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Multipurpose Orbital Rescue Vehicle
Spaceflights was, are and will be very risky, despite the high ("space-grade") technologies used for rockets, vehicles and everything made for space, so, to reduce that risk to an acceptable level, space engineers develop and build the safer space hardware possible, also, all manned spacecrafts and orbital modules have some abort-modes and/or crew-rescue options and procedures.
The ISS space station may use the crew-rotation's Soyuz and Shuttles docked to it or (in future) the new Orion, while, the ISS-specific X-38/HL-20 rescue-vehicle program, was deleted in 2002.
Until some new multi-purpose or purpose-specific rescue vehicles will be developed in future, the only real rescue vehicle available today is the Soyuz that has (only) 200 days max of "in-space" life, so, the Soyuz docked to the ISS must be changed every six months with a new Soyuz.
My idea is to use the (ready vailable, cheap and very reliable) Soyuz Reentry Module and a smaller (minimal) redesigned Service Module (with propellent sufficient to deorbit the capsule) to build a (low cost but reliable) 3-seats Multipurpose Orbital Rescue Vehicle (MORV) very good for ALL present and future orbital missions and stations.
Since the Soyuz Reentry Module weight is under 3 mT, the full vehicle's GLOW may reach (about) 4.5 mT max and it must be designed with an operational ("in-space") life of 3+ years, 1+ weeks life support for 3 astronauts (with adaptive seats and NASA/ESA/RSA/China multi-standard spacesuits' connectors), Soyuz/ISS docking port/hatch, a new ("easy to learn") automatic/remote-controlled (Digital-Soyuz derived) navigation and reentry system and (both) soil and sea landing options.
The final MORV ("space-bullet") design may looks like the "concept image" published in this page (that resembles the Gemini) that is (about) 2.2 meters large and 3.5 meters long, and, thanks to its low weight, two (unmanned) MORV can be launched in space with a single Soyuz rocket!
The new MORV can (also) add much more safety to the Shuttle's flights (with 6 astronauts max) especially for ("no safe haven") ISS-away missions (like the scheduled, very risky, Hubble repair mission) thanks to two (reusable) MORV in the cargo-bay (two full Soyuz are too big and too heavy).
Of course, two MORV will reduce the Shuttle's max cargo-bay payload from 24 mT to 15 mT, but it worth the price and the payload penalty, since every Shuttle flight will be SAFER for the crew in a Columbia-like contingency (and, also, two MORV will extend, a further week, the Shuttle, 16 days max, life-support system).
Unfortunately, the MORV can't be ready for the last Shuttle/Hubble repair mission in 2008, that (in my opinion) is too expensive, TOO RISKY (since the Hubble orbit is different and very much away from ISS) and (also) COMPLETELY USELESS since that Hubble repair/upgrade doesn't extend so much the HST life NOR improves so much its performances (soon surpassed by earth's telescopes).
I think that Hubble has only three rational options ahead of it:
a) leave the Hubble AS (and WHERE) it is now without any further (too risky, too expensive and useless) Shuttle/Hubble repair mission.
b) or, move the Hubble near the ISS with unmanned vehicles (like Progress, ATV, Parom, etc.) for frequent maintenance (using the Shuttle or Soyuz/Orion + a dedicated repair toolbox/platform/robotarm, etc.) and (2015, 2020, 2025 very high technology) UPGRADEs.
c) or, DELETE NOW the (too risky) Hubble repair mission planned for 2008, keep the Shuttle fleet working in the next 10-15 years (NOT only to repair/upgrade the Hubble, of course, but, mainly, to fill the 2010-2015 gap, for future space-assembly, etc. as explained in my "SAFE Space Shuttle" article) and repair/upgrade (many times) Hubble WHERE IT IS in the next 20+ years with the (much more SAFER) Shuttle+MORV and mixed crews: US Shuttle's commander, pilot and two Hubble mission specialists + two russian MORV pilots (however, ALL Shuttle crews must know how MORV works).
Last but not the least, a modified version of the MORV (with a little enlarged Service Module and two seats) is a perfect crew vehicle to launch with low cost (man-rated) rockets like Falcon.
January 16 - 2007
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Copyright © 2007 Gaetano Marano - Base images and logo used for the drawings are © NASA and RSC ENERGIA