Sep 192016

There was a time when American auto manufacturers had important aerospace divisions. Chrysler, for example, was responsible for rockets such as the Redstone, Jupiter and the Saturn I and Ib first stage.

In late 1956, Lovell Lawrence Jr, an assistant chief engineer at the missiles division of Chrysler, publicized a concept for a nuclear-powered “flying saucer.” It seems to have been *partially* a reasonably rational concept for a long duration spacecraft for missions to Mars.  It would spin like a frisbee to generate artificial gravity, though the relatively small radius would be likely to produce some harsh Coriolis effects. The saucer would be about 50 feet in diameter and only 6 feet thick.

Where the design goes a bit off the rails is that the performance expected of the craft was insanely impressive. It was a single-stage-to-solar-orbit craft, capable of taking off horizontally from a runway using nuclear-powered jet engines (note: “jet” in this case might mean “rocket.”) The craft would be capable of going from the Earth to Mars in 9 to 12 weeks.

Being that close to an atomic reactor (with a light enough shield to allow the thing to take off) would be a death sentence long before the craft would get to Mars.

After years of trying to research this concept, all I’ve managed to scrape up are three things from Ye Olde internet: two newspaper articles and one cover story from a UFO “fanzine.” I have tried over some years to obtain a copy of the “Saucer News” from August-September 1957 from sites like ebay, but without success. It seems like an original printing, or at least a decent scan, would provide a reasonably good version of the Chrysler saucer art.

saucernews25-1957-aug-sep chrysler-saucer-2 chrysler-saucer-1

 Posted by at 1:28 pm
Sep 122016

Jeff Bezos of Blue Origin has described a new rocket his company is working on , the “New Glenn.” It’s kinda big:


The “New Glenn” will be 27 feet in diameter (close to the Shuttle External Tank, it seems), 270 feet tall in a two-stage configuration and 313 feet tall in a three stage configuration. The first stage is recoverable, landing vertically under rocket power. It will have seven BE-4 engines burning natural gas and oxygen, producing 3.85 million pounds of thrust. The second stage uses a single BE-4 engine with an increased expansion ratio. The third stage uses a LOX/LH2 BE-3 engine.

The article says that Bezos has claimed that the rocket will fly “within the decade.” If that means by the end of 2019, that’s pretty ambitious.

 Posted by at 9:58 pm
Sep 042016

Produced by Bell Aerospace around 1960 as a promotional item was this “ticket” for a flight from New York City to Melbourne, Australia. The aircraft shown was a two-stage hypersonic passenger transport; the first stage was essentially a supersonic transport equipped with turboramjet engines; it carried on its back a rocket powered passenger spaceplane. At the time it was pushed by the likes of Walter Dornberger, who had previously publicized a two-stage all-rocket powered hypersonic transport. There was some link between this design and the Dyna Soar program, but it is unclear just how involved the engineering was on the HST. Artwork was produced and a good display model, but it’s hard to tell if it went any further than that.

bell hst ticket 2 bell hst ticket 1

I have uploaded high-rez scans (600 dpi) to the 2016-09 APR Extras folder on Dropbox. This is accessible to all APR Patreon patrons at the $4 level and above.

 Posted by at 2:10 pm
Aug 292016

Military hardware design programs often have code names that are random or nearly so, so you can’t figure out what they are if you overhear them. Concepts like “Have Blue” or “Copper Canyon” or “Science Dawn” or even “Silver Bug” are pretty opaque. But every now and then there are concepts like Avro Canada’s 1960 idea for a truck capable of carrying and launching two Minuteman ICBMs: “Big Wheel.” For once, the name matched the product.


One wonders what sort of career these might have had in the Monster Truck circuit after they became obsolete.

