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Title: Man's Place in Spaceplane Flight Operations: Cockpit, Cargo Bay, or Control Room?

Subject: An examination of the proper role for humans in the flight operation of a military spaceplane.

Author(s): David M. Tobin; Mikael S. Beno (Faculty Advisor)


Abstract: This paper begins to investigate the question: "What is the proper role of humans in the operation of a military Spaceplane?" All too often, the question boils down to: "Should it be manned or unmanned?" While it's true that some man-machine interface types require a man on-board and some don't, this manned/unmanned oversimplification skews the true context of the issue. Therefore, this paper seeks to put man's role in military Spaceplane flight operations into a more proper perspective. Each of the paper's three objectives is achieved.

The first objective is to summarize the current literature which is best characterized as a "manned vs. unmanned" debate. Although existing evidence suggests a manned spaceplane configuration provides maximum mission flexibility and an unmanned configuration will result in a more economical program, other factors such as flight safety and program development risk are more difficult to pin down. Neither the manned nor unmanned argument is clearly compelling, and the debate appears to be at a stalemate.

The second objective is to approach the problem from a different perspective by considering an entire spectrum of man-machine interface possibilities. A generic process is presented where specific mission tasks are mapped to optimum man-machine interface choices by considering such factors as performance, cost, schedule, and risk. Viewed in this context, the optimal man-machine interface for a military Spaceplane is shown to be the result of an iterative design process and not a pre-specified system requirement. Moreover, the presence or absence of a man-on-board becomes a byproduct of a structured analysis instead of the central focus of an ad-hoc debate.

Using the insights provided by this new approach, the third objective is to conduct a preliminary analysis to answer the question posed by the paper's title. Existing space operations doctrine and preliminary mission requirements are assessed to arrive at a generic characterization of military Spaceplane tasks. These tasks are then linked to man-machine interface types using the results of an existing NASA study on the performance of humans in space. Although selecting a specific man-machine interface design for a military Spaceplane is beyond the scope of this paper, some clear insight into man's role in its operation is achieved. This insight suggests a two-phased approach for military Spaceplane development. The baseline military Spaceplane will be capable of supporting all four space mission areas (Force Application, Force Enhancement, Space Control, and Space Support) but should not require the presence of on-board human operators. However, since some Space Control and Space Support missions will involve tasks that can only be performed via direct human intervention, the baseline military Spaceplane will eventually need to be upgraded to carry humans. Since the focus of these humans will be on satellites and payloads (vice the Spaceplane vehicle itself), this 'second generation' MSP should be configured to carry the crew in a removable cargo-bay module only when dictated by mission requirements. Therefore, the proper place for humans in military Spaceplane flight operations is always in the control room, sometimes in the cargo bay, but possibly never in a traditional cockpit environment.

Last updated 1999 Apr 27

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