WI: Space Shuttle is actually very good.

The space shuttle was intended to provide reliable and inexpensive access to space, however, it failed miserably, being even more expensive than expendable systems, as well as being the deadliest space launch system in history.

From Wikipedia:
Some reasons for the higher-than-expected operational costs were:

  • NASA secured funding from the US Air Force's budget in exchange for USAF input to the design process. In order to fulfill the USAF's mission to launch payloads into polar orbit, the USAF insisted on a very large cross-range requirement. This necessitated the Shuttle's huge delta wings, which are far larger than the stub wings of the original design. Besides adding drag and weight (almost 20 percent), the excessive number of heat tiles needed to protect the delta wings added greatly to maintenance costs, besides increasing operational risks such as resulted in the Columbia disaster.
  • At Vandenberg Air Force Base the USAF duplicated the entire infrastructure needed to launch and service the Space Shuttle, at a cost of over 4 billion dollars. Following the Challenger explosion, the facility was dismantled after never having launched a single Shuttle mission.
  • Aerospace engineer Robert Zubrin describes the Shuttle as having been designed "backwards" in that the Orbiter, the harder-to-recover portion, is made recoverable, while part of the booster (the liquid fuel tank) is thrown away even though it is easier to recover since it does not fly so high or fast.
  • Maintenance of the thermal protection tiles was a very labor-intensive and costly process, with some 35,000 tiles needing to be inspected individually and with each tile specifically manufactured for one specific slot on the shuttle.
  • Due to the complexity of the RS-25 engines, following each flight they required removal for thorough inspection and meticulous maintenance. Prior to the Block II engines its primary engine component, the turbopump, had to be removed, disassembled, and overhauled after each use.
  • The toxic propellants used for the OMS/RCS thrusters required special handling, during which time no other activities could be performed in areas sharing the same ventilation system. This increased turn-around time.
  • The launch rate was significantly lower than initially expected. While not reducing absolute operating costs, more launches per year gives a lower cost per launch. Some early hypothetical studies examined 55 launches per year (see above), but the maximum possible launch rate was limited to 24 per year based on manufacturing capacity of the Michoud facility that constructs the external tank. Early in shuttle development, the expected launch rate was about 12 per year. Launch rates reached a peak of 9 per year in 1985 but averaged 4.5 for the entire program.
  • When the decision was made on the main shuttle contractors in 1972, work was spread among companies to make the program more attractive to Congress, such as the contract for the Solid Rocket Boosters to Morton Thiokol in Utah. Over the course of the program, this raised operational costs, though the consolidation of the US aerospace industry in the 1990s meant the majority of the Shuttle was now with one company: the United Space Alliance, a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
What if the shuttle was developed in a way that eliminated or mitigated all of these problems, and thus achieved its goals of cheap regular spaceflight?
NASA had to oversell the shuttle to get approval and funding, so the $260 per kg figure is too good to be true, but I imagine a figure of $5,000 per kg is possible.

On the technical side I wonder, what could have been an alternative to thermal tiles? And the OMS/RCS toxic fuel?

On the space exploration side I'm not sure what new missions could be carried out, for example there were ideas for the Shuttle to carry a Centaur upper stage for interplanetary missions, but manned missions beyond LEO would still be impossible with any kind of shuttle.

On the economic side, I guess this would really hurt the rest of the market. Expendable rockets would become almost useless in the US, aerospace companies would be reduced to shuttle contractors. If Elon Musk doesn't feel like space exploration is stalling, he probably wouldn't create SpaceX. Ironically, a good shuttle would result in a less competitive and less innovative industry. This would be a big problem if NASA can't foolow up with a good interplanetary program, and even then, NASA can't replace market competition and the (eventual) private sector efficiency.
 
The issue with STS or Space Shuttle was that NASA took cheapest design to build with higher operation cost
and even that went over budget and almost failed do issues with Heat shield, that was solved in last minute do invention of new Glue

So biggest issue with Shuttle were:
1. Lack safety and rescue system for crew during launch before Challenger and after installed system was just a "ersatz" for real thing...
2. The long time in Dry dock for preparations to next launch
3. with high number of Personal to get shuttle ready because they way it was build.
4. like its Heat-shield with 24,300 unique tiles individually fitted on the vehicle.

Had i made it better ? that question how much money you get from Capitol Hill
here Walter Mondale did hell of job to almost kill the Shuttle program !

