In the early days of space flight, the various space agencies could barely get an astronaut into orbit. The idea of sending a rescue mission to give aid and succor for a stricken astronaut was probably not in technologically feasible, and was certainly not in the budget.
However the Skylab mission raised some troubling scenarios. What probably lit a fire under NASA's behind was the release of the book and movie 'Marooned.' This depicted a nice space rescue. NASA realized that if an accident happened in the real-life Skylab mission and they could not rescue the crew, they would have a public relations nightmare on their hands. Joe Smoe on the street believes what they see, so even though the movie was nowhere near realistic it was real to the public. The popular conclusion would be that the only reason NASA couldn't rescue the Skylab crew from a hypothetical disaster would be NASA incompetence.
As it turns out NASA did have a spare Apollo CSM and launch vehicle. So they jury rigged it to be capable of holding five astronauts instead of just three. And the first space rescue vehicle was born.
With respect to private search-and-rescue organizations Rob Garitta notes, "Nearly all SAR operators double as salvage operations because sometimes they don't make it in time."
- Ordnance (carried weapons or ammunition)
- Explosion / Implosion
- Decompression / Overpressure
- Temperature and Humidity Out Of Limits
- Power Loss
- Collisions (Internal / External Objects)
- Contamination (Toxic / Non-Toxic)
- Atmospheric Contamination
- Injury And Poisoning
- Chemical Injury
- Radiation Injury
- Physical Injury
- Infective and Parasitic
- Mental, Psychoneurotic, Personality Disorders
- Mechanical / Structural Failures (Non-collision-oriented)
- Radiation (Internal / External)
- Personnel Errors
- Basic Subsytem Malfunctions
- Inability To Return From EVA
- Food/Water Contamination/Loss
- Buildup Of Dangerous Bacteria
- Lack Of Resupply / Rotation
- Hostile Action (terrorist, saboteurs, enemy military action, etc.)
- Ill or Injured Crew (physical, chemical, disease, mental)
- Metabolic Deprivation
- Stranded or Entrapped Crew
- during EVA
- in vehicle
- Inability to Communicate
- Out-of-Control Spacecraft
- tumbling in safe orbit
- in decaying orbit
- on unsafe trajectory
- Debris in Vicinity
- Radiation in Vicinity
- Non-Habitable Spacecraft Environment
- lack of environmental control (pressure, temperature, humidity extremes)
- contamination (experiments, animals, insects, bacterial)
- Radiation (internal source)
- Abandonment (crew in EVA after bail-out in lifeboat)
- Inability to Reenter Earth's Atmosphere
- Habitable Shelter
- Life Support
- Medical Aid
- Crew Transfer Capability
- Crew Retrieval Capability
A Space Rescue Vehicle must provide:
- A habitable haven for the rescued crew
- Medical aid (facilities and service) for ill or injured personnel
- Life support for extending crew survival
- Communication with the disabled crew during the rescue operation
- Emergency power during the rescue operation
- Transportation from the scene of the emergency to a final haven of safety
A Space Rescue Vehicle coming to the aid of a distressed vehicle (DV) may need the following capabilities:
- Collision avoidance with debris generated by the DV
- Protection from DV radiation sources (nuclear propulsion DV, or DV space station with nuclear power reactor or RTG)
- Radiation detection sensors for detection survey upon arrival at DV (range of 19 kilometers)
- Neutron Detectors (proportional counter)
- Alpha Detectors (proportional counter)
- Gamma and X-Ray Detectors (collimated scintillation counter)
- Sensors to determine safe approach corritor to the DV
- Sensors to identify the nature and source of radiation
- Radiation detection sensors for detection survey upon arrival at DV (range of 19 kilometers)
- Ability to dock with a disabled vehicle
- Ability to arrest the motion of a tumbling vehicle (spin rates up to 4 rpm plus nutation "wobble")
- Ability to retrieve personnel from EVA and from a DV where docking is not possible
Factors to consider in determining the rescue vehicles requirements:
- Hazards to the SRV (such as debris or radiation) caused by the distressed vehicle
- Problems of personnel and equipment transfer to and from the distressed vehicle under docked and undocked conditions; specialized equipment needs include:
- Means for establishing communication with a mute spacecraft after rendezvous
- Procedures for gaining emergency access to the interior of a disabled vehicle
- Equipment for assessing and controlling damage to the disabled vehicle
- Medical aid for the rescued crew
- Portable equipment and supplies to provide extended survival on an emergency basis for the crew of the disabled vehicle
- ΔV needs of the SRV for rendezvous and an external inspection of the disabled vehicle
The easy way to rescue is to dock with the DV and let the stricken astronauts in. This is why one important rescue item is international standards for universal docking ports. It greatly simplifies a rescue if a Space Rescue Vehicle from Nation Alfa can easily dock with a distressed vehicle from Nation Bravo. If the freaking DV has incompatable docking ports: you have spend precious time to isolate a sealable room on the distressed ship, cut a blasted hole in the hull, and insert an Attachable Docking Fixture.
