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Orbital Space Plane

The Orbital Space Plane was one of three parts making up NASA's Integrated Space Transportation Plan (ISTP). The ISTP consisted of three major programs: Space Shuttle, Orbital Space Plane, and Next Generation Launch Technology. The plan made investments to extend Shuttle's operational life for continued safe operations. The Orbital Space Plane was designed to provide a crew transfer capability, as early as possible, to ensure access to and from the International Space Station while the Next Generation Launch Technology Program funds developments in areas such as propulsion, structures, and operations for the next generation Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV).

The OSP was a crucial component of the new ISTP as it focused on the development of a crew transport vehicle. The concept of an Orbital Space Plane reflected NASA's need to ferry space station crewmembers and to ensure that a capability exists to get the crew home if there's an emergency. The concept was the immediate objective of SLI's new research efforts.

The ISTP for NASA resulted in the restructuration of the Space Launch Initiative (SLI), placing the focus on a new crew transfer vehicle called the Orbital Space Plane (OSP), and ensuring continued safe operations of the Space Shuttle through at least 2015 through a Service Life Extension Program. The SLI was designed to identify feasible options for future NASA space transportation and focused on the Orbital Space Plane and Next Generation Launch Technology, including third generation RLV efforts.

On November 13, 2002, the Bush Administration submitted a Budget Amendment to Congress with the aim of reflecting important changes to NASA's five-year budget plan, within the totals contained in the President's FY 2003 Budget submitted in February 2002. The changes were driven by NASA's new vision and mission, and were supported by a series of comprehensive reviews that determined a more beneficial course affecting many of the Agency's major programs. NASA plans called for the space shuttles to be replaced with a new orbital space plane to transport astronauts to the ISS by 2010.

Development studies for the OSP were to take place at the Marshal Space Flight Center which was put in charge of determining the dimensions for the OSP. As of December 2002, the studies were expected to take two years, with the Marshall Space Flight Center being tasked with the new spacecraft's development from start to finish, with a view to having a full scale model in development by 2004.

The proposal reflected the President's decision to restructure and improve NASA's Space Launch Initiative (SLI) and ensure that the International Space Station could achieve the agreed upon U.S. "core complete" configuration and better address research priorities. Under this proposal, the Integrated Space Transportation Plan developed by NASA would provide a systematic approach to its space transportation needs by: extending the Space Shuttle's operational life through at least 2015; aggressively pursuing a crew transfer vehicle called the Orbital Space Plane; and developing the technologies that will enable future launch systems, especially reusable launch vehicles. Some of these activities would be conducted under a revamped and more effectively focused SLI program.

Initially, NASA intended for the development of the Orbital Space Plane to result in a crew rescue vehicle for the Space Station that can depart safely and quickly in the event of an emergency or an injured or ill crewmember. The new system will be able to quickly separate from the Space Station under emergency conditions and return to Earth to provide definitive medical care to a disabled crewmember within 24 hours. The initial operation of the vehicle is planned for no later than 2010 and will be launched aboard an expendable launch vehicle (ELV).

By 2012, the Orbital Space Plane system was to have the capability to ferry crew and light cargo to and from the Space Station. In time, the system could become the foundation for a crew transfer vehicle routinely flown to space on a new launch vehicle.

NASA envisioned that the new system may use the same vehicle or a different version of the same vehicle to provide both the crew rescue and crew transfer capabilities.

Designed to be safer than current space transportation systems, the Orbital Space Plane was to offer on-orbit maneuverability, quicker preparations and turnaround time between missions. In addition, the plane will be designed to meet all applicable Space Station requirements for visiting and attached vehicles.

Based largely on existing technologies, the Orbital Space Plane would provide safe, affordable access to the International Space Station. The Orbital Space Plane will be able to support a Space Station crew rotation of four to six months. It would be operable through at least 2020, although it will be designed for longer life.