So with same Budget i would went for this approach
No big SRB, but goes for Titan UA1205 or UA1207 Solids 4 to 6 on ET depending Mission profile or payload mass. No reuse of Solids.
There reliable and mass production reduce the construction/launch cost on Titan and Shuttle
Also rescue system installed that bring the Crew cabin in one piece down on parachute and airbags.
A complete different Heat shield system that is not 24,300 unique tiles individually fitted on the vehicle.
I would go for a Metall heat shield that absorb the heat. but this need a more volume als STS Orbiter
Modular system for easy maintain the Orbiter if needed a system can be complete remove and can repaired
while reserve system is plug-in into orbiter. This reduce the turn around time in dry dock considerably.

this would allow two shuttle launches per Month.
 
My personal vision for a more ideal shuttle would be something along the lines of a Flax Glider, carried to orbit by a big dumb pressure-fed recoverable first stage and a (cost reduced, J-2S powered) S-IVB second stage.
My thinking is that in the event that NASA were forced to go along with the glider, they would be immensely reluctant to accept its launch vehicle, the Titan 3L. AFAIK that was the primary point of contention with the design, given its high projected operating costs, so it feels likely they would have chased after a cheaper, partially reusable launch vehicle in its stead.
The most likely candidates for this rocket are the same 3 final contenders from OTL, the flyback Saturn RS-IC (the Right Side Up option), the recoverable pressure-fed booster (the Big Dumb Booster option), and SRBs (the OTL option).
It's pretty safe to rule out the RS-IC for the same reasons as OTL, mainly that it'd cost too damn much. which leaves us with pressure-feds and solids. A major contributing to the latter's selection over the former in OTL was their lower development cost, but with the orbiter downsized and the SSME out of the picture this is less of a problem, and considering the safety issues associated with solids as well as the lower predicted operational expense of pressure-feds, on top of Marshall Space Flight Center's preference of the latter? Their getting picked feels more likely than not.
The Glider Shuttle would of course have had all the same advantages over the one we got that were outlined in @Workable Goblin's thread , increased safety (launch abort capability and tile strikes are impossible) and reduced cost (reduced size makes the heatshield less problematic, no SSMEs to tear down between flights) and these advantages would be enhanced, given the launch vehicle's hypergolic and solid free, semi-reusable nature.
 
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I was referring to this thread.
 
The space shuttle was intended to provide reliable and inexpensive access to space, however, it failed miserably, being even more expensive than expendable systems, as well as being the deadliest space launch system in history.

From Wikipedia:

What if the shuttle was developed in a way that eliminated or mitigated all of these problems, and thus achieved its goals of cheap regular spaceflight?
NASA had to oversell the shuttle to get approval and funding, so the $260 per kg figure is too good to be true, but I imagine a figure of $5,000 per kg is possible.

On the technical side I wonder, what could have been an alternative to thermal tiles? And the OMS/RCS toxic fuel?

On the space exploration side I'm not sure what new missions could be carried out, for example there were ideas for the Shuttle to carry a Centaur upper stage for interplanetary missions, but manned missions beyond LEO would still be impossible with any kind of shuttle.

On the economic side, I guess this would really hurt the rest of the market. Expendable rockets would become almost useless in the US, aerospace companies would be reduced to shuttle contractors. If Elon Musk doesn't feel like space exploration is stalling, he probably wouldn't create SpaceX. Ironically, a good shuttle would result in a less competitive and less innovative industry. This would be a big problem if NASA can't foolow up with a good interplanetary program, and even then, NASA can't replace market competition and the (eventual) private sector efficiency.
So, a few things to keep in mind.

While there were 14 astronauts that died aboard the shuttles, there were over 852 'seats' flown in the program. Soyuz had four fatalities over the program, and has, even today, only flown 385 seats (of which over 100 have flown since the end of the shuttle program). Through 2012, both programs had fatality rates around 1.5% per seat flown.

As for payload costs, that gets into program costs vs marginal costs. To have a shuttle program that can launch but doesn't has a cost between two and four billion USD, depending on what year is used. The marginal cost per flight is about 100 million USD. If a shuttle carries 20 tons of payload, then the marginal cost per kilo is in the 5000 range (Shuttle Zero Base Study , What figure did you have in mind by Wayne Hale , & A great twitter thread by @eofpi who outlined a lot of this).

As for technical changes. The tiles were actually quite good, and were subject to continuous improvement over the life of the vehicle. I'd note that the X-37, which stays on orbit for extended periods, uses derivatives of the shuttle tiles. The program did evaluate non-toxic OMS/RCS in the late 1990s, but budget pressures and STS-107 resulted in the program ending before hardware was made. Similarly, NASA wanted to get rid of the hydrazine powered APUs in an effort to ease ground handling.

