We’re spreading rumors about a old yet new Russian Space Plane on your Spacevidcast for April 28th, 2010.
It seems that unmanned space planes are all the rage these days. The Air Force recently launched their X-37B and last Friday Russia hinted that they may revive one of their long dead space plane programs. The Russian Multipurpose Aerospace System or MAKS is an innovative space plane that had its development frozen in 1991. In response to the US Air Force’s recent launch of the X-37B, the Russian aerospace designer Vladimir Skorodelov has said that this could spur Russia to restart their own defunct Space Plane program.
The Russian Shuttle is much like the X-37B, about the same size, same style, it is unmanned and can’t get to orbit on its own. Back when it was designed in the 80′s the Russian shuttle would launch aboard an An-225 airplane carrier, much like Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnight carrier. Unlike Virgin Galactic the MAKS vehicle will sit atop the airplane, not below it.
The interesting thing about MAKS is that there is both an unmanned and manned configuration of the vehicle. Actually, there are three versions of MAKS on the table: MAKS-OS which is the manned orbital plane. MAKS-T which is designed to inject heavy payloads in to orbit. And finally MAKS-M which is a completely reusable unmanned space plane.
This isn’t the first space shuttle that Russia has designed and then cancelled. Back in 1988 the Soviet Union launched the unmanned Buran space shuttle. Buran was about the same size and shape as NASA’s current fleet of orbiters, but unlike NASA’s orbiters was able to fly completely unmanned. Due to financial difficulties the program never got any additional traction and only the one unmanned flight was made in November of 1988 and in 1992 the program was cancelled.
The development of the MAKS aerospace system started when Buran was still in the creation phase. The major goal of the MAKS project was to reduce the cost of space transportation operations and to increase the efficiency of the launch system itself. The current cost of sending 2.2 pounds of material to space aboard the US Space Shuttle is around $20,000 dollars. That means that 1 gallon of water would cost nearly $100,000 dollars to fly to the International Space station. It was and still is hoped that MAKS will be able to deliver the same weight for an estimated $1,000 to $1,200 dollars. Now, that same gallon of water would cost around $5,500 to bring to the ISS.
Of course it could be that nothing ever comes of this. Vladimir is the chief designer of NOP Molniya which was the company founded for the creation of the Buran shuttle and today works on reusable launch systems. This could just be wishful thinking on his part. Or it really could spur re-investment in to MAKS system for a next generation shuttle. While there are a few reports out there indicating that MAKS has been revived and is being pushed for launch as soon as possible, we have been unable to confirm said rumor and can only speculate at this time. Nevertheless, it sure would be cool if it was!
And don’t forget to join us this Friday at 0200 UTC for Spacevidcast Live. This week we will have on guest Bill Suitor who is the author of Rocketbet Pilot’s Manual. This is your chance to ask someone who has actually flown a rocketbelt your own questions. For those of you in the US the show will be this Thursday at 7:00pm PDT or 10:00pm EDT. Remember to pick up your copy of the Rocketbelt Pilot’s Manual from Apogeebooks.com before the show and we’ll see you there!