History of the Space Shuttle Design
From the beginning of the Project Apollo landing to modern-day progress in space shuttle engineering, the design was continuously refined and debated. The space shuttle designs go back to 1969, earlier studies are known as Phase A and later ones as Phase B. In terms of the design, the most optimal balance, abilities, development cost, and operational cost has always been prevalent.
The Space Shuttle Design Debate
In the early years, a reusable design for the space shuttle was proposed. This involved a large booster operated by a human which would carry smaller, manned orbiters. The booster would take the orbiters to a certain altitude before separating. Following the split, the booster would return and land, whereas the orbiters would launch into the Earth's orbit. After the completion of the mission, the orbiters would re-enter Earth and land horizontally. This ensured lowered cost and reuse of resources.
In terms of operation, this concept did not work as a larger booster was required to lift the orbiters. Larger boosters meant that the cost would multiply because the engine size would increase, fuel systems would need to be installed, and control engineering would become more complex. Given the difficulties in arranging funding for the space shuttle program, this design concept was clearly out of the picture.
The debate over reusing resources or wasting them continued for years before the final design idea was decided. Eventually, the reusable booster idea was scrapped. This was because of its excessive cost, the risks involved, and its technical complications. What was selected was a partially reusable design that discarded a propellant tank for every launch. In this case, the booster and orbiters were refurbished, allowing them to be reused.
Final Space Shuttle Design
Funding for a liquid-fueled booster was not provided, even though it was more optimal in its working and fuel consumption. Instead, solid boosters were funded as they required lower initial capital. The final design that was picked by NASA involved a winged orbiter revolving around three liquid fuel-based engines. In addition to this, there were two reusable boosters based on solid rockets and an external tank which held the liquid propellant for the engines on the orbiter.
In 1972, four different companies were given a proposal to build the final space shuttle design. It was North American Rockwell that was selected for designing the space shuttle.
After decades of experience and visits to outer space by the space shuttle, it is seen to be a successful and positive decision that was made in terms of design. It is no doubt that NASA faced great challenges and barriers in its initial stages with the space shuttle design, but after achieving success in its space exploration program, the decision can be seen as a positive one.