Space Shuttle External Tanks

papacavy

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Has anybody any information concerning possible alternative uses for the Space Shuttle's External Tank? I know that there were some plans to use it as part of a space station project, but were there any other proposed uses for them?
 

blackstar

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There have been a bunch over the years. You should look up Space Island One for one of the crazier proposals (hint: they wanted to build an international fleet of 10 space shuttles).

One of the big problems with using the ET as a space station was that the foam shed in orbit, so you would have a lot of debris around the space station. Another problem is that structure is cheap, but all the stuff you put inside it is expensive, so an ET doesn't get you very much savings, just a lot of volume to fill up.

There were some more sane ideas, such as attaching a cargo pod at the rear of the ET and using the ET primarily as a strongback for this cargo pod, which could have 1-2 decks of pressurized space. Problems included the foam shedding, also the fact that this pod/cannister would be down near the shuttle engines and therefore face a lot of heat and noise and vibration.
 

Michel Van

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add Fuel Tank with Fuelcell, Solar panels and Docking system.
Shuttle dock on it use Solar panels during its mission like Spacelab.
Shuttle pump Ballast water in Fuelcell and with Electrolysis who separate
Water in oxygen and Hydrogene for Space Tugs

another use was ET as Hull for Space Telescope
bigger Hubble or Gamma's Ray telescope

also were idea
to use free space between LOX and LH2 Tanks for Experiments
how need only some minute zero gravity

some links on the crazier ET Proposal
http://www.orbit6.com/et/
http://www.astronautix.com/craft/stsation.htm
http://www.permanent.com/p-extank.htm
http://spacestudiesinstitute.wordpress.com/space-art/the-don-davis-high-frontier-artshow/
 

blackstar

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Over a decade ago I acquired a VHS tape by them showing their plans. Really amazingly detached from reality. They proposed building more space shuttles and launching them from around the world.

I should find that tape. Or maybe they have the video on their website.
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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blackstar said:
Really amazingly detached from reality. [...] Or maybe they have the video on their website.

They have a number of videos at http://www.spaceislandgroup.com/video-gallery.html. I've just been viewing their Space Island Group Project video on that page from October 2002. It includes the following statements:

  • "we will create a fleet of dramatically improved, safer and lower cost shuttles"
  • "our workforce will be several hundred and our first flight will take place in just four years"
  • "[existing aerospace contractors processes] can't mass produce the dozens of shuttles and hundreds of ETs this project will need"

Amazingly detached from reality is a bit of an under-statement! Not seen much mention yet of how this would be funded ...
 

Nik

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IIRC, there were still-born plans for Shuttles to 'burn the tank dry' and carry it into orbit.

Sundry snags included the weight overheads, the severe restrictions on payloads --Flown Shuttles ran rather heavier than hoped-- and that pesky, crumbly foam. Then they'd need multiple space-walks to clad the exterior in reflective 'bumper' layers which would have to be hauled to orbit. Then there was the weight of space-rated hatches and connecting tunnels, which would have to be hauled to orbit and retrofitted due to their materials' incompatibility with cryo-stuff...

Oh, and the tankage was full of baffles which would need to be removed without leaving sharps...

Given a *real* space station and routine spacewalks, all of this would just take work. Given the limited shuttle fleet and their modest endurance, plus the 'too-little, too-late' ISS build, it was a non-runner...

IMHO, had Skylab survived to form the nucleus of a space station, the different outlook might have changed things. Perhaps, but probably not. IIRC, Skylab was seen as 'old tech', 'Apollo stuff', unfit for the bold, new Shuttle era. Of course, having painted themselves into a corner, NASA discovered that the Shuttle just could not deliver on time or on budget...
:( :( :( :( :(
 

Orionblamblam

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FutureSpaceTourist said:
  • "we will create a fleet of dramatically improved, safer and lower cost shuttles"

Sure, Hugo Drax promised that, and claimed to have built a fleet of five private shuttles, but where'd they go? Nobody's heard a word about 'em in thirty years.
 

blackstar

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Nik said:
IIRC, there were still-born plans for Shuttles to 'burn the tank dry' and carry it into orbit.

Sundry snags included the weight overheads, the severe restrictions on payloads --Flown Shuttles ran rather heavier than hoped-- and that pesky, crumbly foam. Then they'd need multiple space-walks to clad the exterior in reflective 'bumper' layers which would have to be hauled to orbit. Then there was the weight of space-rated hatches and connecting tunnels, which would have to be hauled to orbit and retrofitted due to their materials' incompatibility with cryo-stuff...

Oh, and the tankage was full of baffles which would need to be removed without leaving sharps...

It was such a great idea at first blush, but it quickly gets nasty when you start looking at the details. Somebody told me long ago--way before Columbia--that somebody had done a test of the tank foam in vacuum and it just starts popping off because of internal pressure. Not sure how bad this would be compared to what has been seen late in shuttle ascent. But even a moderate amount of popcorning would leave your space station surrounded by a foam debris cloud.

