NASA without the Space Shuttle

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After the Shuttle programme ended US astronauts had to ride Russian Soyuz missions to the ISS.
What would a US manned launch system have looked like from 1975 on without the Space Shuttle programme?
The Apollo capsule and Skylab were available to carry on being used. But what launch vehicle would be most effective. A variant of Saturn or Titan?
 
More generally: with perfect hindsight, just pick Mir basic shape for his American counterpart.

That is: a four-bladded propeller.

Essentially that


Except with Skylab-size modules: 22 ft diameter rather than the Shuttle / Proton constrained to 15 ft.

Without a Shuttle, the Agena can be turned into an expendable space tug (nearly happened OTL in a different context)


The following Saturn IB are available to launch the 22 ft modules : booster 209, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216. Saturn "210" went to the Soyuz flight so not available.

Sooo...
1977: Saturn 209 launches the "Enterprise" module, formerly Constitution. The propeller axis and station core.
And then the four "blades" in the shape of an X
1979: Saturn 211 & Columbia module
1981: Saturn 212 & Challenger module
1983: Saturn 213 & Discovery module
1985: Saturn 214 & Atlantis module

Each module is ferried to the station and automatically docked by an Agena space tug. The Soviets did the same for Mir OTL with the TKS-FGB.

Booster 215 is held in reserve with a backup module called Endeavour, it may eventually be launched later.

Meanwhile, 1977... Titan III-M launches Big Gemini 1, rebranded Helios (because "Big Gemini" as a name really sucks, so let's call Greek mythology to the rescue).

So Helios-1 and from there, four flights a year for the next 20 years, total 80 flights - comparable to Soyuz and Shuttle.

Agena space tug for logistics, can be easily adapted to any rocket: Ariane, Titan, Delta-Thorad, Atlas, Saturn...

And Apollo as a "lifeboat" launched unmanned, and perhaps build by ESA as a first step toward manned spaceflight (no Shuttle = no Buran, but also no Hermes).
 
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Two way.
1. the Shuttle die during final concept phase in 1971 do Political meddling.
2. the Shuttle heat shield issue is unsolvable in 1978

First option give chance restart Saturn V either as INT-20 INT-21 variants
With Big G as payload (INT-20) and launching Skylab (INT-21)
Why Saturn INT and not Titan III-M ? simple: mass productions of Saturn V parts to reduce cost
Give option to launch Skylabs and Lunar Mission.

Second option means to use Shuttle components for new Booster
With Big G as payload and reusable Pod with RS-25 Engine.

but also no Hermes
You can trace that program back to mid 1960s under ELDO...

Agena space tug for logistics
It was ideal for that role with additional propellants tanks.
 
But what if they had not abandoned the x-15 , Dyna-soar route to space?

Where would we be if they had not jumped across to multi-stage rockets?
 
Shuttle cannot be cancelled in '78, not even by Carter - Mondale, nor TPS, nor exploding SSMEs. As long as the Air Force (masking the NRO) plans to transfer KH-9 and KH-11 spysats to the Shuttle, National Security won't allow it to be canned. Neither will Hans Mark, who was seemingly everywhere - NRO, Pentagon Under Secretary of Defense, then NASA deputy administrator.

My bet is 1971. On October 24 of that year is came very, very very close. To make a long story short, Nixon science advisors (PSAC) very nearly convinced the bean counters (OMB) to scrap the Shuttle. That it didn't made any sense economically, which was certainly true.

Whatever Shuttle business case NASA threw at Caspar Weinberger OMB showed minimal savings compared to a similar Titan III driven program. Reusability didn't saved enough, only a handful of $billions that could instantly vanish through cost overruns (C-5 Galaxy, cough, F-111, cough cough - they were NOT encouraging by any mean.).

A rather incredible truth is that back in 1964 when planning Titan III flight rates USAF had done the exact same dumb mistake NASA would make less than a decade later.
They had grossly exagerated future fligh rates and dimensioned the entire Titan III suport infrastructure (from MArtin Marietta to solids to The Cape I T L launch complex) for 50 flights a year or more.

End result: in the early 1970's Titan suffered from massive launch excess capability... and yet, instead of tapping into that, NASA was making the same stupid mistake with the Shuttle. Bad luck for them, this meant that detailed Shuttle economic studies ran head-on into that Titan over-capacity... at the launch market and launch rate levels.

