The Space Rocket as an Airplane


As previously described, Hohmann recommends equipping the space ship with wings for landing. At a certain stage of his landing manoeuver, the space ship travels suspended around the Earth in a circular, free orbit ("carried" only by centrifugal force) at an altitude of 75 km and at a corresponding velocity of 7,850 meters per second ("free circular motion," Figure 44). However, because the travel velocity and also the related centrifugal force continually decrease in subsequent orbits, the vehicle becomes heavier and heavier, an effect that the wings must compensate so that the free orbital motion transitions gradually into a gliding flight. Accordingly, deeper and deeper, denser layers of air will be reached where, in spite of higher drag, the necessary lift at the diminished travel velocity and for the increased weight can be achieved ("gliding motion," Figure 44).

Since even the entire Earth can be orbited in only a few hours in this process, it becomes obvious that in a similar fashion terrestrial express flight transportation can be established at the highest possible, almost cosmic velocities: If an appropriately built space ship equipped with wings climbs only up to an altitude of approximately 75 km and at the same time a horizontal velocity of 7,850 meters per second is imparted to it in the direction of a terrestrial destination (Figure 49), then it could cover the distance to that destination without any further expenditure of energy in the beginning in an approximately circular free orbit, later more and more in gliding flight and finally just gliding, carried only by atmospheric lift. Some time before the landing, the velocity would finally have to be appropriately decreased through artificial air drag braking, for example, by means of a trailing parachute.

Figure 49. Schematic representation of an "express flight at a cosmic velocity" during which the horizontal velocity is so large (in this case, assumed equal to the velocity of free orbital motion) that the entire long-distance trip can be covered in gliding flight and must still be artificially braked before the landing.

Key: 1. Artificial braking; 2. Highest horizontal velocity of 7,850 m/sec; 3. Altitude of 75 km; 4. Long-distance trip in gliding flight (without power); 5. Ascent (with power).

Even though this type of landing may face several difficulties at such high velocities, it could easily be made successful by selecting a smaller horizontal velocity, because less artificial braking would then be necessary. From a certain initial horizontal velocity, even natural braking by the unavoidable air resistance would suffice for this purpose (Figure 50).

Figure 50. Schematic representation of an "express flight at a cosmic velocity" during which the highest horizontal velocity is just sufficient to be able to cover the entire long- distance trip in gliding flight when any artificial braking is avoided during the flight.

Key: 1. Highest horizontal velocity; 2. Altitude; 3. Long-distance travel in gliding flight without power and without artificial braking; 4. Ascent (with power)

In all of these cases, the vehicle requires no power whatsoever during the long-distance trip. If the vehicle is then powered only by a booster rocket that is, "launched" so to speak by the booster during the ascent (until it reaches the required flight altitude and/or the horizontal orbital velocity), then the vehicle could cover the longer path to the destination solely by virtue of its "momentum" (the kinetic energy received) and, therefore, does not need to be equipped with any propulsion equipment whatsoever, possibly with the exception of a small ancillary propulsion system to compensate for possible estimation errors during landing. Of course, instead of a booster rocket, the power could also be supplied in part or entirely by the vehicle itself until the horizontal orbital velocity is attained during the ascent. In the former case, it may be advantageous to let the booster rocket generate mainly the climbing velocity and the vehicle, on the other hand, the horizontal velocity.

Figure 51. Schematic representation of an "express flight at a cosmic velocity" during which the highest horizontal velocity is not sufficient for covering the entire long-distance trip in gliding flight so that a part of the trip must be traveled under power.

Key: 1. Highest horizontal velocity of 2,500 m/sec in the example; 2. Climb and flight altitude of 60 km in the example; 3. Gliding flight; 4. With or without artificial braking; 5. Power flight; 6. Velocity of travel of 2,500 m/sec in the example; 7. Long- distance trip; 8. Ascent (with power).

