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Paul Drye
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Which is to say: the year in which the Multi-Role Capsule was proposed by British Aerospace. The UK is one of the Big Four of the ESA but always has been (and is) the also-ran of them. Accordingly BAe had a tough row to hoe in overcoming the lead Hermes had taken with the French, Germans, and Italians -- it also didn't help that Maggie Thatcher loved funding big science projects about as much as she loved the Scots ("Ohhh, you mean the testing ground!").

In retrospect, though, the leap straight to a spaceplane was too great for Europe and this was probably the approach they should have taken.

The Multi-Role Capsule

Have another latter-day NASA project, the Personnel Launch System. This was a mini-spaceplane, the HL-20 (and somewhat bigger, somewhat later HL-42) mooted in the wake of the Challenger disaster. Crew launches to Alpha -- or ISS -- would have been handled by one of these stuck on top on a Titan booster. Which doesn't seem particularly safe because of the UDMH and N2O4 those burn, but they put a lot of thought into it otherwise, so I guess so.

It's also an interesting project because it's not quite dead yet, having been revived by a commercial company and apparently running third of the three remaining candidates in NASA's commercial crew vehicle competition.

HL-20/HL-42: The Personnel Launch System, today at False Steps.

I'm pondering including one pre-war spaceship from Germany, the US, and the USSR at the beginning of False Steps. They're not serious proposals in the sense that I want everything else in the book to be, but I thought it would be worthwhile to lead off with where we came from. I've a Popular Mechanix ship from Robert Goddard in 1930, and an angle on a non-von Braun German rocket, and now I'm looking at this from Konstantin Tsiolkovsky:

Unfortunately my ability to read Russian is nearly non-existent, and is zero when it's handwriting. Is there anyone here who is able to read it and is willing to attempt an English translation?

...if your rocket engine proposal contains the phrase "molten uranium aerosol" in the description of its normal use, I have concerns.

From about 1985 to 1992 the European Community was very serious about becoming the third "country" in space. They built the Ariane 5, which most people don't realize is man-rated (to its detriment as a commercial satellite launcher: it's expensive). The Columbus module of the ISS was, for several years, divorced from said station's predecessors because the ESA didn't trust the US to actually getting around to building something; instead it was supposed to be paired with another orphaned station component, the MTFF, into a mini-station I've discussed before -- also called Columbus.

The cornerstone of the whole thing was an independent manned spacecraft and re-entry vehicle, the Hermes. Ignoring the relatively minor MTFF, it was the only component of Europe's plan that didn't get built, but unfortunately as the other two depended on it the whole thing came apart. Oddly enough, though that would make it seem that the ESA came close to realizing their dream, I have to argue that Hermes as such was never going to fly. Politics aside, it had bigger problems.

Come on over and read the latest False Steps, Hermes: the European Spaceplane.

I've been finding so many oddities on the NASA Technical Reports Server lately that I've been neglecting anything outside of the 1960s US Space Program lately. I am to fix that in the next little while; though I've still plenty to say about that time and place yet, I'm going to make a conscious effort to mix things up a bit.

To that end, here's a blast from the recent past, Lockheed Martin's proposal to visit a near-Earth asteroid as part of the Constellation Program. Constellation is dead no matter what the US Congress thinks, so even though there's still a version of it kicking around as part of NASA's new SLS Program (it's strongly rumoured to be #3 on their list after a lunar orbiter and a station at L2), this particular version of it is a False Step:

Plymouth Rock: 405 Years and Counting. Enjoy!

The mind-boggling Lunar Escape System had antecedents, and this is one of them -- one even ricketier than the LESS. We're talking literally escaping the Moon by the seat of your pants here. I think this may actually be the smallest fully functional spacecraft (counting fuel and everything) ever seriously considered.

The Lunar Escape Device

Vladimir Chelomei was a talented designer who kept ending up #2 in the Soviet space program behind, successively, Sergei Korolev, Vasili Mishin, and Valentin Glushko. Despite never having much in the way of money or backing (except for a golden period of about two months in 1964) you could make a reasonable argument that he's the most influential figure in Russian space hardware even today.

So read up on him in the second of the Chief Designer series at False Steps. And keep an eye out for later tonight, as I'm trying to get up another little sidebar like last time's before sleep comes

Two short False Steps for you today, part of a few sidebars I want to write about projects that don't merit a full blog entry but are still worth discussing:

A space station based on the Mercury capsule:

Wernher von Braun's Collier's moonship:

I think the most obvious difference between the Soviet and American space programs in the 1960s was that the Russians' collapsed into a chaos of options while the Americans resisted temptation and stuck to Apollo for a long nine years. Score one for the waterfall model.

The poster child for my viewpoint is the contrast between the Soviet Zond flyby mission -- and how it was a large part in the failure of the N1-L3 Moon landing -- and the mirror image Gemini Lunar Flyby. Both, taken in isolation, were perfectly reasonable in all aspects. But taken in the context of the larger Space Race they were traps that threatened to suck money and scarce engineering talent off of the ultimate mission and delay it to the point of killing it. The Russians fell into the trap; the Americans didn't.

But McDonnell and Martin Marietta sure tried their hardest to push them in.

False Steps has already looked at Zond. Today it's the turn of the Gemini Lunar Flyby. Enjoy!

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