Automated vehicle could reduce number of manned flights needed to supply ISS

A Shuttle-derived launch vehicle (SDLV) capable of carrying 65t of cargo to low Earth orbit is being proposed to NASA to supply the International Space Station (ISS), possibly as early as 2009. The SLDV could operate alongside the existing Space Shuttle.

The unmanned SDLV would carry a side-mounted expendable cargo pod that would take the place of the orbiter that currently carries both crew and cargo to the ISS. If the vehicle was used from 2009, the number of manned Shuttle flights could be reduced, but it is more likely to be ready in 2010 or 2011.

Such a vehicle could be evolved into the 100t-to-LEO cargo delivery system required for the US space exploration vision's Moon missions.

Currently in a pre-Phase A concept of operations study, a 65t-to-LEO SDLV concept will be ready by July to start a Phase A study in the third quarter. This would be followed by a preliminary design review in 2006.

"It would not use Shuttle avionics; it would use commercial avionics and new flight software. There are some challenges; we will need to develop automated rendezvous and docking," says Edward Henderson, NASA's deputy office manager, strategic planning, for the Shuttle programme.

As well as NASA's Johnson Space Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, Kennedy Space Center and Stennis Space Center and the agency's headquarters in Washington DC are involved in the work.

While a side-mounted cargo vehicle could supply the ISS, Henderson says the NASA centres are also considering a modified Shuttle solid rocket booster with a second stage to launch the Crew Exploration Vehicle.

Source: Flight International