In the case of a still smaller horizontal velocity, a certain part of the long-distance trip would also have to be traveled under power (Figure 51). Regardless of how the ascent may take place, it would be necessary in any case that the vehicle also be equipped with a propulsion system and carry as much propellant as is necessary for the duration of the powered flight.

Assuming that benzene and liquid oxygen are used as propellants and thereby an exhaust velocity of 2,500 meters per second is attained, then in accordance with the previously described basic laws of rocket flight technology and for the purpose of attaining maximum efficiency, even the travel velocity (and accordingly the highest horizontal velocity) would have to be just as great during the period when power is being applied, that is, 2,500 meters per second. The optimal flight altitude for this flight would presumably be around 60 km, taking Hohmann's landing procedure into account. At this velocity, especially when the trip occurs opposite to the Earth's rotation (from east to west), the effect of centrifugal force would be so slight that the wings would have to bear almost the entire weight of the vehicle; in that case, the trip would almost be a pure heavier-than-air flight movement rather than celestial body motion.

In view of the lack of sufficient technical data, we will at this time refrain from discussing in more detail the design of an aerospace plane powered by reaction (rockets). This will actually be possible as was indicated previously in connection with the space rocket in general only when the basic problem of rocket motors is solved in a satisfactory manner for all practical purposes.

On the other hand, the operating characteristics that would have to be used here can already be recognized in substance today. The following supplements the points already discussed about these characteristics: Since lifting the vehicle during the ascent to very substantial flight altitudes (3575 km) would require a not insignificant expenditure of propellants, it appears advisable to avoid intermediate landings in any case. Moreover, this point is reinforced by the fact that breaking up the entire travel distance would make the application of artificial braking necessary to an increasing extent due to the shortening caused as a result of those air distances that can be covered in one flight; these intermediate landings, however, mean a waste of valuable energy, ignoring entirely the losses in time, inconveniences and increasing danger always associated with them. It is inherent in the nature of express flight transportation that it must be demonstrated as being that much more advantageous, the greater (within terrestrial limits, of course) the distances to be covered in one flight, so that these distances will still not be shortened intentionally through intermediate landings.

Consequently, opening up intermediate filling stations, for example, as has already been recommended for the rocket airplane, among others, by analogy with many projects of transoceanic flight traffic, would be completely counter to the characteristic of the rocket airplane. However, it is surely a false technique to discuss these types of motion by simply taking only as a model the travel technology of our current airplanes, because rocket and propeller vehicles are extremely different in operation, after all.

On the other hand, we consider it equally incorrect that rocket airplane travel should proceed not as an actual "flight" at all, but primarily more as a shot (similar to what was discussed in the earlier section), as many authors recommend. Because in this case, a vertical travel velocity component, including the horizontal one, can be slowed down during the descent of the vehicle. Due to the excessively short length of vertical braking distance possible at best in the Earth's atmosphere, this velocity component, however, cannot be nullified by means of air drag, but only through reaction braking. Taking the related large propellant consumption into account, the latter, however, must be avoided if at all possible.

The emergence of a prominent vertical travel velocity component must, for this reason, be inhibited in the first place, and this is accomplished when, as recommended by the author, the trip is covered without exception as a heavier-than-air flight in an approximately horizontal flight path where possible, chiefly in gliding flight (without power) that is, proceeding similarly to the last stage of Hohmann's gliding flight landing that, in our case, is started earlier, and in fact, at the highest horizontal velocity.

The largest average velocity during the trip, at which a given distance could be traveled in the first place during an express flight of this type, is a function of this distance. The travel velocity is limited by the requirement that braking of the vehicle must still be successful for landing when it is initiated as soon as possible, that is, immediately after attaining the highest horizontal velocity (Figure 52).

Figure 52. The highest average velocity during the trip is attained when the highest horizontal velocity is selected so large than it can just be slowed if artificial braking is started immediately after attaining that velocity. (In the schematic representations of Figures 49 through 52, the Earth's surface would appear curved in a true representation, exactly as in Figure 53.)

