As the title states, if a space shuttle 2.0 were to be built with current technology, in which ways or areas might it be superior to the original space shuttle?

Which components are most ripe for improvement using current technology and how big would be the gained advantage by this improvement?

Basics requirements:

  • vertical launch, horizontal landing orbiter
  • ability to lift at least 25 tons to LEO
  • supports a maximum of 7 crew members for at least 14 days

Goal of the question: Exercise to illustrate advancements in spaceflight technologies in the last several decades.

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    $\begingroup$ The most serious drawbacks of the Shuttle design were due to political rather than technological constraints, and those have gotten worse faster than rocket technology has improved. $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Sep 30 '15 at 15:57
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    $\begingroup$ Skylon with an air breathing engine to get rid of most of the oxygen tanks would be one concept. After 30 years they say they have made great progress with the hardest part, the cooling system, and will build an engine prototype. The engine might have military use, so it could actually come true. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Oct 1 '15 at 8:38
  • $\begingroup$ How much do you care about launch costs and reusabilty of components other than the orbiter? $\endgroup$ – Russell Borogove Oct 2 '15 at 15:52
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    $\begingroup$ I suggest the following improvements: Putting the shuttle on top of the rocket instead of on its side. Giving it a launch escape system. Making it able to fly uncrewed, like the Russian Buran could and did. Separating cargo launches from crewed launches, just like busses and trucks are separated on the ground. Realizing that rockets should land as they start, like helicopters do, and decide not to build a shuttle at all. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff Feb 28 '16 at 7:20
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    $\begingroup$ @ikrase The point is to avoid the mass of wings and undercarriage $\endgroup$ – Steve Linton Dec 10 '19 at 10:18

This could go many ways, depending on whether you mean a clean sheet design or incremental updates to STS. I'll assume the latter, in a parallel universe where the STS-107 accident never happened and the program continued on and actually did upgrades.

We can look at what was planned for STS:

  • Improved engines: health monitoring, new controller, new nozzle and combustion chamber design
  • Electric power for the hydraulic pumps instead of toxic and dangerous hydrazine APUs
  • New avionics and cockpit controls & displays
  • Blowdown-type thrust vector control system for the SRBs instead of toxic and dangerous hydrazine APUs.

Other, more expensive and/or speculative updates

  • Liquid fueled fully reusable flyback boosters enter image description here
  • Metallic or otherwise hardened Thermal Protection System
  • Operational improvements to reduce cost - reflying crews as a unit to reduce training, for example
  • Forward-to-aft Reaction Control System interconnect
  • Revisit and fully implement the Extended Duration Orbiter project (cryo pallets, Orbital Maneuvering System kits, regenerative CO2 removal, new toilet)
  • Add Shuttle-C-like vehicle as an option for heavy lift missions where crew is not required
  • Crew escape system - via separable crew module?

The second link leads to an entire book titled Upgrading the Space Shuttle which may be of interest. I have only pulled a few items from it.

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    $\begingroup$ Say, that National Academies Press site is a treasure trove. I wasn't aware of it :) $\endgroup$ – kim holder wants Monica back Sep 30 '15 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ While this is very interessting stuff (especialy the booster thing) i was more thinking about building a new Shuttle. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Question is edited. $\endgroup$ – m.fuss Oct 1 '15 at 8:26
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I acknowledged in my first line that you might have meant a clean sheet design. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Oct 1 '15 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ Could you say what "Forward-to-aft Reaction Control System interconnect" means? Or what was wrong about original Shuttle RCS? $\endgroup$ – SF. Feb 28 '16 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ Sure. The shuttle had basically 3 independent MMH / nitrogen tetroxide prop systems: forward RCS, aft RCS, and the OMS. The aft RCS and OMS could be interconnected and crossfed to each other which added flexibilty (for example, if a pressurant tank leaked out on one system, you could feed from the other system. But the forward system was completely isolated from the other 2 systems, so if it ran low on prop or had failures, you had fewer options to deal with them. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Feb 29 '16 at 0:15

A shuttle 2.0 was actually being planned but got canceled due to the typical cost and time overruns. It is was the X-33 Venture Star. Check it out. If you’re talking a more shuttle like vehicle than a replacement then I have some ideas for that. I would say it would most definitely run off of methane or hydrogen. The boosters would probably be liquid fueled and more reusable. The ET would also be reusable as those just got thrown away. They would also for sure have a safer ejection system.


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