As for ending the expendables, USAF program managers desired to retain a secondary launch capability in the form of developing the Titan IV (later IVA) even before STS-33/51-L. I don't see that changing even if the shuttle is more successful.

As for crew missions beyond LEO, if you have a shuttle you can do on-orbit assembly, ranging from smaller lunar missions (See 'Early Lunar Access' as outlined in AIAA 1993-4219, which is available in various forms)

12_02_Early_Lunar_Access.png


To much larger missions that take several shuttle flights to assemble, or even use shuttle derived systems:

LUNAR-SOONER.jpg


I will say that having co-wrote the Turtledove Winning story Boldly Going: A History of an American Space Station the research firmly put me back into the camp that the Space Shuttle, for all of it's flaws was a good vehicle, and detractors tend to overplay the issues while underplaying the successes.
 
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I will say that having co-wrote the Turtledove Winning story Boldly Going: A History of an American Space Station the research firmly put me back into the camp that the Space Shuttle, for all of it's flaws was a good vehicle, and detractors tend to overplay the issues while underplaying the successes.
I still tend to be skeptical that the Shuttle was the right vehicle for NASA to follow up Apollo up, although to some extent this is pure hindsight. Obviously it's possible for a vehicle to be both good and wrong for the role to which it is put...a Ferrari is a perfectly fine car, but it's not much good if you're carrying around construction materials on off-road terrain, for instance.
 
A lot of what the Shuttle needed was to keep flying at high flight rates, rates which the system was demonstrated at approaching before Challenger. If the system avoided the core problems of the SRBs and had a design which put the orbiter forward of more of the foam and icefall risk, I think even the large historical vehicle and its large wings and troublesome tiles and the maintenance headaches of the early SSME could have yielded a pretty decent vehicle. As I said in that twitter thread, there were yeas even post-Challenger when the average cost of a Shuttle flight averaged $360m or so, and the marginal cost of maintenance on the Orbiter and engines, recasting the SRBs, and replacing the ET was on the order of $100-200m. Only above, like, 20 flights a year would the cost of the actual hardware have been the biggest lever to pull in reducing costs, and if Shuttle had ever actually hit that number it already would have been the most cost-effective vehicle flying in its era, flying Ariane-5-or-better payload for similar cost...alongside 2 flight crew and 5 passengers who either are riding for "free" or whose tickets can be funged against the price charged to the satellite payloads.

This isn't to say that a Shuttle couldn't have been better, but a core aspect of that is finding the payloads (largely commercial or multi-launch lunar) to keep the system flying frequently and safely, without the post-challenger cutbacks in commercial sales and flight rates. I've given some thoughts to this for Right Side Up, and for a timeline proposal I have in the hopper called "Fire of Mercury," but haven't banged anything out about it yet. Definitely more funding in the development period and the selection of an alternate stack arrangement could help, but even the historical stack (as handicapped as it was) could have been impressive in ideal conditions.
 
I'm not sure it makes much sense for the Shuttle should be compared Soyuz, in regards to safety, since the latter vehicle's disasters happened over 50 years ago, on an early variant that was abandoned soon after in favour of newer, safer upgrades.
That it had room for improvement and that it was capable of doing more than it actually did doesn't exactly come across as a ringing endorsement, in terms of what it actually did, the shuttle was abysmal.
Neither does the 100 million USD optimal flight cost, which I for one consider to be unacceptably high, even if the shuttle had had a perfect track record.
I suppose that's a matter of opinion though.
 
Yeah... SpaceX might have me a little spoiled x'D and I'm afraid I am rather opinionated.
That said, we could and should have had an alternate shuttle capable of achieving costs that low and lower safely and with ease, as opposed to dangerously and with herculean effort, as was the case in OTL.
 
"Into the Black" by Rowland White specifically dismisses the advantages of building the Orbiter from titanium rather than aluminum. But I still have to wonder. His point is based upon conversations with those in Lockheed who had built the Blackbird, but I'm not sure if those conversations predate the loss of two Orbiters. At the least, a titanium hull might have resisted the damage to Columbia that led to its loss. The only other constraint I had heard regarding titanium was cost. But since we built less than a half-dozen Orbiters, that seems to be a penny-wise/pound-foolish argument.
 
I think the problem with the Shuttle was its lack of role, it get compared to expendable rockets because for much of the time it was doing the same job as them.

