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Are there any technical reasons for not simply continuing the space shuttle production, except for replacing the orbiter with a pretty simple cargo bay (a payload fairing)? Like the Russians planned in the 1980's with their Energia. It would seem like a cheap and immediately applicable thing to do, compared to the SLS concept which requires the expensive and decade long redesign of each and every component in this old system, such as the main engines, the boosters, the fuel tank, the launch pad, the mobile launch tower, the barge, the welder, the test stand and on and on.

It would immediately seem much cheaper, safer, faster and simpler. Redesigning reusable engines to become non-reusable doesn't sound like the future to me, but I'm maybe missing something essential here?

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    $\begingroup$ You mean like Shuttle-C (unmanned, Space Shuttle derived cargo launcher)? Or, for that matter, Shuttle-B (more here). $\endgroup$ – TildalWave May 23 '15 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, a cargo version of the shuttle seems like an obvious idea from the beginning, as a parallel product with the crewed orbiter shuttle. Mysteriously, the communist Soviet seemed more rational in this respect. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff May 23 '15 at 4:11
  • $\begingroup$ @TildalWave I can see in principle how it would be a double or even triple suboptimization to make a combined shuttle, crew, cargo combination compromise. The T-ford law of mass production and economies of scope does not apply. Launchers are more like pre-industrial handicraft items made by artists. $\endgroup$ – LocalFluff May 23 '15 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ This idea has been around for decades and it's a real shame that Shuttle-C was never implemented. One of the great missed opportunities of the SSP. This link includes a picture of the full-size mockup that was at MSFC. collectspace.com/ubb/Forum30/HTML/000769.html The boat-tail is sitting out on the pavement at the museum at MSFC today - it was also the MPTA, and deserves a lot more respect than to be set out to rot. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble May 23 '15 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ SLS will be human-rated. Given the inherent safety risks of a side-mounted systems which were exposed by the Challenger and Columbia disasters, NASA would probably not consider such a system for human spaceflight anymore. $\endgroup$ – oefe Jun 5 '16 at 15:52

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