UF helps work on shuttle successor
Published: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 2:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 1, 2003 at 12:00 a.m.
Among the scientists who will carefully examine what caused today's tragic shuttle crash is Wei Shyy, a University of Florida scientist and head of a $15 million project to design a safer, less expensive replacement for the shuttle by 2025.
"Like everybody else, it's a shock to see this," said Shyy, director of the Institute for Future Space Transport.
"It's so sad to see that," he said from his UF office today, where he was working on his next NASA research proposal.
Last June, the space agency awarded a Florida-led consortium of seven universities a $15 million grant to develop the next generation of reusable launch vehicle, or RLV, which would replace the current space shuttles or their successors.
Around noontime, it was unclear what caused the shuttle to break up, although early speculation focused on whether the shuttle may have been damaged at takeoff.
Improving shuttle safety is one of the key charges to its research consortium, said Shyy, chair of Florida's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.
"We want to make sure we can avoid seeing the most tragic situation because of the failure of the structural integrity," said Shyy.
The consortium began tackling that charge last June, using a four-pronged focus on propulsion technologies, airframe technologies, vehicle maintenance, and systems integration and design optimization. The research consortium also includes Cornell, Georgia Tech, Alabama, Syracuse, North Carolina A&T and Prairie View A&M in Texas.
When an airliner crashes, thousands of aircraft the same day take off and land. When a shuttle crashes, Shyy said, "I will expect we will take a significant pause and make sure we know exactly what caused this to happen."
"Nobody is going to take that lightly," said Shyy, who learned of today's tragedy when a fellow NASA researched called.
In an earlier interview about the consortium's work, Shyy said "We will not be able to continue to rely on the space shuttle for frequent low-orbital missions - the costs are just too prohibitive.
"Instead, we have to develop technology that will eventually fly spacecraft more like aircraft, in terms of cost, safety and maintenance, and that's the focus of this institute."
Shyy said getting away from the rocket technology that has propelled human space exploration from its inception would go a long way toward achieving NASA's ambitious goals for these third-generation, or Gen3, vehicles: a 100-fold reduction to about $100 per pound in launch costs, and a 10,000-fold increase in safety to one death in a million flights.
But achieving orbit with a plane-like RLV is not just a matter of pointing an F-15 fighter skyward, says Shyy.
The technological hurdles to reaching escape velocity of more than 3,000 miles per hour (Mach 5) are many, including identifying new fuels, engine shapes and airframes.
Carrie Miller can be reached at 338-3103 or email@example.com
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