This is a document I scored off ebay a little while back; it arrived and I’ve scanned it and will include it in the very next APR Patreon catalog. If you’d like a copy, a monthly contribution of as little as $4 will get you the full-rez 300 dpi scan of each months reward documents and diagrams… currently, three documents, one large-format diagram or piece of artwork. That’s a buck an item. Give the APR Patreon a look.

bigwheel layout

 Posted by at 7:21 pm
Aug 232016

An early/mid 1960’s concept model of an interplanetary spacecraft using a nuclear fusion powerplant. Back then there was a LOT of faith in the idea of fusion reactors being just around the corner. One very obvious design flaw? No radiators. Any internal-fusion system (or internal-fission, for that matter) would need *vast* radiator surface area.

Details on the photo are unavailable. I originally downloaded this image from the GRIN (Great Images in NASA) website, which has now been closed in favor of a Flickr account that is difficult to search. Feh. If you want the full-rez version *another* Flickr account has it HERE.


 Posted by at 3:19 pm
Aug 212016

The Ryan XV-5A Vertifan was a 1960’s VTOL aircraft that was given considerable testing and proved to be reasonably successful, yet it was not chosen to be put into production. he video below (a couple different versions of it) show the XV-5A being put through its paces. It’s shown to be a remarkably nimble and stable platform. Also shown are numerous pieces of concept art, the XV-5A being used in a rescue capacity. Interestingly, the idea presented was to send the VTOL right alongside strike aircraft so that it would be right there on the scene ready to collect any pilots who happen to get shot down during the mission.

The XV-5A used largish fans embedded win the nose and wings to provide vertical thrust; the fans were driven by the exhaust from the jet engines. This is not a particularly elegant solution, unlike the Harrier with its fully integrated single engine system, but the fan approach would provide both better fuel efficiency during hover and lower jet velocity compared to something like the Harrier or the F-35. This would mean that the vertical thrust would tear up the dirt or deck plating a whole lot less.

One wonders how well the XV-5A would perform today. It would have the benefit of better engines and better materials, meaning more thrust at lower fuel consumption, in an aircraft that weighs less. And perhaps more importantly, modern avionics and computerized controls would make this plane much more stable, controllable and safe in hover.




 Posted by at 9:09 pm
Aug 102016

Starting in the 1970s and running through much of the 1980’s, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory ran numerous studies of Thousand Astronomical Unit (TAU) spacecraft. These were somewhat akin to Voyager class probes, but with important differences. instead of small RTGs for power, they would use SP-100 class fission reactors, mounted many dozens of meters away at the end of long booms. Located at the center of mass of the system would be a bank of ion engines; the nuclear electric propulsion system would operate for *years* to boost these craft to extremely high speeds. Still, it would take decades for them to travel 1,000 AU from the Sun, many times further than Pluto. There, large optical telescopes would take parallax measurements on distant stars; by positioning numerous TAU craft in every direction, the measurement baseline would be vast, and precise distance fixes could be made for stars on the other side of the galaxy.

A number of TAU designs were examined, but the one shown here in JPL art seems to be pretty representative. These probes would have to be engineered with a high degree of both reliability and autonomy as their main observation missions would only begin something like 50 years after launch. Diagrams of a different design and more information were presented in US Spacecraft Projects #3.

jpl tau

 Posted by at 1:53 pm
Aug 032016

A while ago I was asked by another aerospace historian if I had any artwork of the “Dual Keel” version of the Space Station design from the mid/late 1980s. This was a predecessor to the International Space Station (the “Russians” being the “Soviets” at the time) and was to be used not just as an orbiting shack for some basic research, but also as an assembly area for manned missions to the moon and Mars. Turns out I had a fair amount of Dual Keel art. As is the way of things, a lot of that art is moderately poor… scanned from dusty slides, in many cases. Still, it’s what I had. It dawned on me that others might be interested in it, so I put all the images into the same size and format (standard 8.5X11) and made  a PDF out of it, seventy some pages. I have uploaded Part Two to the “APR Extras” Dropbox site into the “2016-08 APR Extras” folder. This is accessible to all APR Patreon patrons at the $4 level and above (if you are such a patron and don’t have access, send me a message via Patreon, I’ll get you fixed up). Part One was uploaded to the “2016-07 APR Extras” Dropbox folder last month.


 Posted by at 9:18 pm