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MOOSE bailout
MOOSE bailout

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In the early 1960’s, in the hey-day of the X-20 Dynasoar, it seemed that the US military would naturally keep building military aerospacecraft that would just keep going higher and faster. It was also supposed that the pilot would have to be given the equivalent of an ejection seat - some means of bailing out of the spacecraft in case of catastrophic failure or enemy attack.

So it came to pass that a variety of foaming, inflatable, deployable systems were proposed - among them the famous General Electric MOOSE and the Space General FIRST. These gave the suited pilot the chance to step out into the void from a crippled craft, pull the ripcord, and manually cannonball or glide to the earth’s surface.

In the late 1960’s, when the Air Force ILRV and NASA Shuttle were being studied, these designs were revisited - now upgraded for three or more crew. In the end, they were not adopted - even after the Challenger disaster. Since the payload impact was not great, one can only suppose that the idea just seemed too fantastic to be really credible.

Here is the ultimate adventure awaiting some millionaire thrill seeker. The FAA may not approve, but how about strapping your fanny to some surplus Russian SLBM or developing country space launcher. A quick boost to orbit, a few photo opportunities, then the challenging retrofire and that long free fall or paraglide back to the earth.... As sports become ever more extreme and expensive, surely the next millennium will find the spaceways filled not with government employees but rather daredevils out for their Sunday adrenaline rush....

Spacecraft: 1 Crew Lifeboat.

One crew lifeboat capsule, separable, not re-entry capable, short duration. Mass per crew 266 kg.

Spacecraft: 1 Crew Lifeboat Long Term.

One crew lifeboat capsule, separable, not re-entry capable, long duration. For use on Mars/Venus expedition. How the crew member in the coffin-sized was box was to remain sane over a long period was perhaps questionable... Mass per crew 517 kg.

Spacecraft: 3 Crew Lifeboat.

Three crew bailout lifeboat separable, not re-entry capable, short duration. Mass per crew 239 kg.

Spacecraft: 3 Crew Lifeboat Long Term.

Three crew lifeboat capsule, separable, not re-entry capable, long duration. For use on Mars/Venus expedition. Mass per crew 511 kg.

Spacecraft: 1 Crew Ballistic Re-entry Capsule.

One crew ballistic re-entry capsule. Orbital escape - no abort capability. Mass per crew 327 kg.

Spacecraft: 3 Crew Lifting Re-Entry Concept.

Three crew lifting re-entry capsule. Orbital escape - no abort capability. Mass per crew 434 kg.

Spacecraft: FIRST Re-Entry Glider.

In the early 1960’s Aerojet studied project FIRST (Fabrication of Inflatable Re-entry Structures for Test) in order to evaluate the use of inflatable Rogallo wings for emergency return from orbit. The system would be stowed in a cylindrical package, docked to the external surface of a space station. In an emergency the escaping crew member would enter the coffin-sized cylinder, seal the back hatch, and be blown free of the station. The paraglider would then inflate and deploy. The crew member would use a gas stabilisation and control system to orient the spacecraft for retro-fire, and then to keep the glider at the correct attitude for re-entry. From a 600 km circular station orbit re-entry would occur 26 minutes and 11,800 km from retro-fire at an altitude of 110 km. Computer studies indicated that minimum heating would occur at a re-entry angle of - 1 degrees, an angle of attack of 70 degrees, and a lift to drag ratio of 0.5. The resulting trajectory was found to be practical under automatic or manual control. G loads during re-entry would not exceed 2.0 G.

The paraglider would reach transonic speeds at an altitude of 43,000 m. From here its subsonic lift-to-drag ration of 8.0 would give it a 345 km range to reach a landing point. Landing speed would be 55 kph; a flare just before touchdown would reduce the horizontal velocity to 9 kph.

Spacecraft: Advanced Manned System 1961.

Six crew ballistic re-entry capsule. Orbital escape - abort capability. Mass per crew 548 kg.

Spacecraft: LEAP.

LEAP was an early 1960's British design for getting disabled astronauts on the lunar surface quickly to lunar orbit for ferrying home. The disabled crew member would be laid horizontally in a cylindrical pressurized capsule. Guidance was by a simple timer.At the necessary moment before the rescue craft passed overhead, the engine on the litter would ignite and send it straight up for 56 seconds, attaining a velocity sufficient to reach the fixed 61 km altitude of the rescue craft orbit. The nozzle would then swivel and fire along the long axis of the litter, accelerating it to the 1570 m/s orbital velocity of the rescue craft. Rendezvous operations and transfer of the crew were up to the rescue craft.

Spacecraft: 5 Crew Lifeboat.

Five crew lifeboat capsule, separable, not re-entry capable, short duration. Mass per crew 284 kg.

