Space: January 4, 2002


: The Air Force is studying what it wants in a Military Space Plane project. In theory, it would like to find equipment that could also be used by NASA, since two different space vehicle programs would cost more than building extra copies of a single design. The first part of the new concept would be the Space Operations Vehicle. This would be a large booster rocket, possibly two stages, to deliver vehicles into orbit. (A future SOV might be a single-stage design.) The SOV would be designed to carry any of several payloads into orbit, including:

@ Space Maneuver Vehicle: This might be a small, reusable, manned orbiting vehicle able to conduct any of several missions and then land at a military airbase. Not really designed to launch satellites, this could be used as a reconnaissance platform in a conflict.

@ Orbital Transfer Vehicle: This would be a manned spacecraft designed to launch and service satellites. It would be able to land at some very large runways.

@ Modular Insertion Stage: This would be an unmanned expendable upper stage booster designed to put satellites into orbit. In theory, during a crisis, the Air Force could use a stockpile of SOVs with these MIS stages to rapidly deploy more military satellites.

@ Common Aero Vehicle: This would be lofted into the upper atmosphere by the SOV but would skip along the upper atmosphere rather than travel in space exclusively. It would be used to rapidly deliver precision weapons. In theory, the CAV could replace the B-2 bomber on 10,000-mile missions, conducting them in a fraction of the time.

One object of the MSP concept is to cut down the time required to plan and launch a payload (any kind of payload). Currently, it can take six months to get a payload and a shuttle to match and launch something into orbit, even if you are willing to change the pre-set schedule for the shuttle fleet. The MSP would, in theory, be able to conduct a launch within three or four weeks of somebody deciding that a given payload was needed. In some cases, such as putting a manned recon platform into orbit, such a launch could take place within a few days.--Stephen V Cole


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