyone care to join me?

  17. paulc

    Shuttle safety records...

    First was most definitely a case of management press-on-itis (under pressure from outside) and resulted in launching OUTSIDE the permitted temperature envelope for the O-ring seals (overriding the engineers who knew there would be problems with sealing the gasses)... they just HAD to launch, everyone was waiting for it, especially the media with the first teacher in space...

    The second, yet again was a management screw up as they'd had evidence of ice striking the underside on previous launches but as they'd gotten away with it, they kept on riding their luck...

    I'm seriously sad that here we are, well on down the road and they still haven't got anything in place... I used to have lots of models of concept spaceplanes back in the sixties... there was a whole range of different Dyna-Soar variants you could buy in the toyshops... and they're still shit scared of a winged re-entry vehicle and want to keep the oh-so-tried-and tested spam-can concept

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "The second, yet again was a management screw up as they'd had evidence of ice striking the underside on previous launches but as they'd gotten away with it, they kept on riding their luck"

      It's a form of organizational behavior called "Normalization of deviancy" No harm, no fowl. So lets do it again. IIRC it turns up in *both* Shuttle accident reports.

      "I'm seriously sad that here we are, well on down the road and they still haven't got anything in place... "

      Look for a PDF called "Facing the heat barrier" by TA Heppenheimer specifically ASSET/PRIME. Some have flown (you can even see one of them in a museum).

      "and they're still shit scared of a winged re-entry vehicle"

      Winged, no. Shuttle is winged. Lifting bodies are more problematical.

      It's a chicken and egg situation. Lifting bodies do offer *some* benefits in some areas.

      But come crunch time they have *never* been enough to outweigh the uncertainty of delivery. On giga-dollar absolutely-cannot-fail projects (Shuttle for example) that risk is simply *too* high.

      *Somehow* as the design (no matter *how* fully analyzed) gets more refined and starts to be manufactured the weight just seems to balloon.

      NASA's last go at a lifting body was the X33. It was not a poster child for X programmes.

      The OSC vehicle versus Dragon is an interesting example. The "plane" carries 4 people at present, the capsule 7. Having built actual Dragon capsules SpaceX can be fairly confident that it will accommodate that number. That cross range has quite a price in payload and both are designed to sit on top of a rocket to begin with.

      BTW on a technology point., AFAIK no one has flown a composite space vehicle *ever*, except Bigelow. Their hardware is not designed to land and not pressurized during launch. In the White world only the DC-X had a composite airframe. It was designed to operate to M3 at most.

  18. andy gibson

    That picture

    has inspired me to re-download and fire up the freeware space simlator ORBITER. Ta!

  19. Anonymous Coward


    Heh.. this looks almost exactly like John Kryten's module from Farscape...

    wonder if anyone else has noticed the similarities?

    AC, because this is probably covered under the DMCA or something...

  20. FreeTard

    I designed that

    so I did. I drew it on the back of my copybook in the 80's in skewel.

    But seriously lads, who cares about manned spaceflight? It's all a bit tedious when real science can be done without humans for less cash.

  21. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    let's kep in mind space is a place, not a programme.

    that is all

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