NASA: Change of heart on new rocket that would reuse shuttle parts?
Dozens of Kennedy Space Center engineers and more at other NASA centers have been working quietly behind the scenes since August to design a new rocket made from parts of the space shuttle â€” a project similar to one that an agency official only two years ago said defied the laws of physics.
The design uses most of the existing shuttle hardware, including its current four-segment solid rocket boosters, the big orange external fuel tank and versions of the shuttle’s main engines. The plan puts the engines underneath the tank, with the boosters on the sides and a capsule on top, to create a launcher capable of lifting 70 tons into orbit, more than enough to blast four or more astronauts and their gear into space.
The engineers’ aim is a test flight by 2014 and a fully operational rocket able to take cargo â€” and possibly crew â€” to the International Space Station by 2016.
The rocket is almost identical to one promoted for the past four years by Team Direct, a group of moonlighting NASA engineers and rocket hobbyists. The group touted its project as a more viable and cheaper alternative to the agency’s expensive and troubled Constellation moon program and its family of Ares rockets.
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