A new age in space travel
The VentureStar is envisioned to be the space delivery system of the 21st century. As a fully reusable, single-stage-to-orbit vehicle, it will deliver a wide range of payloads to orbit more reliably and less expensively than today’s launch vehicles. By dramatically reducing the cost and improving the reliability, VentureStar will open the vast frontier of space to privately financed operations of space transportation systems.
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The goal is to lower to cost from $10,000 per pound of payload to low earth orbit to $1,000 per pound to low earth orbit. “Single-stage-to-orbit” means that VentureStar does not drop tanks and rocket boosters. Fully reusable means VentureStar will operate more like an airplane. Between flights VentureStar simply undergoes inspection, refuelling, and reloading.
The VentureStar will be 15,2m long, 4,6m wide, 4,6m deep (50 x 15 x 15 feet). The target is to carry 25 000 kg (56,000 pounds) to low Earth orbit (LEO), and 8 000 kg (18,000 pounds) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), roughly equivalent to those of the Space Shuttle.
VentureStar will reach approximately 28 000 kph (17,500 mph) or greater than Mach 25 to reach Earth orbit, using the linear aerospike engine. This is the speed required for any space vehicle to stay in orbit. The linear aerospike engine has several performance benefits over conventional rocket engines. Initially designed and tested for use on the Space Shuttle in the 1970s, officials decided to develop another design, known as the Space Shuttle Main Engine. The aerospike engine was shelved until 1995 when Lockheed Martin Skunk Works proposed it for the X33. It is lighter because it eliminates the use of a heavy bell nozzle and associated steering systems, integrating more efficiently with the lifting body vehicle.
Additionally, the aerospike engine automatically adjusts to changing atmospheric conditions as the vehicle climbs to orbit, enhancing its efficiency throughout ascent. The multiple combustion chambers on each engine also is much more fail-safe than conventional engines.
The VentureStar travel to the moon or other planets. The design of a vehicle for interplanetary travel would be dramatically different. However, VentureStar will enable the construction of highly capable interplanetary vehicles in Earth orbit by dramatically reducing the cost of transporting components there.
Two full-scale VentureStars are planned, with the number expanding to meet market demands. NASA is negotiating with various US state and private groups to develop “spaceports” for the VentureStar.
NASA’s X33 is an advanced demonstrator vehicle to validate new technologies for the VentureStar. The X33 is one-half the size, one-ninth the weight, and one-fourth the cost of the VentureStar.
Unlike the VentureStar, X33 will not reach orbit and will not carry a payload. It will fly suborbital trajectories specifically designed to validate advanced technologies critical to the success of VentureStar.
The X33 test flights will evaluate the stability and control capability during liftoff, transition, re-entry, landing approach, and landing phases, and determine the performance of the linear aerospike engine.
The VentureStar will also not be used for science research like the Space Shuttle. Once the International Space Station becomes operational, a whole new era of space research will begin because we will have a permanent laboratory in orbit.