A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] False Steps, by Paul Drye

Paul Drye is working on a new book, about the alternate histories of the space programs of the world.

I’ve begun a second book project and associated blog (the first one, Passing Strangeness, is finished and due to be e-published as soon as I can wrest an ISBN from Ottawa).


The new topic is things that almost happened in the Space Race (generously expanded to include Germany in WWII, the post-war years up to Sputnik, and the years after Apollo 11). Not the really weird stuff like Project Orion and whatnot, but stuff that was seriously on the drawing board/testing and might have gone into space if money and politics had broken differently. If you think you might be interested in, say, how the Russians were planning on doing their Moon landing, or American super-Apollo stuff that got cancelled in favour of the Space Shuttle, or the couple of abortive attempts the Chinese made at a space program prior to the one they’ve got now, please come and check it out.

Paul’s first post describes the Sänger-Bredt Silbervogel, a spaceplane designed by Eugen Sänger and Irene Bredt in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Silbervogel would have been a two-part ship. The spacecraft itself was to have been a 10-ton, streamlined plane with two stubby wings and two tailfins, both raked upwards at about ten degrees. Four fuel tanks took up most of the fuselage and contained liquid oxygen and kerosene which would burn in a single rocket engine over the course of 168 seconds. On the ground the plane would be mated with a rocket sled which would give it an initial boost from behind along a rail track for a mere ten seconds but with nearly five times the thrust as the spaceplane’s engine.

Once the Silbervogel completed both burns it would be moving at a minimum of Mach 13 (15,926 km/h) and as much as Mach 20 depending on its mission and payload, and reach a maximum altitude of anywhere from 31 to 121.5 kilometers, the latter value being well into space. Just to put this in perspective, the air speed record in 1944 was 1130 kilometers per hour (Mach 0.92), while the altitude record in an aircraft was 17.3 kilometers. Sänger and Bredt did not think small.

The Silbervogel would then begin a roller-coaster-like ride up and down into the Earth’s atmosphere, using its wings and angle of attack to skip off the denser air at about 20 kilometers up and regain altitude for another distance-eating hop. An example diagram in the 1944 paper discussed below shows no less than eight such skips before settling into a steady flight at 20 kilometers and a return to base after a complete trip around the world.

Alas (actually, perhaps “fortunately”) German technology wasn’t up to the task.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 12, 2012 at 1:19 am

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