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VTOVL
Phoenix 1985
Phoenix 1985
Credit: Gary Hudson
The concept of a reusable single-stage-to-orbit Vertical Take-Off Vertical Landing (VTOVL) launch vehicle that would reenter and return to its launch site for turnaround and relaunch was first proposed by Philip Bono in the 1960's. The appealing simplicity of the concept has been offset by the technological risk in developing it. The problem with any single-stage-to-orbit concept is that if the empty weight of the final vehicle has been underestimated it will not be able to deliver any payload to orbit, or even reach orbit. Since weight growth of up to 20% is not unknown in aerospace projects, this is a very real threat which has made both NASA and private investors reluctant to invest the billions of dollars it would take to develop a full-scale flight vehicle.

Bono's vehicles proposed minimizing weight by using plug nozzle engines. Cooled by residual hydrogen fuel, these would act as a heat shield for re-entry. More conservatively the recent DC-X designs used a conventional forward heat shield for reentry. The concept was not selected by NASA for the X-33 (an even more risky lifting body design was chosen). This was perhaps the last chance for the concept. The more conservative Kistler recoverable reusable ballistic launch vehicle uses two stages, thereby minimizing the risk.

Subtopics

Nexus American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Early 1960's recoverable launch vehicle proposed by Krafft Ehricke at General Dynamics. Perhaps the largest conventionally-powered launch vehicle ever conceived, it was designed to deliver 900 metric tons to low earth orbit.

North American Air Augmented VTOVL North American Aviation's air-augmented vertical takeoff & landing single-stage-to-orbit RLV from 1963 would have used external burning ramjets which, according to preliminary studies would reduce the gross liftoff mass of a VTVL SSTO by up to 30%.

OOST ISI American SSTO orbital launch vehicle. Alternate version of OOST using Improved Specific Impulse approach: many engines feeding into single large nozzle.

OOST American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Bono's earliest design for an expendable single-stage-to-orbit LH2/LOx booster. The baseline version used conventional engines.

ROOST ISI American SSTO orbital launch vehicle. Bono's first design for a reusable single stage to orbit LH2/LOx booster, using Improved Specific Impulse approach: many engines feeding into single large nozzle.

ROOST American SSTO orbital launch vehicle. Bono's first design for a reusable single stage to orbit LH2/LOx booster, using conventional engines.

Rombus American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Bono original design for ballistic single-stage-to-orbit (not quite - it dropped liquid hydrogen tanks on the way up) heavy lift launch vehicle. The recoverable vehicle would re-enter, using its actively-cooled plug nozzle as a heat shield.

Pegasus VTOVL American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Bono design for semi-single-stage-to-orbit ballistic VTOVL launch vehicle. Drop tanks were shed on the way to orbit. Pegasus could deliver either a Saturn V-size payload to LEO or 172 passengers and their luggage the 12,000 km from Vandenberg to Singapore in 39 minutes.

Ithacus American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. An adaptation of Phillip Bono's enormous ROMBUS plug-nozzle semi-single-stage-orbit launch vehicle as a 1,200 soldier intercontinental troop transport!!

SASSTO American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Bono proposal for first step toward VTOVL SSTO vehicle - heavily modified Saturn IVB with plug nozzle engine.

Beta German SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. In 1969 rocket pioneer Dietrich Koelle was working at MBB (Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm). There he sketched out a reusable VTOVL design called BETA using Bono's SASSTO as a starting point. The vehicle, taking European technology into account, was a bit heavier than Bono's design. But the thorough analysis showed even this design would be capable of delivering 2 metric tons of payload to orbit.

MLLV American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Boeing study, 1969, for Saturn follow-on. Plug nozzle, single-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle could itself put 1 million pounds payload into orbit. By addition of up to 12 260 inch solid motors up to 3.5 million pounds payload into orbit with a single launch.

Gommersall American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Edward Gomersall of NASA's Ames Research Center produced a conservative design for an SSTO in 1970. His vehicle was based on realistic structural technology and used a derivative of the J-2S engine.

SERV American VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Chrysler ballistic single stage to orbit alternate shuttle proposal of June 1971. This was the most detailed design study ever performed on a VTOVL SSTO launch vehicle. The 2,040 metric ton SERV was designed to deliver a 53 metric ton payload to orbit in a capacious 7 m x 18 m payload bay.

Detko ATV American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. George Detko of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center produced designs for SSTO vehicles as early as 1960. This final design for a minimum SSTO VTOVL vehicle was completed in 1972. The expendable vehicle had a gross liftoff mass of only 22 metric tons, and could deliver a two-person crew to orbit.

SSOAR American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. P Seigler founded a company in 1976 to promote his design for a VTOVL SSTO vehicle using a LOx/hydrogen aerospike engine.

Boeing SPS SSTO American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. In 1977 Boeing produced a vehicle design for a 227 metric tons payload vertical takeoff launch vehicle to be used to launch components for the huge Satellite Solar Power platforms that NASA was promoting at the time. The booster would launch from the edge of a water-filled man-made lagoon and recover in the lagoon and used a water-cooled heat shield for reentry.

VTOVL 1978 American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing.

Beta III German SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. In 1969 Dietrich Koelle proposed his BETA III design. This was to deliver 20 metric tons to orbit with a launch mass of 600 metric tons. In 1996 and 1998 he updated the design for use as an ISS resupply vehicle in place of the shuttle, and as a space tourism vehicle for 100 passengers.

Beta II German SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Beta II was Dietrich Koelle's nominal 350 metric tons lift-off mass SSTO design for launch of a 10 metric ton European spaceplane.

Beta IV German SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Beta II was Dietrich Koelle's largest SSTO concept, with a nominal 2000 metric ton lift-off mass SSTO design and 100 metric ton payload.