But first, the DV is probably spinning like a top, which will make docking practically suicide. So it is time to use despin equipment make the DV settle down.
If it proves impossible to despin the DV and thus impossible to dock, you will have to goto the extra effort of EVA. Break out the EVA space suits or space pods and use a breeches buoy to evacuate the distressed astronauts.
If EVA is not indicated you'll have to do it the hard way with portable airlocks and other heavy-duty gear.
|Communication and Survey Equipment||318|
|Soft Docking Fixture||113|
|Attachable Docking Fixture||363|
|Sampling and Analysis Kit||23|
|Damage Control Equipment||68|
|Extended Survival Kit||227|
|Miscellaneous and Spares||91|
Trying to dock your space rescue vehicle to a spinning distressed vehicle is insanely dangerous. Especially since the blasted DV is probably not just doing a pure spin, it probably has a fierce nutation as well (fancy word for "wobble"). If things are really bad the DV is not just spinning, it is tumbling (simultaneously doing spins around more than one axis, instead of just spinning around a single axis)
They estimate that a DV will probably be spinning at 4 rpm or slower, unless the attitude jets got stuck at maximum throttle or something.
in the wet navy, a Breeches Buoy is a rope based contraption used to transport people from a wrecked ship to a rescue vehicle. In a rocketpunk universe, this would be used for space rescue. If the rescuee knows how to don and handle themselves in a space suit, the Breeches Bouy can be little more than a cable shot by a line-throwing gun.
In different circumstances if the rescuee is a clueless ground-gripping civilian who thinks that a space suit is a sort of halloween costume, or if the rescuee is too severely injured to be capable of getting into a suit, more elaborate equipment is needed. This usually takes the form of some sort of inflatable pressurized bubble just big enough to hold a patient strapped to a stretcher.
The Space rescue report says a comprehensive cis-Lunar rescue plan will need several vehicle types to cover all the emergency situations:
- An orbit-to-orbit specially designed Space Rescue Vehicle (SRV)
- A reusable surface-to-orbit space shuttle capable of carrying a fully loaded SRV in its cargo bay from surface-to-orbit and orbit-to-surface (perhaps with orbital propellant depots to refuel). It has limited rescue capacity, but only for DV in LEO.
- A reusable nuclear orbit-to-orbit shuttle. This is the only means of transportation between LEO and either GEO or lunar orbits. It can deliver and return an SRV.
- A space tug. This is a general purpose orbit spacecraft which can perform many of the functions of a SRV. While not optimized for rescue, there will be many already in orbit performing tasks. It may be quicker to dispatch a space tug rather than wait for a SRV to be ferried up into orbit. The tug probably has more delta-V than a SRV, unless the latter is fitted with a special propulsion stage.
- Orbital Propellant Depots in LEO and lunar orbit
- All space vehicles should have enough emergency delta-V for mid-course abort from in-transit trajectories to either geosynchronous or lunar orbit. This will make them easier to rescue.
- All space vehicles should be equipped with emergency life support. This will give more time for a SRV to arrive.
- All space vehicles should have an international standard universal docking port. Otherwise rescue is much more difficult if the rescue vehicle has incompatible ports.
- A broad enough Terra based communication network to provide continuous coverage with a distressed spacecraft (DV) and SRV anywhere in cis-Lunar space. And provide radar tracking coverage for DV with damaged communications
- Treaties to allow space shuttles or other rescue vehicles to land at international landing sites, in order to reduce required on-orbit loiter periods waiting for a national landing site to come into range. A mid-Pacific landing site is vital.
- A dedicated launching pad and dedicated vehicle for emergency use only may be required to shorten ground-based reaction time. A reaction time of 1 day is acceptable but probably not possible. Ground delays can approach 150 hours. Ascent and rendezvous with a subsynchronous DV can take up to 26 hours. Ascent and rendezvous with a random target can take up to 38 hours.
Payload mass delivered to LEO Cost per payload kilogram 2.8 metric tons $11/kg (1968 dollars)
SASSTO Gross Mass 97,976 kg Empty Mass 6,668 kg LEO Payload 2,812 kg Thrust (vac) 1,558,100 N Specific
464 s Diameter 6.6 m Length 18.8 m Engine Chemical
Num Engines 36
It is relevant to our interest because it could easily be turned into a LEO rescue ship. Especially since it can land under its own power.
In 1966 when winged space shuttle designs were being studied, the Douglas Aircraft Company was doing a cost-benefit analysis. They were comparing reusable space shuttle costs to throwaway two-stage ballistic boosters. Somewhere along the line they took a look at whether it was possible to make a reusable single stage ballistic booster. The SASSTO was the result. The payload was not much, but it was enough for a Gemini space capsule. A Gemini would transform the SASSTO into a space taxi or even a space fighter, capable of satellite inspection missions. Without the Gemini it could deliver supplies and propellant to space stations and spacecraft in LEO.
