Is Space-Plane technology a viable one for Space Exploration?

Yes, it is a innovative and efficient concept.
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No, it is a clumsy and inefficient attempt.
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I need to research this more...
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Meh, who cares?
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  • Moderator
    March 14, 2019, 10:29 p.m.

    On Feb. 22nd, 2019, the virgin Galactic company under Richard Branson launched it's fifth powered flight test, and second of the new commercial SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity.

    Virgin Galactic reached space for the second time today in the skies above Mojave CA. Spaceship VSS Unity reached its highest speed and altitude to date and, for the first time, carried a third crew member on board along with research payloads from the NASA Flight Opportunities program. This space flight means Chief Pilot Dave Mackay and co-pilot Michael “Sooch” Masucci become commercial astronauts and the 569th and 570th humans in space. Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Astronaut Instructor, flew as the third crew member in a first, live evaluation of cabin dynamics. She is the 571st person to fly to space and the first woman to fly on board a commercial spaceship. In addition to this element of envelope expansion, VSS Unity flew higher and faster than ever before, as its world record-holding hybrid rocket motor propelled the spaceship at Mach 3.04 to an apogee of 295,007ft.

    The crew enjoyed extraordinary views of Earth from the black skies of space and, during several minutes of weightlessness while the pilots “feathered” the spaceship in preparation for a Mach 2.7 re-entry, Beth floated free to complete a number of cabin evaluation test points. The human validation of data previously collected via sensors, and the live testing of other physical elements of the cabin interior, are fundamental to the provision of a safe but enjoyable customer experience.

    The glide back home was followed by a smooth runway landing and a rapturous reception from the crowd on the flight line, which included staff and some of Virgin Galactic’s 600 Future Astronaut customers. Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, a born and bred Scotsman as well as an ex-RAF test pilot and Virgin Atlantic Captain, led his crew of newly qualified astronauts from VSS Unity accompanied by a kilted piper.

    So, what does the forum think of this? Could aerial launch facilities indeed be more efficient then rocketry? Could a significant space program be operated with this technology? I'll set up a poll so you vote your opinion if you want. Also, here are some relevent videos:

    Virgin Galactic In Space For The First Time
    Virgin Galactic In Space For The Second Time
    When Will You Go to Space? ft. Richard Branson

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  • March 20, 2019, 3:17 a.m.

    I think it has strong potential.

    But how much it will actually be used, especially for exploration specifically, really boils down to the math. Energy usage, cost, and time spent ascending or descending, compared to pure rocket- propelled craft.

    And even if you look at that math right now, based on current technology, it's a really tough call for the future of space exploration because we have no idea what kind of propulsion or hovercraft or anti-gravity breakthroughs we may discover.

    But, at the core, I always wondered why we haven't seen this more. I would think that any space faring spacecraft should ideally be able to travel in an atmosphere, as well. The huge advantage of having an airfoil (wings) on approach to an atmospheric planet Is that you can run out of fuel or energy and still safely land. But I imagine the logic of not putting wings on most spacecraft in science fiction and in real life is that such a vast majority of its lifespan is spent outside of an atmosphere, and wings add a significant amount of mass to the spacecraft, which means it takes more energy for the spacecraft to travel through space. Space takes a hell of a lot less energy to travel through than an atmosphere, especially when you have humans aboard who can't tolerate more than a couple g's of acceleration at a time, but there's a hell of a lot more traveling done in space than on a planet or in an atmosphere. Probably 99% or more for most spacecraft during a space exploration era.

    I think we will mostly see these kinds of things on smaller craft, and probably mostly on the consumer side, in an early post-scarcity society. I just can't imagine flying a rocket being at satisfying as flying a plane.

    But I can certainly see some advantages for early missions to other planets. The ones where we would set up an orbiting space station and a planetside base. It might be a whole lot easier and safer for quick trips in between the two, but again, I think it all depends on the math and the details of the mission.

  • March 20, 2019, 7:39 p.m.

    Suborbital is sooo far away from orbital just about anything works. Having to have 2 craft, rockets, airbreathers and feathering is way to complicated for what it does. Even a hybrid rocket engine is the worst of both worlds concerning Liquid or solid fuel rocket.

    Remember thermal loads are proportional to velocity cubed. So a again that 2km/s or whatever is just so far away from 7.5km/s that it just seems to be overly complicated compared to something simpler.

    Having said that. I would gladly accept a free ticket for a flight!

  • March 21, 2019, 3:57 p.m.

    I might even be willing to pay for one, if it were cheap enough

    As for viability, perhaps. It would depend imo on where intend to explore. A body such as titan with a dense atmosphere..... sure if you understand the conditions you will be entering at. However for something without an atmosphere really. I would feel the mass of the wings would be a negative as you would get little if any positive effect.