NASA got away with that by artificially inflating the numbers according to the old slogan "build it and they will come". Particularly Spacelab. "Ah sure, the Shuttle will be so cheap at $10 million per flight, everybody will rush for Spacelab missions, dropping launch costs even lower..."

The result of that ? 1990's miseries, Titan IVA vs Shuttle, each $500 million per launch or much more. We ended with two hangar queens and white elephants.

Now, had Titan III-M screwed the Shuttle, things could have been different.
 
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Why Saturn INT and not Titan III-M? Simple: mass productions of Saturn V parts to reduce cost.
I don't know because it wasn't my suggestion.

However, @archibald's choice might have been because Titan III was in production into the 2000s so the cost of making 4-5 Titan IIIMs per year to support his proposed launch rate of 4 Helios spacecraft per year might be less than 4-5 Saturn INTs per year.

Plus it might be possible to use the existing Titan III launch facilities. If it is LC-39 can be closed after the Saturn IBs have been expended. And even if the capacity of the existing Titan III facilities at The Cape aren't enough the cost of building and operating one or two extra launch pads (and their associated facilities) might be less than launching 4-5 Saturn IBs a year from LC39.
 
The following Saturn IB are available to launch the 22 ft modules : booster 209, 211, 212, 213, 214, 215, 216. Saturn "210" went to the Soyuz flight so not available.

Sooo...
1977: Saturn 209 launches the "Enterprise" module, formerly Constitution. The propeller axis and station core.
And then the four "blades" in the shape of an X
1979: Saturn 211 & Columbia module
1981: Saturn 212 & Challenger module
1983: Saturn 213 & Discovery module
1985: Saturn 214 & Atlantis module

Each module is ferried to the station and automatically docked by an Agena space tug. The Soviets did the same for Mir OTL with the TKS-FGB.

Booster 215 is held in reserve with a backup module called Endeavour, it may eventually be launched later.

Meanwhile, 1977... Titan III-M launches Big Gemini 1, rebranded Helios (because "Big Gemini" as a name really sucks, so let's call Greek mythology to the rescue).
What happened to Booster 216? Could it have been used to launch a module called Resolution? I chose that name because it was another of Captain Cook's ships.
 
@NOMISYRRUC The highly detailed job you did and still does, for british armed forces post-1945 (from ships to V-bombers) I've done something very similar since 2008 related to the present thread topic. (in passing, For all mankind is all wrong everywhere - but heck, it is just for entertaining purpose).
 
The last Saturn IB post 211 made a gradual descent into Hell.

211 was completed: S-IB assembled, S-IVB.
212 was similar but its S-IVB was "stolen" and turned into... Skylab A, as flown in May 1973. Curiously enough Skylab B was a S-IVB robbed from... a Saturn V. Don't ask me why.

213 & 214 S-IB were complete and assembled, but their S-IVB were never ordered.

215 & 216 were only a lose collection of S-IB spares, never assembled.

Now, 216 ? I want to use it to flight test the XLR-129 engine, which ITTL will be the closest thing from a SSME they will ever get.


The idea: finish Saturn 216 with a classic S-IB but the second stage is some kind of stretched S-IVB with the much better XLR-129. Payload to orbit should be much higher, from 40 000 to perhap 50 000 pounds.
 
One of the most attractive aspects of that TL is to clean the Apollo pork barrel at the dawn of the Shuttle (in 1971) rather than at the end (2011). Bottom line: nip the Shuttle in the bud and, with perfect hindsight of course: nip the SLS quagmire. Better to clean up the NASA pork and fat mess in the Nixon days rather than in the even more dysfuntional 2010's.
In passing this also saves the lives of 14 astronauts, so what's not to like ?
This can't do any damage either to the very concepts of RLV, SSTO and TSTO.
 
I admit to having been lazy in not giving any point of departure for not having the Space Shuttle programme.

Stephen Baxter gives his own view of NASA in his novel "Voyage". This has been challenged in other threads.

The Shuttle was the big ticket compensation for US industry for losing the bonanza of a mid 1980s Mars Mission.

The military roles of the Shuttle have been covered in other threads too. Some will add that this was the main driver for the Shuttle as it evolved. Perhaps that makes it impossible to kill.
 
No laziness, the Shuttle was greenlighted by Nixon on January 5, 1972 and was essentially unstoppable from that moment on. Even if it took nearly a decade to fly.
Early studies started in 1968-69 so the window of opportunity to screw the silly thing is rather narrow.
 
Was the attempt to have an airliner style route into Space a wrong path for the US?

