Candidate Space Shuttle Orbiters Wind Tunnel Studies 1969 NASA Langley Research


Senior Member
Jun 3, 2011
Reaction score

"This December 1969 film looks at the candidate space shuttle orbiters using M=20 electron beam flow studies. This gives an interesting look at some of the proposed designs. The only tunnels at NASA Langley Research Center reaching that speed are in the Hypersonics Facilities Complex." Silent.

NASA Langley film # L-1072

Public domain film from NASA, slightly cropped to remove uneven edges, with the aspect ratio corrected, and mild video noise reduction applied.

Even before the Apollo moon landing in 1969, in October 1968, NASA began early studies of space shuttle designs. The early studies were denoted "Phase A", and in June 1970, "Phase B", which were more detailed and specific. The primary intended use of the space shuttle was supporting the future space station. This function would dictate most of the shuttle's features. The U.S. Air Force was also interested in using the shuttle, and NASA welcomed their participation and influence to ensure political and financial support for the shuttle program.

Initially, many potential shuttle designs were proposed during the 1960s, and they varied widely. Many were exceedingly complex. An attempt to re-simplify was made in the form of the "DC-3" by Maxime Faget, who had designed the Mercury capsule among other vehicles. The DC-3 was a small craft with a 20,000-pound (9 metric ton) payload, a four-man capacity, and limited aerodynamic maneuverability. At a minimum, the DC-3 provided a baseline "workable" (but not significantly advanced) system by which other systems could be compared for price-performance compromises...

Decision-making process

In 1969, United States Vice President Agnew chaired the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which discussed post-Apollo options for manned space activities. The recommendations of the Council would heavily influence the decisions of the administration. The Council considered four major options:

- A Manned mission to Mars
- follow-on lunar program
- A low earth orbital infrastructure program
- Discontinuing manned space activities

Based on the advice of the Space Council, President Nixon made the decision to pursue the low earth orbital infrastructure option. This program mainly consisted of construction of a space station, along with the development of a Space Shuttle. Funding restrictions precluded pursuing the development of both programs simultaneously, however. NASA chose to develop the Space Shuttle program first, and then planned to use the shuttle in order to construct and service a space station.

Air Force involvement

During the mid-1960s the United States Air Force had both of its major piloted space projects, X-20 Dyna-Soar and Manned Orbiting Laboratory, canceled. This demonstrated its need to cooperate with NASA to place military astronauts in orbit. In turn, by serving Air Force needs, the Shuttle became a truly national system, carrying all military as well as civilian payloads.

NASA sought Air Force support for the shuttle... Air Force involvement emphasized the ability to launch spy satellites southward into polar orbit from Vandenberg AFB. This required higher energies than for lower inclination orbits. The Air Force also hoped that a shuttle could retrieve Soviet satellites and quickly land. It thus desired the ability to land at the Vandenberg liftoff point after one orbit, despite the earth rotating 1,000 miles beneath the orbital track. This required a larger delta wing size than the earlier simple "DC-3" shuttle...

Initially a fully reusable design was preferred. This involved a very large winged manned booster which would carry a smaller winged manned orbiter...

However further studies showed a huge booster was needed to lift an orbiter with the desired payload capability. In space and aviation systems, cost is closely related to weight, so this meant the overall vehicle cost would be very high...

The reusable booster was eventually abandoned...

In the spring of 1972 Lockheed Aircraft, McDonnell Douglas, Grumman, and North American Rockwell submitted proposals to build the shuttle. The NASA selection group thought that Lockheed's shuttle was too complex and too expensive, and the company had no experience with building manned spacecraft. McDonnell Douglas's was too expensive and had technical issues. Grumman had an excellent design which also seemed too expensive. North American's shuttle had the lowest cost and most realistic cost projections, its design was the easiest for ongoing maintenance, and the Apollo 13 accident involving North American's Command/Service Module demonstrated its experience with electrical system failures. NASA announced its choice of North American on 26 July 1972...


ACCESS: Secret
Mar 11, 2009
Reaction score
The agreement with USAF was a real pact with the devil.
A more small Shuttle could be full reusable,and leave money for one or two space stations on the last Saturn V (i think that advanced Skylab concept could be used).

Similar threads