Tuesday, January 24, 2006
ET: We Threw It All Away
Every space shuttle launch has necessarily used the huge external tank (ET), and in every case, the ET was made to burn up in the atmosphere. But the ET can reach orbit with only a small payload penalty for the orbiter, and there were a number of studies done in the 1980's and 90's on how they might be used if they were brought to orbit. External Tank Stations 1.0 is a cool new add-on for Orbiter by Alain Hosking ("80mileshigh"), and it really shows what might have been.
Although Alain's extensive PDF release notes make it clear that using the ET's to construct space stations as he has depicted would have required solving quite a few problems, it really seems like such a waste to have thrown them all away. His add-on defines three different station concepts, a Skylab-like single-tank zero-G station, a two-tank counterweight rotating version (2 RPM for 0.8G), and a 70 m torus configuration (pictured) using 10 ET's and rotating at 2 RPM for a Mars-like 1/3 G of pseudo-gravity. It would have been nice to have a station where artificial gravity could have been simulated for extended periods to test this concept for future interplanetary missions. More pix at Flickr.