Four groups of concepts were considered for the physical design of the space plane itself - or the vehicle architecture: a capsule, a lifting body, a sharp body with wings and a blunt body with wings. Boeing Phantom Works of Huntington Beach, Calif., Lockheed Martin Corp. of Denver; and a team including Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., and Northrop Grumman of El Segundo, Calif. - were the prime contractor teams designing potential candidates for the vehicle and its associated systems, including ground operations and all supporting technologies needed to conduct a mission to and from the International Space Station.

Initial concepts of the space plane were to be delivered to NASA in October 2003 during the Systems Requirements Review. A decision to develop a full-scale vehicle was expected by late 2004.

Under the proposal presenting by the proposal, the Orbital Space Plane Program, previously named NASA Unique Systems, would benefit from the transfer of $165 million within the SLI budget from other SLI projects into NASA Unique Systems (renamed Orbital Space Plane), and also would receive an influx of $882 million under a five-year plan (FY 2003-2007), to aggressively pursue this critical new capability for Space Station. The OSP Program is budgeted at $2.4 billion over four years.

The development of a new Orbital Space Plane was aimed at preceding the development of a larger-scale replacement vehicle for NASA's Space Shuttle. The Orbital Space Plane was based on existing technologies and therefore implied lower risk and more affordability. It aimed at replacing the Space Shuttle as the primary crew transport vehicle, freeing the orbiter fleet to focus on heavy cargo delivery.

In September 2003 NASA decided that the potential for increasing ISS crew capacity and resultant scientific returns, without depending on the Space Shuttle, warranted acceleration of the anticipated 2010 initial capability of the OSP crew rescue vehicle to as early as 2008 or sooner. The spacecraft was to be designed for the rescue missions, as well as routine crew transfer missions. These missions were to be initiated after the crew rescue vehicle becomes operational, but no later than 2012.

The Orbital Space Plane design proposed by Orbital Sciences Corporation was approximately 47 feet long, and it had a wing span of 34.5 feet. Orbital's OSP architecture provides improvements in crew safety. The incorporation of a Crew Escape System (CES) provided a significant increase in crew safety. The CES allowed the OSP to escape from a malfunctioning launch vehicle allowing an abort to be performed throughout the ascent phase of flight.

The Demonstration for Autonomous Rendezvous Technology, or DART, was a flight demonstrator vehicle designed to test technologies required to locate and rendezvous with other spacecraft. The DART mission is unique in that all of the operations will be autonomous - there would be no astronaut onboard at the controls, only computers programmed to perform functions. The DART mission is unique in that all operations will be autonomous -- there will be no astronaut on board at the controls, only computers performing automated functions. Launched on a Pegasus rocket, DART will test rendezvous, close proximity operations and its control between the vehicle and a stationary satellite in orbit. The DART mission provides a key step in establishing autonomous rendezvous capability for the United States.

The Pad Abort Demonstrator, developed by Lockheed Martin Corporation, was to be used as a test-bed to demonstrate crew escape technologies and to validate analytical models necessary for future crew escape systems. PAD is a reusable launch pad abort demonstrator, which includes a full-scale reusable system enabling NASA to test crew escape technologies. The launch pad abort demonstrator will use fully instrumented mannequins in the crew cabin to measure acceleration and motion resulting from the forces generated during different mission abort scenarios. Simulated mission events will include tests of the crew escape propulsion systems, parachute deployment, various vehicle configurations and landing techniques. The vehicle may be upgraded to test additional launch pad abort technologies as they mature, to further improve crew safety and survivability.

Schedule [as of late 2002]

  • System Requirements Review: Oct - Dec 2003
  • System Design Review: April -June 2004
  • Full-Scale Development Decision: Fall 2004
  • Preliminary Design Review: March -April 2005
  • Critical Design Review: Jan - March 2007
  • cation Test Flights: Dec 2008 -Jan 2010
  • Crew Rescue Vehicle First Flight: Sept 2010
  • Crew Transport Vehicle First Flight: Sept 2012

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