Phoenix M American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Intermediate versions of the Phoenix concept were sketched out in the mid-1980's. These more conservative vehicles used individual altitude-compensating bell nozzles rather than the aeroplug baseline. Composite materials were to be used in the aeroshell and, possibly, in the propellant tankage.

Phoenix L American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. The small Phoenix design of the 1980's was envisioned in two versions -- the Phoenix L (Light, cargo only) and Phoenix LP (Light-Prime, crewed). The earlier versions used liquid oxygen oxidizer and two fuels (hydrogen and propane) but later iterations used only oxygen and hydrogen (varying the oxidizer to fuel ratio during ascent). The designs used an 'aeroplug' in place of the 'aerospike' of earlier SSTO designs.

Phoenix C American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. The larger 180 metric ton Phoenix design of the 1980's was envisioned in two versions -- the Phoenix C (Cargo, unmanned) and Phoenix E (Excursion -- for use as a lunar or Mars lander and personnel transport to earth orbit). The earlier versions used liquid oxygen oxidizer and two fuels (hydrogen and propane) but later iterations used only oxygen and hydrogen (varying the oxidizer to fuel ration during ascent). The designs used an 'aeroplug' in place of the 'aerospike' of earlier SSTO designs. Gary Hudson and Maxwell Hunter spent several years trying to interest investors in the designs before the company folded.

SSX American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. The X-Rocket was a VTOVL SSTO design by Maxwell Hunter II at Lockheed in the late 1980's. The 227 metric ton vehicle was powered by clustered RL10 engines. Internal reviews at Lockheed rejected the feasibility of the vehicle. After Hunter retired he worked with Gary Hudson to refine the design as the SSX. This was briefed by the pair to Space Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) officials in 1988. It was largely through their efforts that the US government funded the DC-X demonstrator in the 1990's.

VKS-O Russian winged orbital launch vehicle. Vertical takeoff, ballistic re-entry, single-stage-to-orbit, LOx/Kerosene/LH2 tripropellant rocket engine powered, reusable launch vehicle. 550 metric ton and 770 metric ton gross lift-off mass versions considered.

Aerospatiale VTVL French SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Aerospatiale vertical takeoff, vertical landing single stage to orbit study.

Millennium Express American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. General Dynamics Space Systems Division proposal for the 1990 SDIO competition was a VTOL SSTO named Millennium Express. The final vehicle was a 15 degree cone with a 20%-length Rocketdyne aerospike engine. Payload was specified as 4500 kg into a polar low earth orbit. The Express could carry on its nose a payload module, a small Apollo-type two-crew separable manned capsule, or a six-crew module that remained attached to the vehicle for recovery. The similar Douglas Delta Clipper was selected by the USAF for further development.

DC-X The Space Defense Initiative Office's Single Stage Rocket Technology program of 1990-1995 demonstrated technology readiness for an SSTO vehicle. Despite successful test flights of the DC-X technology demonstrator, no development funding was forthcoming, and designs for prototype and production rockets remained on the drawing boards.

Delta Clipper The ultimate goal of the Delta Clipper program was to produce a prototype reusable single-stage to orbit, vertical takeoff/vertical landing space truck. The DC-I Delta Clipper would be the full production version.

DC-XA American VTOVL test vehicle. After a hard landing in the last flight of this series, the vehicle was rebuilt to the DC-XA configuration. The DC-XA flew from May 1996 until destroyed when it tipped over while landing on its fourth flight on 31 July 1996.

DC-X2 American SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Proposed intermediate 1/2 scale test vehicle between DC-X and DC-Y orbital version. No government agency was willing to fund the $450 million development cost -- and neither were any private investors.

Kankoh Maru Japanese SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Kawasaki design for single stage to orbit reusable booster. Would carry 50 passengers to orbiting hotels or fast intercontinental flights.

Orel V7 RSSLV-2 Russian VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Fully reusable vertical takeoff / vertical landing single stage to orbit. Concept abandoned in favor of Orel V6 by 1998 due to engine reliability concerns. Version with LOx/LH2 propellants.

Orel V7 RSSLV-3 Russian VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Fully reusable vertical takeoff / vertical landing single stage to orbit. Concept abandoned in favor of Orel V6 by 1998 due to engine reliability concerns. Tripropellant LOx/Kerosene (RG-1)/LH2 version.

Roton The American Roton company developed this unique manned SSTO VTOVL orbital launch vehicle until it was cancelled in 2000. The Roton was a piloted commercial space vehicle design intended to provide rapid and routine access to orbit for both its two-person crew and their cargo.

New Shepard American manned spacecraft. Flight tests begun 2006. Vertical takeoff/vertical landing suborbital tourist spacecraft being developed by Blue Origin and scheduled to begin commercial operation in 2010.

Falcon 9 Heavy American low cost orbital launch vehicle. The Falcon 9 Heavy would consist of a standard Falcon 9 v1.1 with two additional Falcon 9 first stages as liquid strap-on boosters.

Falcon 9 v1.1 Falcon 9 v1.1 represented a 50% increase in lift-off mass, with correspondingly upgraded engines with a 5% improvement in specific impulse.

Falcon 9 American low cost orbital launch vehicle. In September 2006 SpaceX was named as one of two winners of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition. The SpaceX award was $278 million for three flight demonstrations of the Falcon 9 booster carrying the Dragon space capsule. On 23 December 2008 NASA announced that the Falcon 9 / Dragon had been selected for launch of a guaranteed minimum of 20,000 kg of payload to the International Space Station in 2010-2014. The firm contract was worth $1.6 billion, with another $1.5 billion of options.

Falcon 9R Version of Falcon 9 with capability to recover first stage on a floating platform downrange or at the launch site, depending on the payload margins.

More at: 7750.

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