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Possible an Orioncopter ?
Since the ESAS plan's main goal is to come back to the Moon, the only vehicle to accomplish that mission is an Apollo-like capsule like the Orion but unfortunately that choice deletes lots of useful features and performances if compared with the (soon retired) Space Shuttle (clearly explained in my VISUAL article) like a 7+ astronauts crew, large habitable space, a true toilet, the airlock, a 24+ mT cargo, the (very useful) robotarm, space assembly ability, etc.
But the main feature the new Orion will lack is a Shuttle-like precision landing on the KSC runway, that since the new capsule will be (only) able to land "somewhere" around the expected (soil or sea) landing site.
So, my idea is to build a capsule/helicopter hybrid called "Orioncopter" able to land on the KSC runway (or on a special Orioncopter's landing pad) thanks to its enhanced maneuvering ability.
I don't know if an Orioncopter could be really built someday (nor if it can work) however, I've decided to publish my idea since it certainly IS an amazing and fascinating concept.
The Orioncopter must have two multiple-pads Rotors (to deploy at a mid-low altitude on reentry) turning in opposite directions to avoid the capsule's torque and able to change their (positive or negative) inclination and angle of attack.
Of course, this vehicle CAN'T FLY (exactly) like a common helicopter (since it has NO engines aboard!) then it can't go up/around its altitude but ONLY go DOWN towards the landing site using the Rotors to decelerate, stabilize and maneuver the Orioncopter for a soft and accurate landing at KSC.
To do that, the Rotors must work like happen in a common helicopter when the main engine stops/fails to work: the capsule descent speed force the Rotors to turn in a given direction, then, a quick change of the Rotors' blades inclination (from negative to positive) allows them to use the accumulated energy to slow the landing speed.
Changing many times the Rotors' inclination (also thanks to its parachute or an helium inflated balloon) the Orioncopter landing speed and maneuvering ability should be pretty close to a common helicopter.
Here you can see the Orioncopter Landing Sequence starting with the high-altitude Drogues Deploy (to slow the capsule re-entry speed) and continue with the Drogue Release, Pilot Parachute Deploy, Main Parachute and Rotors Deploy, Parachute Inflate (while both Rotors start rotate) and the accurate, soft landing at KSC.
Please note that my Orioncopter doesn't land on "airbags" (as planned in the ESAS Orion design) but on Eight Extensible Cushion Pads since I think that a jettisonable Thermal Protection System could be very dangerous if something goes wrong, as explained in my Orion's TPS article.
Last, if the Orioncopter Rotors will fail to work (or will not work properly) the capsule may deploy its (fast) backup parachutes and land (safely but not accurately) in the Atantic Ocean near the KSC.
April 22 - 2007
In the simulated image below you can see the Orioncopter hybrid while landing at KSC.
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Copyright © 2007 Gaetano Marano - All rights reserved - base images used for the drawings are © NASA