Now that we are back with standard rockets and capsules it does seem to have been a diversion.

On the other hand watching the Pan Am clipper in 2001 a Space Odyssey it is hard to argue with the idea of the Space Shuttle.
 
There was no good, "miracle" Space Shuttle concept to be picked by NASA in 1969-1972. And they reviewed at least a hundred different Shuttle shapes !
Airliner to orbit is extraordinary difficult. SST like Concorde or Being's flew at Mach 2.5 - but orbital velocity is exactly ten times more: Mach 25.
9 kilometer per second or: no orbit. And energy-wise it is even worse: twenty times more than a Concorde. The numbers are crazy: daunting.

Blame planet Earth: a big rocky body, very dense with a thick atmosphere. This is the reason why it takes 9 km per second to orbit it.
Mars and Moon being smaller potatoes only request 4 km/s and 2.4 km/s... Musk nailed it, when he said in 2018 "we are living on the wrong planet for SSTO".

Airlines went through five generations of airliners before costs started dropping
1- Ju-52 (no money maker)
2- DC-3 (could make money, but only short haul)
3- Constellation (could cross the Atlantic but hardly earn money)
4- 707 (the big breakthrough: jet propulsion)
5- 747 (the last big breakthrough: giant size, mass transportation: ticket prices drops to the floor)

Space Shuttle was a courageous atempt at pushing space transportation to the DC-3 level, with hopes it would be unstoppable afterwards.
Didn't panned out at all.

Musk is presently trying to create a kind of "747 to Mars" - no less. Not only a 747 to orbit, but one that could sweep Moon and Mars too.

Now, could SH-Starship have happened earlier ? hard to guess. The closest thing ever, in space history from it was Boeing Space Freighter, 1978. https://web.archive.org/web/20190302131434/http://www.pmview.com/spaceodysseytwo/spacelvs/sld045.htm

View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cVYbbWAd2WA&t=4s


On paper at least, NASA could have created something akin to the Space Freighter out of Saturn V first two stages - S-IC (Boeing) and S-II (North American Rockwell).

A troubling issue back then was the lack of a Starlink cash cow : a space "killer app" that could make a shitload of money. Money that could pay development cost of a monster like the Space Freighter: $10 billion or more (that was the cost of the 1969-70 100% reusable Space Shuttle designs).

Boeing Space Freighter was designed with Space Based Solar Power in mind, but it didn't panned out.
 
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And that what makes SH-Starship fascinating: the RLV breakthrough is happening at last.
Bottom line: with perfect hindsight we can see now that
-a) the killer app and cash cow was spaceborne broadband internet, with 42 000 satellites to be launched
- b) the "right" vehicle was a TSTO with both stages reusable, but NOT winged: vertical landings on rocket power.

Hard to see such planets lining up in 1990 or in 1970. Satphones constellations in the 1990's failed. SBSP in 1980 wasn't viable.
 
A troubling issue back then was the lack of a Starlink cash cow : a space "killer app" that could make a shitload of money. Money that could pay development cost of a monster like the Space Freighter: $10 billion or more (that was the cost of the 1969-70 100% reusable Space Shuttle designs).
Only way I see is to completely screw american space surveillance (Optical/radar/Sigint/early warning) to have them adopt soviet-like mass produced, mass launched satellites into the 70s and 80s, but that has wider implications on space policy as a whole, and a lot of basic information, electronic, optical technologies; and maybe requires different geopolitics.
Probably more feasible if the "shuttle decision" happens in the mid 60s, which requires no apollo.
 
They launched more than 250 Agena Key Hole spysats, all the way from 1960 to 1984. From KH-9 and 1971 however they shifted to massive, expensive birds: 20 KH-9, half a dozen KH-10 MOL (never launched) and since 1976, 20-something KH-11 and derivatives...

On the other hand the Soviets launched more than 800 Vostok derivates for all kind of missions: mostly Zenit spysats, but also for remote sensing.
 
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But what if they had not abandoned the x-15 , Dyna-soar route to space?

Where would we be if they had not jumped across to multi-stage rockets?
Too early for them technology wise and no need for them
 
With no Shuttle perhaps Saturn IB is still flying. The Saturn V-B as described by Mark Wade may have been cheaper than Shuttle?

With no Saturn/Apollo…might Titans have flown to this day to be replaced by Falcon?
 
