Versatility and Infrastructure

As better and better spaceplanes take their shape from the drawing boards, and eventually fling themselves into the heavens, they will begin to prove their versatility. One area in which the advanced spaceplane of the not-so-distant future will shine is in the

Fig. 2.8 Low Earth orbit "Beehive" of orbital debris caused by ballistic rocket refuse (courtesy NASA)

area of propellant shipping. Not only will spaceplanes rely on propellant depots in space, but they will very likely be the vessels to keep those depots supplied.

Over the course of the last century, a highly developed infrastructure has grown up to support the efficient operation of all aircraft. There are conveniently placed fuel stations, repair shops, and readily available spare parts. When maintenance or repairs are required, the shops, parts, and mechanics are on hand to fill a vital need. The first spaceplanes will make use of existing aviation infrastructure, and gradually expand it into near-Earth space. Propellant caches will be placed in Earth orbit, on the Moon, and on other planets, in order to support a mature space transportation system in the twenty-first century. Aerial tankers may also service spaceplanes just before they "light off" for orbit. And, of course, highly trained technicians, workshops, and spare parts will be strategically placed at suitable sites.

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