Bono pointed out how inoperative satellites could become space hazards (although the concept of the Kessler Syndrome would not be created until 1978). A SASSTO could deal with such satellites in LEO (Bono called this Saturn Application Retrieval and Rescue Apparatus or SARRA). Even better, such satellites could be grabbed and brought back to Terra for refurbishment and re-launch. This would be much cheaper than building an entire new satellite from scratch, which would interest satellite corporations. Only satellites in LEO though, communication satellites in geostationary orbit would be out of reach.
The interesting part was on the base. Conventional spacecraft trying to do an aerobraking landing need a large convex heat shield on the base (for example the Apollo command module.). Unfortunately a reusable spacecraft has a large concave exhaust nozzle on the bottom, exactly the opposite of what you want. Tinsley's artist conception for the "Mars Snooper" had petals that would close over the exhaust nozzle sticking out of the heat shield, but that was impractical.
Douglas' solution was to use an aerospike engine with the spike truncated (which they confusingly call a "plug nozzle", contrary to modern terminology). The truncated part became the heat shield, the untruncated part around the edge was the aerospike engine.
This is from Space rescue operations. Volume 2: technical discussion and Space rescue operations. Volume 3: Appendices (1971)
This is a crewed spacecraft designed for a rescue mission, to save astronauts in a disabled spacecraft.
Warning: don't be confused. In the documents are references to an Earth Orbit Shuttle (EOS) and a Space Shuttle (SS). The EOS is what we would call a Space Shuttle, and the Space Shuttle is what we would call a Reusable Nuclear Shuttle.
In the documents, focus on the rescue vehicle called the EOS/MCCM, and ignore any references to the "Space Shuttle." I became mightily perplexed while reading the documents before I figured this out. EOS is "Earth Orbit Shuttle", a reusable heavy lift vehicle. CCM is "Crew/Cargo Module", a standard module sized to fit inside the EOS. They took the CCM design and modified it into an orbit-to-orbit rescue vehicle, a "Modified Crew/Cargo Module" or MCCM.
The space rescue vehicle relies upon the existence of an EOS capable of boosting the SRV into orbit and transporting it from orbit to the ground. This means the EOS has to have a cargo bay large enough to accommodate the SRV (which means when you are modifying a CCM into a SRV, don't make it too large to fit), and the EOS needs enough delta V for a loaded round trip (which may mean stationing orbital propellant depots in LEO for a quick re-fuel).
The Space Rescue Vehicle (SRV) is a standard EOS crew/cargo module (which in our time-line was never created) modified into a space vehicle. It is called the Modified Crew/Cargo Module or MCCM. Rescue specific features include:
- Docking fixtures
- Air lock
- Special rescue equipment
- Rescue trained crew
For low delta-V missions (60 m/s) it relies upon its RCS for propulsion, if more delta-V is needed a large propulsive module (PM) can be attached (LOX/LH2 fuel). It is not capable of reentry, it has to return to an orbital safe haven (space station or reentry vehicle). It can be based in orbit, or based on Terra and boosted into orbit by an EOS.
An MCCM boosted by an EOS has no propulsive module, if one is needed a second flight is need to boost it into orbit to be mated to the MCCM. The modules will probably be loosely based in the propulsion modues for the Boeing Space Tug. In the table below, different sizes of propulsive modules are shown with their different delta-V capabilities.
ΔV 61 m/s 305 m/s 4,330 m/s 5,490 m/s Life Support 4 days 4 days 4 days 14 days Crew and
15 Payload 4,990 kg PM dry mass 0 kg 358 kg 5,200 kg 7,400 kg Propellant Mass 187 kg 1,000 kg 31,500 kg 51,700 kg TOTAL 13,600 kg 15,000 kg 50,300 kg 72,600 kg
As mentioned before, the Space Rescue Vehicle is a EOS crew/cargo module modified into a spacecraft.
The foreword compartment is probably loosely based on the crew module for the Boeing Space Tug.
The center compartment is retrofitted with a sizable reaction control system (RCS). This can be the entirety of the spacecraft's propulsion system for missions with delta-V requirements under 60 meters per second. Otherwise a larger propulsion stage is mated to the "aft" end.
The aft cargo compartment is refitted to accommodate crew and passengers from the distressed vehicle, including incapacitated members transported by personnel carriers. The cargo section is also outfitted to allow medical aid to be provided, allowing the SRV to also act as an ambulance.
Since the SRV is based on an EOS crew/cargo module, it can be designed to fit into an EOS (NASA space shuttle) cargo bay. This will allow it to be boosted into orbit and recovered back to Terra's surface by an EOS. This allows the SRV to use off-the-shelf technology instead of the headache of designing some new technology from scratch.
The SRV has an estimated reaction time of one to two days, between the declaration of the emergency and the launch of the SRV. Estimated cost is $250 million US in research and development, and $70 million US per unit, in 1971 dollars (about $1.55 billion and $434 million US in 2019 dollars). Estimated service life of the SRV is 16 rescue missions.
It is possible to make an uncrewed version of the SRV, but of course the rescue will need more self-help on the part of the crew of the distressed vehicle. The SRV is required in rescues when the crew of the distressed vehicle are incapacitated or otherwise incapable of utilizing self-help.