With no Shuttle perhaps Saturn IB is still flying.
Saturn IB was dead already in 1967 as Johnson Administration order the production stop.
end of 1960s NASA was shifting toward cheaper Titan III rockets like Titan IIIM/F what got canceled
Without Shuttle, the Titan IIIM could be salvage to launch modified Apollo CSM
also could launch Titan IIIF a small lab were Apollo CSM dock with in Orbit

what look like this
30964927164_5692c0a663_o.jpg
 
With no Shuttle perhaps Saturn IB is still flying.
But what would it fly? Also LC-39 too expensive to operate just for Saturn IB.
The Saturn V-B as described by Mark Wade may have been cheaper than Shuttle?

Too big for most spacecraft and it couldn't do sortie missions.

With no Saturn/Apollo…might Titans have flown to this day to be replaced by Falcon?
No, still would have been replaced by EELVs.
 
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Here are the payloads for STS-5 through STS 51-L:
SBS 3 [PAM-D] / Anik C3 [PAM-D]
TDRS 1 [IUS]
Anik C2 [PAM-D] / Palapa B1 [PAM-D] / SPAS 01
Insat 1B [PAM-D]
SL-1
Westar 6 [PAM-D] / Palapa B2 [PAM-D] / SPAS 01A
LDEF 1
SBS 4 [PAM-D] / Telstar 302 [PAM-D] / Leasat 2
SIR-B / ERBS
Anik D2 [PAM-D] / Leasat 1
Orion 1 [IUS]
Anik C1 [PAM-D] / Leasat 3
SL-3
Morelos 1 [PAM-D] / Telstar 303 [PAM-D] / Arabsat 1B [PAM-D] / Spartan 101-F1
SL-2
Leasat 4 / Aussat A1 [PAM-D] / ASC 1 [PAM-D]
DSCS-3 B4 / DSCS-3 B5 [IUS]
SL-D1
Aussat A2 [PAM-D] / Morelos 2 [PAM-D] / Satcom-K 2 [PAM-D2]
MSL-2 / Satcom-K 1 [PAM-D2]
TDRS 2 [IUS] / Spartan 203-F1
Slashes (/) separate individual payloads

This is what launch vehicles would have to fly.
Payloads with
PAM-D would fly on Delta
PAM-D2 would fly on Atlas
IUS - Titan

Leasats would be Atlas or Titan.
SL (Spacelab) doesn't translate to an ELV. Neither does LDEF.
Spartan and SPAS would have to reconfigured to fly on an ELV (Delta)
Same with SIR and ERBS
 
most of those satellite could launch with Delta rocket

TDRS are com sats for Shuttle program, no shuttle no TDRS.

the rest could launch with Titan III either as Titan IIIF with centaur or Titan 34D with IUS.
 
most of those satellite could launch with Delta rocket

TDRS are com sats for Shuttle program, no shuttle no TDRS.

the rest could launch with Titan III either as Titan IIIF with centaur or Titan 34D with IUS.
No, TDRS does more than Shuttle or ISS.
I listed what payloads would fly on which rockets.
 
LDEF panels might be put in a capsule to allow the cage to re-enter...Spacelab could have been a civilian MOL. No Apollo/STS means we'd only have about what China has at the moment.
 
LDEF panels might be put in a capsule to allow the cage to re-enter...Spacelab could have been a civilian MOL. No Apollo/STS means we'd only have about what China has at the moment.
Not really.
a. The process of removing and multiple retrievals of LDEF panels would have contaminated them.
b. A MOL type Spacelab is unworkable. No way of bringing back results, samples, specimens and experiments. Spacelab 2 found that a crew spacecraft has too dirty of environment around it for IR research.
 
What would a US manned launch system have looked like from 1975 on without the Space Shuttle programme?
One pretty in-depth timeline that I'd recommend from over on the Alternate History board is Eyes Turned Skywards, the point of divergence being the STS not going ahead and America's space programme developing from Apollo.
 
After the Shuttle programme ended US astronauts had to ride Russian Soyuz missions to the ISS.
What would a US manned launch system have looked like from 1975 on without the Space Shuttle programme?
The Apollo capsule and Skylab were available to carry on being used. But what launch vehicle would be most effective. A variant of Saturn or Titan?
A Saturn technology based rockets with reusable first stage or the equivalent of an aerospace transporter already studied in Europe mid 60s; and the carrier plane could be a follow-on of the SST American project. Capture d’écran 2024-02-29 à 10.53.31.png Capture d’écran 2024-02-29 à 10.53.53.png
 

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