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Sun, 29 Feb 2004

USAF orbital space bomber designs of the 1950's

DynaSoar designs

I don't read Encyclopaedia Astronautica often enough. Mark Wade, historical space geek par excelence, updates it about once a month with the result of his latest digging. Recently he's updated it with a comprehensive history of the DynaSoar project of the 1950's and 1960's. DynaSoar was cancelled in the late 1960's, shortly before first orbital launch, in its final incarnation as a manned orbital spaceplane; but it has a much longer history, dating all the way back to Peenemunde and the Nazi secret weapons program: "it evolved from the German Saenger-Bredt Silverbird intercontinental skip-glide rocket bomber. Walter Dornberger, former head of Peendmuende, was at Bell Aircraft in the 1950's and developed the Sanger-Bredt concept through various iterations," as Wade notes.

Among other fun facets of the design, was the (not really recognized at the time) environmental implications: "the booster could be powered by two of the high-performance liquid fluorine/hydrazine Chariot motors being developed by Bell ... [or if unavailable] ... a single Atlas sustainer engine or the X-15 XLR-99." Liquid fluorine and hydrazine are not, shall we say, among the most environmentally friendly of substances. Another fun facet was the use of derivatives of the same vehicle for strategic reconnaissance and as an intercontinental orbital nuclear bomber. (Did anyone consider the possibility that the other side might misinterpret a recce overflight as a pre-emptive attack and go apeshit?) But most interesting of all is the completely over-the-edge gonzo approach to building Things That Go Fast And Explode; if at first your bomber doesn't go fast enough with jet engines, stick it on top of an ICBM that leaves an exhaust trail of hydrofluouric acid, and light the blue touch paper.

The klaxon sounds in the hardened silo deep beneath the earth. A space-suited astronauts run from the ready room, grabs the bar over the hatch, and hoists his legs into the cockpit. The ground crew attach his suit hoses, check that he is strapped into the ejection seat. The pilot closes the hatch above him. The blast doors open, the rocket is raised to the surface of the earth. Minutes later the Titan roars from the silo, launching the Dyna-Soar space bomber on an intercontinental nuclear strike mission ...

Dr Strangelove, eat your heart out.

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posted at: 13:53 | path: /weird | permanent link to this entry


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