DARPA Once Planned to Fit Cargo on Top of the Space Shuttle External Tank, CGI Shows How

Hammerhead Space Shuttle CGI take-off 8 photos
Photo: Hazegrayart
Hammerhead Space ShuttleHammerhead Space ShuttleHammerhead Space ShuttleHammerhead Space ShuttleHammerhead Space ShuttleHammerhead Space ShuttleHammerhead Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle will forever remain one of the most successful pieces of engineering ever designed for the exploration of places beyond the borders of our own planet. And it will do so despite several tragedies that have plagued the program.
The Shuttle brought several new ideas and approaches to the space exploration industry, but of interest to us today is its partial reusability. It launched with the power provided by a huge external fuel tank and two solid rocket boosters strapped to each side of the tank.

None of these three elements was reusable, but the Shuttle itself was, as it carried humans and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and back, landing them in airplane-like fashion on a runway.

The thing that set the Shuttle apart from its predecessors is that it was designed to look exactly how space exploration fans would expect a spaceship to look: not a dull-shaped capsule, but a sleek, elegant and, some would say, even beautiful flying machine with an airplane-like body flanked by tiny wings.

And the numbers behind the Shuttle more than confirmed its value. The thing had room for up to seven people at a time, and up to 50,000 pounds (23,000 kg) of cargo, which is impressive to say the least.

It's this cargo capacity though that had some people thinking things could be better. You see, most of the time the Shuttle was filled to capacity in terms of volume, but it only carried on average about 66 percent of its weight capacity.

That wasn't on account of some design flaws or poorly managed loading, but just how things were, on account of the type of cargo in need of transporting. That's why the guys over at DARPA, for instance, had this idea of fitting an extra fairing on top of the Shuttle's main tank, capable of carrying the extra weight.

The tank would reach orbit together with the Shuttle, then open its tank fairing for the cargo to be deployed to orbit. It would then detach and drop back to Earth.

The concept was known as the Hammerhead, because of the distinctive shape of the cylindrical tank with the fairing on top, but like many other concepts in the history of space exploration, it was never realized.

That doesn't mean we can't see it in action thanks to modern technology and some talented hands working magic with computers. Like the guys from space tech animation specialist Hazegrayart usually do.

Below is the crew's most recent video, showing how a typical mission of the redesigned Shuttle would have gone, from the actual launch from the pad to it reaching space and the fairing-loaded cargo being released before the fuel tank began its uncontrolled descent back to the surface of the planet.

If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Daniel Patrascu
Daniel Patrascu profile photo

Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories