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In the late 1970s/early 1980s I read a study about up-sizing the space shuttle to carry 1,000 tons(!) payload to earth orbit. There was a crude drawing of such a beast, and if I remember correctly, the whole craft at launch weighed 27,000 tons! I believe it was two stages, both reusable, but both were piloted (IIRC), and liquid rocket propelled. No solid fuel boosters.

Edit:It was an article in a magazine, as I remember.

I tried googling the study, but no luck; my google-fu is weak, I guess. Can anyone help me find the study on-line, please?

Edit2: The first stage was not piloted and so couldn't be reusable, like the S-IC.. There was also a drawing of a smaller version with a smaller (100 ton?) payload.

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    $\begingroup$ Sea Dragon? The Chrysler SERV? $\endgroup$ – geoffc Apr 22 at 20:24
  • $\begingroup$ It was a stacked staged rocket launched from a land base, like Cape Kennedy. $\endgroup$ – catsteevens Apr 22 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ An article in a magazine doesn't necessarily mean there was a serious study done. Can you remember what magazine it was? $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Apr 23 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ Possibilities with enough payload: Rockwell Star-Raker, ROMBUS, Nuclear Liberty Ship (nuclear lightbulbs, yeah!), GCNR NEXUS (please don't), the various Orion vehicles, a deeply insane concept with 20,000+ (sic) tons of cargo called Aldebaran. $\endgroup$ – ikrase Apr 23 at 20:30
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    $\begingroup$ You might be interested in this video: KSP - Delivering 1000 tons of payload to orbit with a 600 ton SSTO $\endgroup$ – Fred Apr 24 at 16:31
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The only serious launcher proposal I've ever heard of at that scale was Sea Dragon.

Sea Dragon doesn't quite fit your recollection, though. It's a 500-ton to LEO design, not 1000 tons, with a liftoff weight of about 20,000 tons. It wasn't derived from the shuttle in any way (although a big cheap booster with a pressure-fed engine was contemplated as a first stage for the shuttle); recoverability was optional and parachute based rather than soft landing, and it was uncrewed.

The proposal was fairly thorough, but it was still just a paper design.

The alternate-history TV series For All Mankind shows a Sea Dragon launch in a scene at the end of the first season finale.

Skimming the Aerospace Project Review blog, which digs up a lot of old proposals, the only other thing in that class I've found is the Boeing Large Multipurpose Launch Vehicle (1968 concept, 500-1500 tons to LEO, not very shuttle-y).

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting, I haven't seen Sea Dragon before. The concept I read about was definitely 1000 ton payload, and the drawing looked like the orbiter on steroids atop a huge winged first stage. Must have had nineteen or twenty F-1s! $\endgroup$ – catsteevens Apr 22 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ That LMLV was really heroic! Larger than the one above, even. I'm sure that one had no solid fuel rockets however. But it has been 40+ years since I read it for sure. $\endgroup$ – catsteevens Apr 22 at 22:58

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