A SpaceX rocket plane may not be capable of launching astronauts to the International Space Station, but it may have the capability to ferry a crew to and from it, a NASA spaceflight analyst said Monday.
The analyst said a “situational awareness” analysis showed the SpaceShipOne, a modified version of the company’s Space Launch System rocket, had a small window to reach the space station.
“The only way to go is to abort the flight,” said Michael F. Collins, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
“There are no other options.”
The analysis by Collins and colleagues found the SpaceFrog could fly the payload to the space outpost at a distance of 1,100 miles, but the flight would take more than two hours and take an average of nearly an hour to reach its destination, and that it would require more than 1,600 minutes to reach orbit.
The analysis did not include a scenario in which the rocket would crash into the space shuttle, the NASA administrator, Chuck Hagel, said at a news conference.
“The problem is that there are no real-world systems for these things, and the space agency has been trying to get around this for a long time,” Collins said.
The analysis also suggested that the spacecraft would be unable to perform the same mission twice, because it would have to travel at more than twice the speed of sound.
The SpaceShip One rocket plane is a modified Space Launch Systems rocket that is being tested at the Kennedy Space Center.
(Photo: SpaceX)SpaceX has been developing a modified spacecraft called the SpaceFlight X, which uses two SpaceShip-2 rocket planes and a new liquid oxygen tank to deliver a spacecraft to orbit.
A preliminary analysis of the spacecraft, carried out by a private company called Space Exploration Technologies, showed the spacecraft could carry up to 50 people and a cargo bay that could hold about 12,000 pounds.
The company said it was working on a second spacecraft that would be capable, if not fully capable, of transporting astronauts to and fro.
The company also has plans for a vehicle that would transport cargo from the International Laboratory in Houston, Texas, to the Space Station.
SpaceX officials have said they have plans to start the program in 2017, but Collins said that date was “highly speculative.”
“We haven’t been able to put all the pieces together yet,” Collins, who has conducted some NASA analyses, said.
“I don’t know if the plan is going to happen.”
Collins said that in his analysis, the vehicle would have a “critical mass” of a few hundred people in orbit.
That would mean it could carry at least 20 tons of cargo, but he said it would not have enough propellant for that cargo to survive the trip.
Collins said the rocket plane would need a lot of propellant to get to orbit, and it would likely need to fly for several days to get into orbit.
“The payload would have the ability to carry a crew for about 10 days, which is what you would expect for an orbital vehicle,” he said.”I don