Key: 1. Highest horizontal velocity; 2. Long-distant trip in gliding flight completely with artificial braking; 3. Ascent (with power).

The "optimum highest horizontal velocity" for a given distance would be one that just suffices for covering the entire trip in gliding flight to the destination without significant artificial braking (Figures 50 and 53). In the opinion of the author, this represents without a doubt the most advantageous operating characteristics for a rocket airplane. In addition, it is useable for all terrestrial distances, even the farthest, if only the highest horizontal velocity is appropriately selected, primarily since a decreased travel resistance is also achieved at the same time accompanied by an increase of this velocity, because the greater the horizontal velocity becomes, the closer the flight approaches free orbital trajectory around the Earth, and consequently the vehicle loses weight due to a stronger centrifugal force. Also, less lift is necessary by the atmosphere, such that the flight path can now be repositioned to correspondingly higher, thinner layers of air with less drag also with a lower natural braking effect.

The magnitude of the optimum horizontal velocity is solely a function of the length of the distance to be traveled; however, this length can only be specified exactly when the ratios of lift to drag in the higher layers of air are studied at supersonic and cosmic velocities.

Figure 53. The most advantageous way of implementing an "express flight at a cosmic velocity" is as follows: The highest horizontal velocity is corresponding to the distance selected so large ("optimum horizontal velocity") that the entire long-distance trip can be made in gliding flight without power and without artificial braking (see Figure 50 for a diagram).

Key: 1. Gliding flight without power and without artificial braking; 2. Earth's surface; 3. Ascent (with power); 4. "Best case highest horizontal velocity".

However, even smaller highest horizontal velocities, at which a part of the trip would have to be traveled (investigated previously for benzene propulsion), could be considered on occasion. Considerably greater velocities, on the other hand, could hardly be considered because they would make operations very uneconomical due to the necessity of having to destroy artificially, through parachute braking, a significant portion of the energy.

It turns out that these greater velocities are not even necessary! Because when employing the "best case" highest horizontal velocities and even when employing the lower ones, every possible terrestrial distance, even those on the other side of the Earth, could be covered in only a few hours.

In addition to the advantage of a travel velocity of this magnitude, which appears enormous even for today's pampered notions, there is the advantage of the minimal danger with such an express flight, because during the long-distance trip, unanticipated "external dangers" cannot occur at all: that obstacles in the flight path occur is, of course, not possible for all practical purposes, as is the case for every other air vehicle flying at an appropriately high altitude. However, even dangers due to weather, which can occasionally be disastrous for a vehicle of this type, especially during very long-distance trips (e.g., ocean crossings), are completely eliminated during the entire trip for the express airplane, because weather formation is limited only to the lower part of the atmosphere stretching up to about 10 km the so-called "troposphere." The part of the atmosphere above this altitude the "stratosphere"is completely free of weather; express flight transportation would be carried out within this layer. Besides the always constant air streams, there are no longer any atmospheric changes whatsoever in the stratosphere.

Furthermore, if the "optimum velocity" is employed such that neither power nor artificial braking is necessary during the long-distance trip, then the "internal dangers" (ones inherent in the functioning of the vehicle) are reduced to a minimum. Just like external dangers, internal ones can only occur primarily during ascent and landing. As soon as the latter two are mastered at least to that level of safety characteristic for other means of transportation, then express airplanes powered by reaction will not only represent the fastest possible vehicles for our Earth, but also the safest.

Achieving a transportation engineering success of this magnitude would be something so marvelous that this alone would justify all efforts the implementation of space flight may yet demand. Our notions about terrestrial distances, however, would have to be altered radically if we are to be able to travel, for example, from Berlin to Tokyo or around the entire globe in just under one morning! Only then will we be able to feel like conquerors of our Earth, but at the same time justifiably realizing how small our home planet is in reality, and the longing would increase for those distant worlds familiar to us today only as stars.


[Previous Page] [Next Page] [Table