For mine, I'd have Skylab B launched in the mid 70s, perhaps in connection with Apollo-Soyuz so that in the early 80s the Shuttle would be shuttling to something. That way the astronauts aren't dead weight, but a separate and crucial cargo. That way calculations could be $X per KG and $Y per Person and look very different despite having the same high cost.
 
the research firmly put me back into the camp that the Space Shuttle, for all of it's flaws was a good vehicle, and detractors tend to overplay the issues while underplaying the successes.

Same here, though I was already in that camp to begin with.

And something I like to point out that most don't touch on is that most of what the Shuttle actually did mission to mission isn't really acknowledged by most, and is partly why my own timeline spends the time it does describing the pre-Challenger Shuttle missions and what some of the most interesting parts of them were, like EASE/ACCESS, TOYS, etc.

The Shuttle up to 1986 was a mini station unto itself and much like how much of the ISS' actual day to day activities hardly get a mention, it was putting in a lot of work on every mission.

But all anybody cares to point out are the flashy missions like Hubble, the MMUs first flight, or building the ISS itself. Thats 1 mission out of nearly 30 pre 1986, 1 from the 90s, and then ISS. Its a shame and a total disservice.

Which also goes into why I find the common criticism about carrying wings to space to be, not illogical, but instead logical to a very extreme fault; if wings are deadweight, so are parachutes and a heatshield. Theres an efficiency argument to be made, but as Eyes Turned Skyward points to, you can't bring much back down the well in a capsule, even if its purpose built for it.

Wings on the Shuttle played a big part into why its downmass was possible, and not just that, but possible for a vehicle designed in the 1970s on a budget inappropriate for a vehicle thats also trying to be at the cutting edge of technology.
 
I think the problem with the Shuttle was its lack of role, it get compared to expendable rockets because for much of the time it was doing the same job as them.

This is a common misconception as I noted above. You couldn't replicate the Shuttle without funding several concurrent programs that might not actually save you all that much money in the long term.
 

DougM

Donor
The shuttle is a perfect example of jack of all trades master of non or Design by committee.
The technology and budget of the 70s was not even close to being up to doing ALL the things asked of the shuttle. So expaand the budget, wait several decades or cut back what it can do,

And i think it is fair to compare safety records for several reasons. One many people already do implying that capsules are safer…. two the UZs has basically designed and built/launched three system before Shuttle. Mercury, Gemini and Applo. The also had a handfull of designs that were reasonably far along but never flown into space, As a result the learning curve is STILL very much evident and thus we see mistakes being made, often from simply not having enough experience to know better. So we tend to see flawed systems put into use and fixes created along the way.
In the case of the Shuttle the combination of not enough knowledge to prevent the issues, not enough flights to/complexity to upgrade/reusability and limited budget ment that for all intents the last shuttle flight flown was on basicly the same vehicle (as far as design improvements) as the first. Only very limited improvments were ever undertaken for shuttle.
You are correct that the problems Russia had were a long time ago and the current launch vehical has had these known problems rectified and gone on to be safer. But once the big problem were exposed on the shuttle the US chose to scrsp the system vs building Shuttle 2. Or even Shuttle 1B.
The Shuttle made a total of 135 flights.. That is nothing. That is still an experimental vehicle. The Wright Brother flew 4 times on the first day.
And now pretty much 100% of what was learned about building a winged space craft has been tossed out the window.

We could have built a better system if we had been more realistic. But basically the space shuttle turned into Nasas answer to theArmies Bradly. All signing and all dancing. But the shuttle didnt get the money to fix its flaws.
 
Had i made it better ? that question how much money you get from Capitol Hill
here Walter Mondale did hell of job to almost kill the Shuttle program .....................

The issue with STS or Space Shuttle was that NASA took cheapest design to build with higher operation cost
The problem is that unless you are flying a huge number of missions (with a huge total program cost, no matter what the individual savings are) the development costs and interest on them will be a massive part of any shuttle program's cost?
or cut back what it can do,
I would go cheap and build a Saturn Ib "light shuttle" with a Dream Chaser/Dyna-Soar/Hermes sized crew vehicle on SA-213 and onwards with improvements to the IB with more powerful engines and a cheaper RP1/lox Saturn 2nd stage or full replacement coming on stream as the program developed to allow a larger payload bay/lab/module behind the crew vehicle? No real ability to recover large payloads but far cheaper and the crew are on top in a light bit that could be fitted with an escape system?
 
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