Ok, I've been tinkering with an idea in my head for a while now. My apologies to all those a.net "vets" who consider even the slightest new idea or suggestion of such wretchedly low quality that I should be stoned to death, but here it is.
As we already know, the Space Shuttle is launched like a rocket. But it can glide like an airplane. I've also noticed that the first shuttle, the aerodynamic prototype Enterprise was tested by ferrying it up on the NASA 747 shuttle carrier and then releasing it. I also remember that recently a satellite was put into orbit after being launched from an airplane. Let's not forget the X-15 tests from the NASA B-52. So I figured, why not ditch the SRBs and that gigantic fuel tank and just launch the shuttles from the NASA 747SCs? (is that an acceptable designation for the 747 shuttle carrier?) I do know that the Shuttles have covers on their engines while riding piggy back on the 747s but that photo I saw of the Enterprise being released showed it didn't have that cover on. So the way I see it, fuel the shuttle, mate it to the 747SC, get the Astronauts on board, take off, get up to a high altitude (thus saving some fuel and costs necessary to get the Shuttle up from ground level) enter a slight dive, release the shuttle so it will glide on its own, fly the 747SC out of the way, and light up the engines of the shuttle. Then use the elevons to aim upward and get into orbit. Afterwards, the shuttle can roll over, and turn tail first like it always does.
The way I see it, if I'm not mistaken, is that this would save money and provide some advantages. The shuttle would have a bit more fuel left since its main engines are ignited and run for less time, and a bit less work as the shuttle is already traveling at a certain speed. Thus you could use the momentum of the shuttle. Second, the launch window wouldn't be so narrow, I assume at least, since the shuttle would be launched above the clouds and any potential storms, and the shuttle's launching area would be anywhere. (much like with the Sea Launch system) Third, with more fuel, the shuttle would have enough to work its way up to a higher orbit to mate with the ISS if an emergency should occur. For example, if a camera was mounted to the hump of the 747SC, it could be used for one final inspection of the shuttle's underside to make sure all the tiles are still there. (and no foam insulation falling from the 747SC either) If something is found wrong, the shuttle could dock with the ISS and a solution could be worked out. Perhaps repairs to the underside of the shuttle (I understand a space walk is near impossible on the smooth underside as there is nothing to grab onto, but I remember reading that the ISS recently got a robotic arm installed, so maybe an astronaut and his needed repair gear could hop a ride on it and be positioned by the shuttle's underside).
Maybe I'm nuts, or maybe I got the right idea. I don't know. What do you think?
B4e-Forever New Frontiers