Many more years ago I was at a talk with NASA's space station program manager where somebody asked him about this. He had a simple answer, which is that structure is cheap. They didn't really need more structure, and an ET wasn't going to save any money (in fact, as you note, it could do the opposite). The expensive stuff on a station is all the electronics, power, and stuff that they stick inside. A big empty aluminum can doesn't solve any of those problems.
 

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The joker, of course, is the shuttle-derived heavy-lift possibilities, with the potential of lofting a shuttle-mass space station module clear to orbit.

Only they didn't happen, either...
 

Orionblamblam

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blackstar said:
But even a moderate amount of popcorning would leave your space station surrounded by a foam debris cloud.


Not for very long, though. Aerodynamic drag would do wonders to sweep such debris safely away and de-orbit it.

As for structure being cheap... I'd hesitate to call *anything* that costs ten grand a pound "cheap."
 

PMN1

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Out of intrest, what are the opinions on their Dual Launch Vehicle

http://www.spaceislandgroup.com/dual-launch.html

Which abandons the old Orbitter and uses a DC-X?

:)
 

FutureSpaceTourist

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Well other than being a VTVL concept, I don't really see what their Crew Transport Vehicle has in common with the DC-X (and I assume they mean DC-Y rather than the subscale, non-orbital DC-X prototype?)
 

NERVA

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I read an article last year that Gene Meyers (front man for Space Island Group) was now pushing space-based solar power projects. Here's an article from July of 2009.

http://solarenergydirectory.com/blog/news/first-space-to-earth-solar-power-station-targeted-for-oct-2010

Lots of dreaming... and not much more than that.
 

DaveJ576

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Nik said:
IIRC, there were still-born plans for Shuttles to 'burn the tank dry' and carry it into orbit.

Sundry snags included the weight overheads, the severe restrictions on payloads --Flown Shuttles ran rather heavier than hoped-- and that pesky, crumbly foam. Then they'd need multiple space-walks to clad the exterior in reflective 'bumper' layers which would have to be hauled to orbit. Then there was the weight of space-rated hatches and connecting tunnels, which would have to be hauled to orbit and retrofitted due to their materials' incompatibility with cryo-stuff...

Oh, and the tankage was full of baffles which would need to be removed without leaving sharps...

Which brings up a good question concerning the viability of the AAP "Wet Workshop" approach. How much of a problem would it have truly been to outfit a S-IVB interior? Would this really have worked or not?
 

Nik

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Given ample space-walk time, tanks tethered to a station with non-minimal crew could be retro-fitted.

Given the way the Apollo / Saturn systems were not 'derived' for heavy lifts, and the sad delay before the Shuttle delivered too little, too late, and the way the ISS' work is so tightly choreographed, well...
 

OM

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Nik said:
Given the way the Apollo / Saturn systems were not 'derived' for heavy lifts...

...Not to be anal, but if the Saturn V wasn't for heavy lifts...well, you get the picture.
 

blackstar

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DaveJ576 said:
Which brings up a good question concerning the viability of the AAP "Wet Workshop" approach. How much of a problem would it have truly been to outfit a S-IVB interior? Would this really have worked or not?

It would have been a problem. I imagine that it could have been made to work, but it would have been really difficult. Keep in mind as well that in the mid-1960s the US had only a few hours of spacewalk time. That's it. There was a lot that they didn't know, and didn't realize. It's entirely possible that if they had pursued the wet workshop design, they would have realized--perhaps too late--that they could not make it work. For example, what if they had put astronauts inside that tank and had them try and move pieces of equipment around only to discover that there were insufficient handholds and footrests? Or what if they had discovered that the baffles had sharp edges and punctured a suit?

It's always an interesting thought exercise to look back at things that were proposed in the 1960s and evaluate them in light of what we know today. For instance, none of the manned Mars landing concepts that have been proposed to date--and that includes ones proposed even a few years ago--would work. Zubrin's 1980s era Mars Direct concept? That would plow straight into the ground. It turns out that our current technology is insufficient for Mars landers even a little bit larger than the Mars Science Laboratory.
 

Nik

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"...if the Saturn V wasn't for heavy lifts"

IIRC, after Apollo, S-5 was scrapped, so unavailable to complement the Shuttle's shrinking capacity...
 

Michel Van

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i found a paper about a ET Space station

"Space Shuttle External Tank Used as a Space Station Study Project Perun"
online on Wikisource
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Perun_1979


800px-Perun_1979_fig_08.jpg
 

blackstar

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Michel Van said:
i found a paper about a ET Space station

"Space Shuttle External Tank Used as a Space Station Study Project Perun"
online on Wikisource
http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Perun_1979

There was an issue of Space World in the mid-1980s that had a number of examples of this. There were some interesting concepts, but they fell apart when you got into the details.
 

bigvlada

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heh, Perun was the god from Slavic mythology, counterpart of Odin or Zeus. ;D
 

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