Waverider Shuttle


The first step for any Earth-bound space traveler is getting up there. This is actually the hardest, most expensive part of any space voyage. Space vehicles leaving Earth must travel through a dense atmosphere and climb out of a deep, steep gravity well. Passenger-carrying spaceplanes accomplish this utilizing a combination of air-breathing "scramjet" engines and high-thrust rocket motors, arriving in low Earth orbit (LEO) with just enough rocket fuel for a de-orbit retro-burn. The returning spaceplane must survive a scorching re-entry and then "dead glide" to a safe landing.

Waveriders handle re-entry and gliding in a unique, highly efficient manner. Waveriders have sharp noses and wing leading-edges, which the underside shock-surface attaches to, therefore air flowing in through the shocksurface is trapped between the shock and the fuselage, and can only escape at the rear of the fuselage. Shocks are one-way, the second law of thermodynamics prevents air flowing back through a shock the way it came in. With this design all the lift is retained, so although the sharp leading edges get a lot hotter than rounded ones at the same air density, the improved lift means that Waveriders can re-entry glide at much higher altitudes where the air-density is lower which gives them a much greater cross-range than conventional spaceplanes. Re-entry heating is a function of air density, so waveriders suffer much reduced re-entry heating rates (provided their wing-areas are large compared to their mass).

About the model: The Waveliner orbital spaceplane pictured above is my interpretation of a large passenger carrying "waverider". The 1/200 scale spaceplane's fuselage was scratch-built from sheet plactic. Rocket engines and cockpit window decals were scavanged from a snap-together Space Shuttle kit. I used a Kroy lettering machine to make the other decals. The arrowhead-shaped spaceplane is designed to be launched using either a long electromagnetic rail or a large rocket booster. The Waveliner has four high-thrust LH2/LOX rocket engines to carry it into orbit. Passengers and/or cargo are carried in a self-contained module which is loaded into a payload bay via two large doors on the Waveliner's upper fuselage. To save weight and improve thermal protection, the Waveliner lacks landing gear. The spaceplane glides to a landing on water and is then towed back to its spaceport for refueling.


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