Spacecraft: 10 Crew Shelter.

Ten crew emergency shelter capsule, not separable, not re-entry capable, long duration. Mass per crew 301 kg.

Spacecraft: MOOSE.

MOOSE was perhaps the most celebrated bail-out from orbit system of the early 1960’s. The suited astronaut would strap the MOOSE to his back, and jump out of the spacecraft or station into free space. The MOOSE consisted of a chest-mounted parachute, a flexible, folded 1.8 m diameter elastomeric heat shield, and a canister of polyurethane foam. Pulling the deployment cord would fill the shield into shape and encase the back of the astronaut in perfectly form-fitting polyurethane. The astronaut would use a small hand-held gas get device to orient himself for retro-fire, and then fire a solid rocket motor mounted in the device. After aligning himself for re-entry and putting the MOOSE into a slow roll, he would throw the gas gun away. After a ballistic re-entry, the astronaut would pull the ripcord of the chest-parachute, which would pull him away from the heat shield for a parachute landing. There was also the choice of staying with the shield for a landing on land or water./ The buoyant polyurethane crushable structure would absorb the landing shock, and encased in the foam was a survival kit, SOFAR bomb, radar chaff, altitude flare, and food and water.

Spacecraft: Paracone.

The Douglas Paracone was one of the most minimal schemes for bail-out from orbit. The objective was to hit a continental land mass; for such purposes totally manual re-entry operations were used. After separation from the spacecraft, the undeployed Paracone consisted of essentially the pilot in his seat, with a small solid retrorocket motor mounted on struts above the pilot's chest. The astronaut would first roughly orient himself and the seat facing forward along the direction of orbital motion using cold gas thrusters. Then he would ignite the solid rocket motor. The motor had 18 seconds of low level 'vernier' thrust (9 kgf), during which time the pilot could correct its allignment using hand holds on the motor. It then went into 60 seconds of full thrust (44 kgf). The Paracone was designed to handle re-entry angles resulting from up to 30 degrees misallignment of the motor. Accuracy was within 800 km of the planned impact point.

After retrofire the empty motor was discarded and a large light-weight re-entry shell was deployed from the seat by gas pressure. The same gas supply was used for the reaction control thrusters. With a low ballistic coefficient the Paracone could be made of Rene-41 alloy fabric, with a teflon coating. Heat loads were calculated to be within the heat rejection capacity of the astronaut's portable life support system. A ballistic re-entry followed, with a peak of 9.6 G's. No parachute was required. The terminal velocity of the Paracone was 42 km/hour and impact was absorbed by the crushable structure of the cap of the cone. The total mass of the Paracone system compared favorably with that of conventional ejection seats.

Spacecraft: Re-Entry Escape System.

One crew lifting re-entry capsule. No abort capability. Mass per crew 1171 kg.

Spacecraft: Re-Entry Glider-Six Crew.

A six-man parasail escape system was studied as an elaboration of the single-crew system. It was to provide rescue from manned spacecraft as well as stations. The system would have essentially the same flight characteristics, but a smaller-diameter higher-pressure inflatable structure was proposed. It would be a ‘hotter’ aircraft, with triple the wing loading. The vehicle would have a 7 kg nitrogen gas supply for orienting itself for retro-fire from orbit. Re-entry would be controlled by a guidance computer using data from a strap-down gyro package and air data sensors. It was expected that the guidance system would obtain state vector updates from the station or spacecraft before it was ejected. The 70 degree re-entry would be computer controlled. Angle of attack would be modulated to fly a constant 5-G trajectory. After that the parasail would be rolled as necessary to obtain cross-range to reach the landing point.

Spacecraft: GE Life Raft.

The GE Life raft was a rigid unpressurized aeroshell. Three crew in space suits with parachutes would strap themselves into the seats. A headup display was provided for manually alligning the raft for retrofire, which was accomplished using a cold gas reaction control system. The aeroshell itself consisted of new non-ablative materials with a foam core. Mass per crew: 80 kg.

Spacecraft: Lockheed EEOED.

Lockheed's EEOED was a three-crew Discovery-type re-entry vehicle. Unlike other concepts, it was equipped with a wide 1 m diameter hatch and provided a pressurized shirt-sleeve enivronment for the three crew. New lightweight heat shield technologies would, it was claimed, make possible a total mass for three crew less than that of the original one-crew Mercury capsule. Mass per crew: 413 kg.

Spacecraft: Rescue Gemini.

A version of Gemini was proposed for rescue of crews stranded in Earth orbit. This version, launched by a Titan 3C, used a transtage for maneuvering. The basic Gemini reentry module was extended to 120 inches (3.05 m) diameter to provide a passenger compartment for up to three rescued crew. The same concept would eventually be used for Big Gemini.

Spacecraft: SAVER.

The Rockwell SAVER concept provided return of a single crew member in his ejection seat. A nosecap only the size of the seat absorbed most of the re-entry heat. The rest was dissipated through a huge inflatable baloon deployed from the seat. The concept promised a compact, lightweight solution and allowed the possibility to modulate drag and re-entry loads during re-entry by changing the size of the balloon. but requried new materials technology for the nosecap and balloon material.

Spacecraft: AIRMAT.

Inflatable; space suits required; ejection seat; requires development of flexible heat shield and new materials. Mass per crew 570 kg.

Spacecraft: Rib Stiffened Expandable Escape System.

This Rockwell concept was stowed in a canister. In an emergency, the articulated rib-truss structure would be deployed into a mechanically rigid aeroshell shape. The crew members would be housed in a shirtsleeve environment. Mass per crew 220 kg.

Spacecraft: Apollo Rescue CSM.

Influenced by the stranded Skylab crew portrayed in the book and movie 'Marooned', NASA provided a crew rescue capability for the only time in its history. A kit was developed to fit out an Apollo command module with a total of five crew couches. In the event a Skylab crew developed trouble with its Apollo CSM return craft, a rescue CSM would be prepared and launched to rendezvous with the station. It would dock with the spare second side docking port of the Skylab docking module.

During Skylab 3, one of the thruster quads of the Apollo service module developed leaks. When the same problem developed with a second quad, the possibility existed that the spacecraft would not be maneuverable. Preparation work began to fit out a rescue CSM, and astronauts Vance Brand and Don Lind began preparations to rescue astronauts Bean, Garriott, and Lousma aboard the station. However the problem was localized, work arounds were developed, and the first space rescue mission was not necessary. The Skylab 3 crew returned successfully in their own Apollo CSM at the end of their 59 day mission.

Spacecraft: ENCAP.

The ENCAP encapsulated bailout-from-orbit concept consisted of of a folded heat shield. The astronaut would exit his stranded spacecraft and strap into the seat. Then a gas-powered deployment system would unfold and rigidize the rib structure of the heat shield. The ENCAP was equipped with a parachute for recovery after re-entry. Mass per crew: 266 kg.

Spacecraft: EGRESS.

The Martin Marietta EGRESS escape system was quite convincing since it was based on the proven Encapsulated Ejection Seat System developed by Stanley Aviation for the B-58 bomber in the 1960's. The capsules had already proven their capability of protecting the pilot from supersonic wind blast, supplying oxygen and pressurization at high altitude, executing automatic recovery, absorbing landing impact, and providing food, shelter and survival equipment whether landing on water, land, or ice.

For orbital applications the basic B-58 ejection capsule design was retained, while a new disc-shaped heat shield, reaction control system, and retrorocket were added for descent from orbit. The clamshell doors of the capsule were modified to include a window to allow the pilot to orient the craft for retrofire.

The three-piece telescoping clamshell door was pivoted on each side of the seat. The shells were stowed above the pilot's head. When the ejection handles were raised, the doors telescoped down in a quarter of a second and formed an air-tight seal. The closure of the doors activated the emergency oxygen flow. After re-entry, the capsule would separate from the heat shield. A recovery parachute automatically deployed at a pre-set altitude. Landing impact was absorbed by crushable cylinders and stabilization fins. When landing on water, floration bags would inflate, turning the capsule into a life raft. Mass per crew: 370 kg.

Spacecraft: X-38.

Also known as X-35 (but designation already allocated by USAF to another vehicle) and X-CRV (eXperimental - Crew Return Vehicle). Lifting body reentry vehicle designed as emergency return spacecraft for International Space Station crew. Configuration based on X-24A but nose shows Spiral influence. Designed for indefinite in-orbit storage, uses cold nitrogen gas for attitude control. Deorbit rocket not included in mass (not yet selected). Sized for launch on space shuttle (wingspan fitting inside shuttle cargo bay). 1300 km cross-range allows for landing opportunities ever two to three revolutions of the earth. Consumables for only 9 hours of operation. Uniquely has no control stick, has completely automatic guidance, and cannot be piloted to a landing at an airfield. Instead, after lifting reentry, droge chutes deploy at Mach 0.8, followed by a steerable ram-air parafoil at Mach 0.25. Automated landing by parafoil is to be at speed of 65 km/hr and a sink rate of 3.7 m/s.

Parafoil tests began in 1996, roll out of first of two slightly subscale 7.31 m long atmospheric test vehicles was in November 1996. After captive-carry flights from NB-52 in February 1997, first drop test is to occur in May 1997. First test of space vehicle planned for 1999. All test flights to be unmanned. NASA hopes to break all precedents and develop this manned vehicle for under $ 500 million. Later spaceframe could be stuffed with more elaborate life support, attitude control, and avionics systems to provide manned spacecraft for launch from Ariane 5, Titan 4, Atlas 2, Delta 3, H-2, Proton, or Zenit (thereby finally achieving objective of cancelled Hermes, X-24C, HOPE, and Urgagan projects).

Spacecraft: MOSES.

The General Electric MOSES space rescue concept of the early 1980's took advantage of large re-entry capsules already developed for classified US military projects. 730 kg (one crew), 1300 kg (two crew), or 2320 kg (four crew) versions were possible. The capsules themselves were Discoverer-type blunt bodies, but much larger than those known to be used to recover film from Keyhole satellites. Space suits would be required, but otherwise all internal systems were 'off the shelf'..... Mass per crew: 580 kg to 720 kg.

Spacecraft: Apollo CM Escape Concept.

Escape capsule using Apollo command module studied by Rockwell for NASA for use with the shuttle in the 1970's-80's. Mass per crew: 750 kg.

Spacecraft: Northrop LBEC.

Northrop, building on its work on the HL-10 and M2-F3 lifting bodies, proposed a lifting body three-crew lifeboat. The piloted spacecraft would use a parasail for recovery. A crew of three would be accomodated in a pressurized cabin. The pilot would be required to actively control the spacecraft for retrofire, re-entry, and landing. Development of new heat shield materials would be required. In this Northrop proposal can be seen the same approach used in the X-38 a quarter of a century later. Mass per crew 650 kg.

Spacecraft: Rockwell SHS.

The Rockwell Spherical Heat Shield escape concept used a return capsule shell like a Vostok capsule cut in half. Two crew could be returned in a pressurized environment. Mass per crew 220 kg.

Spacecraft: Skylab Reboost Module.

Module developed for Shuttle to deliver to Skylab to boost it to a higher orbit for use during the Shuttle program. Due to Shuttle development delays, Skylab re-entered and burned up over Australia before the first Shuttle mission, and NASA would have to wait another twenty years for a space station.

Spacecraft: Rescue Ball.

Before the Challenger disaster, shuttle crews wore no space suits. This presented the problem of how to move them from one shuttle to another - if - it was possible to launch a rescue mission before the supplies aboard the stranded shuttle ran out.

To address this problem, Johnson Spaceflight Center devised the most minimal spacecraft of all time - the Personal Rescue Enclosure (PRE) Rescue Ball. The rescue ball was an 86 cm diameter high-tech beach ball with three layers: urethane inner enclosure, Kevlar middle layer, and a white outer thermal protective cover. Crew members were to climb into the ball, assume a fetal position, and be zipped inside by a space suited crew member. They donned an oxygen mask and cradled in their arms a carbon dioxide scrubber/oxygen supply box with one hour worth of oxygen. The ball would be connected by an umbilical to the shuttle to supply air until the airlock depressurized. The crew member would then be floated over to the rescue shuttle by the suited astronaut. The process would be repeated until the entire crew was moved from one spacecraft to another.

A tiny window was provided to prevent total sensory deprivation. It is said that when they were in use, astronaut candidates would be asked to get in one. After fifteen minutes or so, the candidate was asked how long they thought they had been in. If the candidate was not hysterical and guessed anything under an hour, they passed! The space ball was much touted and appeared in all kinds of kids' books about the shuttle before the Challenger explosion. Little has been heard of it since...

Spacecraft: HL-20.

Also known as ACRV (Assured Crew Return Vehicle), CERV (Crew Emergency Return Vehicle) and PLS (Personnel Launch System). NASA Langley design for a manned spaceplane as a backup to the space shuttle (in case it was abandoned or grounded) and as a CERV from the Freedom space station. Lifting body re-entry vehicle based on the Russian BOR-4 design. Designed for two flight crew, eight passengers, piloted landing at airfield on landing gear. During launch a fairing from the Titan IV booster to the spacecraft would have had solid rocket motors (154,000 kgf) for launch abort, with parachutes for a tail-down water landing. Although studied by contractors and a full size mock-up was built, the design was not selected for further development. Soyuz was designated as the International Space Station CERV. When doubts about the availability of Soyuz developed in 1995, NASA proceeded with development of the X-38, a NASA Johnson concept - a smaller version of the X-24 lifting body with a parafoil.

Spacecraft: Alpha Lifeboat.

1995 joint Energia-Rockwell-Khrunichev design for space station Alpha lifeboat based on the Zarya reentry vehicle with a solid retrofire motor, cold gas thruster package. Five years on-orbit storage. Design rejected in June 1996 in favor of use of a modified Soyuz TMA in short term, US X-38 in long term. Mass per crew 1560 kg.

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Last update 28 March 2001.
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© Mark Wade, 2001 .