Monday, March 17, 2014

On The Wings of Apollo, Really

The 1960's were a heady time for space exploration. Many of the designs that were being churned out by the various agencies and companies were marvelous, sometimes odd, always interesting. There were also dozens of proposed variants of most  of the actual crewed spacecraft. 
The Apollo program had numerous such proposals. The Apollo Applications Program was a way to look beyond the 1960's, well into the 70's and beyond, for uses of Apollo derived hardware. Only one of those larger proposals would ever see the light of day, the Skylab space station. Many of these post-lunar mission proposals would be written about extensively. Sometimes, however, projects seem to fly just below the general public's radar, and many contractor studies seem to have never been published in detail. 
One such study dates back to the mid-1960's, before the Apollo even flew its first mission. In the U.S. Patent Office archive you can find design 213,146. This was filed in November of 1967 by three engineers at North American Rockwell; Burton Barnett, Frederick Raymes, and Thomas A. Sackinger. They were proposing a vastly different Apollo spacecraft. 
Their version had wings.

This early version would continue to be refined, and in April of 1971, the USPO would issue it patent number 3,576,298. 


Their design had many features that made it better than lifting bodies (in their opinion), and included a small cargo bay. It would be able to do on orbit work, deploy, maybe even repair, satellites, and possibly be used to support space stations. In their final patent design, they proposed using the Saturn V to launch it; I suspect that it could have been lofted by an enhanced Saturn IB as well, which would have been a far cheaper alternative. 

By the time the patent was awarded, however, the space shuttle was being developed. As luck would have it, their employer, Rockwell, would win the contract. 
In short, the winged Apollo was an in-house study that went no further, but it was still one that they felt had enough merit to patent. 
I wonder if it could be developed. I look at its shape and question its ability to re-enter. Those swing wings could have proven troublesome, and the original ablative material might not have been sufficient. If, and this is a great big if, it had been developed, I have little doubt that changes that made it into the shuttle would have found their way here. In my interpretation, I have stuck with most of the major features, such as the jettisonable engine bell and how the landing gear would extend. The changes I chose to make are to the ablative material, here using a tile and blanket system similar to the one found on the shuttle. In my drawing, it is coming for a landing at the skid strip at Canaveral Air Force Station. 
Aside from the patent information, I have been unable to find any more information about this design. Sadly, as it looked to be such an interesting, if somewhat wild, idea. 

If you are interested in viewing the original patents, here are their links via Google Patent Search.

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