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Design Evolution of Vertical-Takeoff Horizontal-Landing

Hypersonic Flight Vehicle Designs from Tsiens Boost-Glide


Concept to Sierra Nevadas Orbital DreamChaser
Loveneesh Rana1 and Bernd Chudoba2
University of Texas at Arlington, TX-76019-0018

The history of vertical takeoff horizontal landing space access programs is filled with
cancellations and project terminations, with only few exceptions reaching the detailed design
phase. The projects and sub-programs undertaken by government authorities and private
sub-contractor corporations have resulted in a legacy rich of technical knowledge. Many of
these programs focused on specific disciplinary research and later combined under one
project focused at a vehicle designed to a specific mission. In this regard, these cancelled
vehicles are milestones that were never reached but contribute to the evolution of the design
knowledge towards operational VTHL systems. This paper assesses these programs from a
multi-disciplinary point of view, recognizing the milestone vehicles. A VTHL classification is
introduced and attempt to assemble a structured database has been assembled recognizing
these projects related to their specific disciplinary or multi-disciplinary contribution. This
study overviews the available legacy VTHL data, information and knowledge aimed at
providing the present day vehicle development environments a perspective by standing on
the shoulders of giants.

Nomenclature
DB
KB
LEO
VTHL

=
=
=
=

Data-Base
Knowledge-Base
Low-Earth Orbit
Vertical Take-off Horizontal Landing

I. Abstract
If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
- Isaac Newton
It is best said by newton in above phrase that the fastest way to learn is by harvesting the knowledge gained by
the previous generations. Contrary to this approach, the space industry is filled with examples of projects, where the
knowledge was not recorded or intentionally destroyed due to the sensitive nature of the information. This has
affected the industry adversely as the key knowledge that must be available to the new engineer entering the
industry is missing. This is probably the reason that space industry is still operating with the same constraints as
Gemini and Apollo programs. We are still using expendable rockets to access space after almost sixty years of
sending first man in space. The new age engineer entering the industry must have comprehensive access to the
research and lessons learnt by previous generation of pioneers who made moon-landing possible. Instead of reinventing the wheel every time, space industry must recognize the lack of a centralized data-base formulation and
maintenance.
The biggest challenge in this regards is that a new age engineer does not know where to look for the specific
information. To establish a structured way of recognizing the information pocket related to ones subject matter, this
paper is demonstrating a data-base formulation for vertical take-off horizontal landing vehicles. The aim is to
assemble all the project/programs and research study under a disciplinary categorized structure. This would make it
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2

PhD Candidate (loveneesh.rana@mavs.uta.edu), AVD Laboratory, UT Arlington, AIAA Member.


Associate Professor (chudoba@uta.edu), Director AVD Laboratory, UT Arlington, AIAA Member.
1
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

easier for a disciplinary engineer to recognize which research studies and programs are pertinent to his subject
matter and would establish a refined data-base and knowledge-base system. An example of this implementation is
that engineer working in thermal-protection research for DreamChaser spacecraft would refer this database and
recognize during the conceptual design phase that research studies like RENTRY-F and SWERVE are some of the
first studies to test re-entry heating conditions for a horizontal landing lifting-body-type configuration. This might
seem a very logical approach to start the literature review for any specific discipline but in reality any such
discipline-dedicated data-base is missing. There are several historical accounts that summarize major programs and
project and their individual contribution towards the space industry but lacking a singular practical structure are
more of a commentary than a practical tool. The purpose here is to add a practical value to the historical assembly
by classifying this comprehensive data-base focusing on VTHL configuration. The final objective is to develop a
singular structure able to guide the chief-engineer and discipline specific engineer to recognize the pockets of legacy
knowledge pertinent to their own target needs. A visualization demonstration of this particular data-base is shown in
figure 1 below where the disciplinary focusing researches are leading to milestone vehicles. This is a concept
demonstrating visual with just a few data-points. The final data-base would be much more extensive and would
include more parameters that will help to categorize and rank the data more objectively adding a value-function
index or similar ranking logic.

Figure 1 VTHL Design Evolution concept-visualization


The figure above gives the top-level visualization of the data-base which contains detailed specification of each
data-point including the research priorities, efforts and results for each project and thus a priority-based assessment
of multi-disciplinary data-points converges at milestone vehicle programs which are of importance for chiefengineer.

2
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics