The conventional airplane uses the atmosphere to (1) sustain combustion in the power plant, (2) generate lift against gravity, and (3) provide propellant. The advanced spaceplane in our future will do likewise, and will be similar in many respects to a very large jet airplane. There will be important differences, however. It may have a delta wing, or a double-delta wing similar to the Space Shuttle orbiter. Or it may be designed as a lifting body without wings as such, but able to generate lift with its entire fuselage. A third possibility is that it may be long and cylindrical, with pointed ends and short stubby wings. Whatever shape it takes, it will sport advanced air-breathing engines similar to those described in the last chapter. Unlike the Shuttle, the advanced spaceplane will carry far less cargo but far more propellant. Its main function will be to transport spacefaring tourists into low Earth orbit and to the Moon. As already indicated above, the advanced spaceplane will not rely on booster rockets, external propellant tanks, or carrier aircraft. Earlier models may engage in some sort of aerial refueling, but eventually even this necessity will be eliminated by the proper application of optimal fuel and flight management, lightweight structures, and improvements in engine technology.
The advanced spaceplane will be able to fly into Earth orbit on one tank of "gas," refuel in orbit, and take its passengers to the Moon. In time, it will have the ability to land at a Lunar resort, collect lunar-derived propellants, and return to low Earth orbit with both propellants and passengers. Using its winged configuration, it will aerobrake in Earth's atmosphere before rendezvousing with an Earth orbital propel-lant depot. Serving double-duty as a spaceliner and space tanker, the advanced spaceliner will fill a vital niche in the space infrastructure of the future. Spacelines will make money hauling not only passengers but propellants as well. The constant flow of propellants from the Moon, and passengers from Earth, will fuel the space economy, dwarfing anything we see today.
The spacelines of the future will operate much as the airlines of today, with the additional responsibility of transporting cargo - mainly propellants - between the Moon and the Earth. Some spacelines will transport dry goods rather than passengers, but all will transport propellants, because without this continual flow of rocket fuel, the space lanes will remain untraveled.
But what unique characteristics will allow the advanced spaceliner to accomplish all of this? The single most important factor will be advanced propulsion technology. As the Wright brothers knew, a good engine is just as important as a good airframe. Just as they had to build their own engines, those who today are building their own engines bear close scrutiny, for they will likely be among the major players in the space economy of tomorrow.
A peek inside the spaceplane reveals that it consists mainly of huge propellant tanks, as shown in Fig. 9.10. These are necessary to propel the vehicle to an orbital velocity of 5 miles/s. This is the biggest difference between the advanced spaceplane and today's airplane. Airplanes carry most of their fuel inside their wings,
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