The Hard Part

getting off the planet

Articles by Donald F. Robertson

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It has been a great fling, but it is finally time to imagine a future without the Space Shuttle.  

The nine lives of the Kistler reusable launch vehicle. This was written before Rocketplane Kistler won a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) award from NASA to supply the International Space Station, but it looks like the outcome will be no different. Once again, they appear unable to raise enough money to finish development and this cat seems out of lives.  

Why Boeing Should Have Won the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Competition. An analysis of the United States' Air Force's decision to select conservative designs for their next expendable launch vehicle. A riskier approach could have reduced costs for the Air Force, helped the commercial launch vehicle industry, and would have brought closer the opening of the inner Solar System to human exploration, trade, and commerce. The article appeared as an Op Ed piece in Space News. See also, The Space Shuttle Main Engine: is there a future?

The Space Shuttle Main Engine: is there a future? A defense of the Space Shuttle's main liquid fueled engines, and something of a primer on liquid fueled rocket engines in general. This was published in 1993 in Space & Communications, yet there is very little in it that is really out of date. The article also touches on an early design for Boeing's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, discussed in more detail in Why Boeing Should Have Won the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Competition.

The Space Shuttle: what now? What now, indeed? This one is primarily of historical interest.  With the award of the X-33 contract to Lockheed Martin, the United States temporarily ended more than a decade of confusion and indecision. True to form, the United States would try to develope the highest technology option available, a lifting body powered by linear aerospike engines - the one option that was not discussed in this article! Needless to say, this infuriated single-stage-to-orbit advocates who believe that the only thing wrong with the United States' attempts to develop modern rockets is our insistence on "high-teching" everything to death.  Sure enough, after a problem with new-technology composite fuel tanks, the United States abandoned this approach to developing a Shuttle replacement.  The next version was the Space Launch Initiative, a rather more conservative approach that recognizes that large-scale commercial investment in a Shuttle-class vehicle is unlikely.  Today, we are developing the Ares vehicles, expendable rockets based on Shuttle technology.  (See the Exploration section of this site for the details.)  

Cheap Spaceflight Promised Again: is Single Stage to Orbit finally the answer? This one is entirely of historical interest, although it provides a lot of background on the theory and practice of launch vehicle development. It is here because I think it is one of the best articles I've written.  It was produced for Interavia Space Markets at Jane's Information Group in England.  Jane's dropped their commercial space division shortly after the article was finished, and it was never published.  It remains a good historical overview of the ideas and technological developments that led to the Clipper Graham test vehicle.  Since this article was written, the vehicle completed development and successfully flew.  It was significantly upgraded with new technology, and flew several times again before a minor problem with a landing leg caused the vehicle to tip over and crash.  McDonnell Douglas lost the competition for the DC-Y, now called the Reusable Launch Vehicle, and Lockheed Martin is worked on the X-33, a lifting body powered by a new kind of engine called the linear aerospike.  A linear aerospike rocket engine is a linear version of the "plug" nozzle described in the article.  The X-33 was abandoned after problems with its new-technology fuel tank, and has been replaced by NASA's Space Launch Initiative.


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