Shuttle, and its cousin Shuttle-C, are now history as the launch pads have been converted for use by other systems. Claims made for the Shuttle-C were that it would have taken 4 years and cost $6 billion to develop. Given the time/costs associated with the first generation of SLS units, exactly how are they an improvement on Shuttle-C?

  • $\begingroup$ The title is opinion based, but you saved it with an actual question in the body. Well played sir! $\endgroup$
    – geoffc
    Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 18:07

1 Answer 1


The reality is that any estimate out of NASA on costs needs to be taken with a salt lick the size of LC-39B's former tower.

Had they done Shuttle-C, odds are likely it would cost as much, be as delayed as, SLS. They can screw up anything it would seem.

In theory, Shuttle-C said, replace JUST the orbiter with a non-winged payload fairing. Still needs Space Shuttle main engines (SSME), still needs Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) pods. No heat shield or wings though.

This in theory allows for a much simpler design, fundamentally a fairing (which is well understood) on top of a boattail that holds the engine 'stuff'.

The Shuttle is on the order of 165,000 lbs, by itself empty. Then 65,000 lbs payload or so.

That means if you reduce the 'overhead' of the orbiter to only 40,000lbs (40%) potentially you could get a mighty fine payload to orbit. This article mentions "... anywhere from 100,000 to 170,000 pounds (45,360 to 77,112 kilograms)" to LEO.

Seems like the general shape for launch could be preserved, since it is just the deletion of the wings that affects aerodynamics.

This minimal change model did not seem to have any attraction, when the purpose of SLS is a jobs program. Without wings and heat shield you could probably reduce the people working on the Shuttle a fair bit as well.

SLS in theory, in later models should be able to launch more payload than Shuttle-C, but that is still many many years out, and I will believe it when I see it.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ My understanding was the last time Shuttle-C made it into the White House for discussion was in connection with how best to proceed with building then Space Station 'Freedom'. A.k.a. ISS. @1993. I am compelled to agree with you: NASA was thinking more 'jobs program' than 'effective increase in launch capacity.' It is one of the reasons I believe manned space flight at NASA will disappear in a few years. Unless something changes in a big way. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 30, 2014 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ A major ding against the Shuttle-C idea was that the SSMEs were at the time the most technologically advanced engines in the entire western world, and each launch would throw away a significant fraction of the total stockpile. $\endgroup$
    – Wedge
    Commented Jul 19, 2014 at 8:45
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    $\begingroup$ And so now we are going to throw them away on the SLS :( $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 14, 2015 at 2:12

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