Concept of Operations
Our destiny in space has always been inextricably linked to our launch vehicles.
-Astronaut Buzz Aldrin
Spacelift operations in 2025 will be primarily commercial. The market began transforming from one of reliance on national space programs and international consortiums to one driven by private industry in the 1990s.34 As commercial markets continued to expand, the cost of launch decreased, as more and more commercial innovations capitalized on inexpensive access to space. Many commercial spacelift providers specialize in operations leaving manufacturing to someone else, much the way airlines have run commercial air operations for decades. Large corporations capable of building, launching, and operating space-based systems sell such services as communications and imagery instead of selling hardware and launches. A spacelift reserve fleet (SRF) of commercial MTVs, analogous to the commercial reserve aircraft fleet handles wartime spacelift surge requirements.
The DOD operates a wing of dedicated MTV vehicles to ensure spacelift responsiveness, global presence (ISR), and global power (strategic attack). These vehicles give commanders a flexible spacelift option and facilitate other ETO missions, like ISR, a small unit or troops, and/or equipment deployment, rapidly to a remote part of the world. The MTVs fly from a main operating base, such as Peterson AFB, Colorado and Holloman AFB, New Mexico, but are capable of operating from sites.35 Operating bases are selected according to public safety, elevation, and proximity to the equator, but the system is capable of operating at any airfield to maximize flexibility.
The operating base consists of minimal facilities. A central operations center houses the virtual cockpits employed to fly the preponderance of unmanned missions. Fuel storage, maintenance, and a cargo-ready area are also sited with the vehicles. The crew for a mission consists of a pilot and a mission specialist, plus a ground-based crew chief and technician support.
The system requires minimum support in terms of a maintenance crew. It is capable of flying 100 missions without a major overhaul. The routine turnaround time is measured in minutes instead of days and is performed by technicians instead of engineers. Tech data is developed using AI and approved prior to operations to facilitate this capability. The MTV's expendable rocket predecessors were operated in accordance with a set of procedures developed or revised before each mission by an army of engineers. This R&D mentality led to many of the inefficiencies of spacelift in the last century. Built-in-test and fault tolerance streamline both operations and maintenance. Extensive use of the AI tech data and LRUs all but eliminates the need for a depot. The manufacturer serves in what little depot role is left.
The 2025 MTV incorporates standard interfaces for its modular payload packages. Though primarily an unmanned system, the MTV packages can contain crew compartments, satellites, weapons bays, or refly modules. MTVs are used in both the ETO and the ETE mission areas. The same crews are capable of space support missions, force enhancement and force application. The standard interfaces provide a baseline for the development of tech data and facilitate the mission rates required to realize economies of scale. The large number of missions using the same multipurpose vehicle reduces the cost per pound to orbit by allowing development costs to be amortized over a greater number of flights.
While most satellites have evolved into smaller networks of distributed satellites, some heavy-lift requirements remain. Space station resupply and some reconnaissance satellites still need heavy lift, since some of them could not be shrunk while maintaining the quality of products.36 Given the long-development timelines, the big satellites have not yet capitalized on the small reconnaissance technology now available. As a result, operational EELV heavy lifters still operate out of Vandenberg AFB and Cape Canaveral.
In the STS area, OTVs have commercial, civil, national, and defense missions as well. Operating like harbor tugs, commercial OTVs fall under the same SRF arrangement as MTVs with the military owning several dedicated units. OTVs dock at the international space station or the DOD defense station as a base of operations. From there, they push new satellites into higher energy orbits and retrieve satellites needing fuel, maintenance, or retrofit. Replenished satellites are then returned to their operational orbits. While the civil/commercial OTV is powered by solar-electric propulsion, the military version uses a nuclear-ion drive to give it a more rapid response time. The following is a notional scenario employing the operational aspects of the US spacelift system for illustration purposes.
A Plausible 2025 Scenario
The high-demand 2025 space lift system is incorporated into second generation fleets of MTVs transitioning to third generation. With a spacelift wing consisting of more than 40 operational MTVs and a squadron consisting of 10 OTVs, all US aerospace missions are obtainable. The US Spacelift Wing is the deterrent force with rapid response to anywhere in the world in less than an hour.
EELVs are being phased out in favor of the NASA/commercial cooperative heavy-lift MTV incorporating the "accelerator class" engine. The medium lift MTV operates with excess performance margin with a reliability record greater than 0.99.
Mission 45. The 45th mission of MTV #3 is scheduled for launch. This mission is preceded by systems check in the preflight facility, which checks structural integrity and interfaces with the vehicle's self diagnostics. A satisfactory check at the 45 sortie point historically indicates that 100 launch criteria will be met prior to overhaul. Finally, the modular payload is inserted into the cargo bay. The vehicle is delivered to the erection and launch area and refueled. Time elapsed is two hours. Previously, MTV #3 has boosted two medium-lift payloads to LEO for repositioning by the standby OTV to GEO in the last 36 hours. The unmanned, virtually piloted, MTV #3 has enabled the accommodation of increased payload.
MTV #6 is sending a human payload of six space technicians to the space station for the first phase expansion to an OTV overhaul facility. MTVs #7 and #8 have recently positioned modular components for the space station in LEO.
In the past 60 days, 39 missions have been flown including a record 11 launches in two days by three MTVs. Spacelift wing projects four missions per day average by 2026. The MTV success has generated funding for 22 third generation MTVs and two, third generation propulsion demonstrators using a Penning trap in a microfusion/antimatter propulsion system. Estimated cost per pound to orbit is $200/lb with projections to $100/lb in the next 10 years.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the MTV/OTV system is that, with a wing of 100 vehicles and two squadrons of OTVs, if just 30 percent of the wing is mobilized at a sortie rate of two launches per MTV per day, a four day launch schedule would yield 10.8 million pounds of lift for $ 4.3 billion. This is equivalent to the entire US spacelift in the 20th Century. During one year, it is possible to sortie each vehicle 70 times including maintenance periods. A wing of 100 MTVs would put 315 million pounds into orbit at a cost of $ 126 billion. The weight is equivalent to putting three aircraft carriers in space! If the space shuttle were used, it would take 20 times as long at a cost of $ 4 trillion.
With the miniaturization of PGM weapons and reusable carrying capacity,
space control enthusiasts once again claim that space superiority can by
itself win wars and that space is the truly joint environment. The costs
of conducting a seven day hyperwar with MTVs and OTVs would run about $
10 billion excluding payload weapon costs. Decisive force is brought to
bear within 40 minutes of the NCA decision. OTVs conduct routine refueling
of the satellite constellation and rearming of the ABM defenses. Next week
is a combined joint exercise in counterspace force application against
a fictitious enemy's satellite system.
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