Dec 262017
 

This piece of art depicts the McDonnell-Douglas “Drawbridge” orbiter staging off the manned flyback booster, showing the wings still folded against the sides of the fuselage. The wings served no purpose during ascent; they would only be used after-re-entry. Of course, in the event of a mission abort shortly after launch, the wings would need to deploy fairly quickly. There are no doubt numerous abort scenarios where the orbiter would be left intact after separation from a presumably stricken booster (or after a main engine failure on the orbiter stage), but would nevertheless still be doomed due to inability to get the wings deployed in time.

I’ve uploaded the high-rez version of this artwork (5 megabyte 3951×2121 pixel JPG) to the APR Extras Dropbox folder for 2017-12, available to all APR Patrons at the $4 level and above. If you are interested in accessing this and other aerospace historical goodies, consider signing up for the APR Patreon.

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 Posted by at 3:19 pm
  • B-Sabre

    A friend of mine works at the NASA model shop (building models) for Marshall. They have a cabinet full of old subjects, and one was a small metal model of what I now believe was the drawbridge orbiter – it had the same narrow-aspect wings and deep fuselage as the picture.

  • Robbie

    I bet a lot of sphincters puckered from the thought of what would happen if the booster suffered a propulsion anomaly just after liftoff.

    • Herp McDerp

      I bet a lot of sphincters puckered from the thought of what would happen
      if the booster suffered a propulsion anomaly just after liftoff.

      I suspect the pucker factor would be two orders of magnitude lower if the booster didn’t have a flight crew. A modern design wouldn’t need or want humans at the controls.

      I wonder if a modern, crewless winged booster would have advantages over a land-on-its-tail booster? (One advantage of the SpaceX approach is that the tail-landing booster doesn’t need a runway, which gives them a lot of latitude (and longitude!) about where the recovery barge can be sited.)

      • Scottlowther

        Now that SpaceX has proven vertical powered landing to be quite practical, the rational for a winged flyback booster are greatly reduced. The main advantage would be greater flyback range, but we’ve seen that if you’re good enough to land a barge, it doesn’t matter how far out your launch trajectory takes you.

        *Maybe* wings might increase the tolerance for launching in bad weather, dunno.

        Soon as Musk can buy himself a few Nimitz-class carriers and convert them into combo landing/launch pads and in situ propellant production facilities, then boosters will be able to land Way Out There, fuel up again, then boost back to Florida.

        • Herp McDerp

          Soon as Musk can buy himself a few Nimitz-class carriers and convert them into combo landing/launch pads and in situ propellant production facilities, then boosters will be able to land Way Out There, fuel up
          again, then boost back to Florida.

          I think I’d prefer separate ships for the landing/launch pad and the fuel depot functions. The “Oops!” factor would make me nervous.

  • Daniel.

    Behold!
    An actual flyback booster!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4XJS_oftH8