For the first phases of aerospace systems development by IST, wherever possible, commercially available components and additive fabrication techniques will be used. To build a "pipeline into space" the intention is to use large numbers of small, highly reusable, space planes and orbital transfer rocket craft. These will have powerful computer facilities on board, using clusters of very cheap single board computers and specialised circuitry such as FPGAs and ASICs. The radiation shielding and environmental control housing required for such standard electronic systems, could weigh as much as 50kg. This is a significant factor in systems which may only deliver a payload of between 0.5 and 1.5 tons to LEO. Nonetheless it is seen as more economic than using space hardened electronic technologies which are orders of magnitude more expensive and much less powerful in computing terms. Such powerful onboard computing facilities will facilitate extremely precise control of craft throughout all phases of their operation and permit highly reliable suborbital rendezvous and payload transfer operations.
Low Earth Orbit launch systems will consist of two main categories:
The first will use High Altitude Platforms at approximately 70,000 ft to launch the first stage vehicle of a space pipeline system. This will primarily be used for the transfer of "dumb mass" in liquid form, much of which will be simple elements such as hydrogen, oxygen, carbon, nitrogen etc. The first stage space plane will weigh about 30 tons at takeoff and will rendezvous with the second stage vehicle at suborbital apogee, with an orbital velocity of about 4 km/s. The second stage will be a much lighter orbital vehicle with a simple aerobrake surface which will collect the payload and additional fuel from the first stage. This will allow it to accelerate the payload to about 6.5 km/s where it will carry out a rendezvous with a third craft, similar to the second but lighter still. This will collect the payload and some fuel from the second vehicle and accelerate to full orbital velocity. At this point, it will transfer the payload to a yet smaller and simpler vehicle, which will take the payload to its first destination in space, either a space station or a fuel depot.
The second system will be a two stage vehicle capable of lifting loads of up to 15 tons to LEO. The first stage will be powered by conventional jet engines to about 40,000 ft and from there LH2/LO2 rockets will power it to a suborbital velocity of about 4 km/s. The second stage will then separate and accelerate to orbit using LH2/L02 rockets optimised for vacuum and near vacuum conditions. Both vehicles will be capable of returning to the ground and landing on a normal airstrip. The second stage craft which goes into space will not be capable of reentry into the atmosphere using unpowered aerobrake methods. A craft designed for such flight regimes, has to be made much stronger both internally and externally than a vehicle which has a maximum atmospheric velocity of about Mach 4.0. Without an aerobrake capability, the second stage will have to be decelerated in orbit down to an orbital velocity of almost zero. This will be possible at very low cost since our first launch category of vehicles will efficiently put large supplies of rocket fuel into orbit. Using a simpler and lighter design of craft will avoid the reentry stresses and strains of a heavier aerobraking vehicle and will permit a much higher reusability factor and a much shorter turnaround time between flights.
Although both categories of launch system will be used mainly for autonomous flights carrying cargo to LEO, it is intended that both be made capable of carrying astronauts and passengers also. Safety issues involved are addressed by transporting all passengers and crew inside radiation shielded pods each carrying up to 4 persons. These will all have independent heat shields and parachute systems with full reentry capability. They will be able to eject from the main craft at any time should a serious problem occur. All persons on board will also have individual parachutes provided and can egress the personnel pod to land independently should it be necessary.
Space is a hostile environment, the safety of persons travelling into space can only be achieved by providing as many options as possible in the context of all risks as they occur.
Once in LEO, cargoes will be delivered either to space stations or to storage facilities such as fuel depots. The aim of the first major phase of development by IST will be to build rotating space stations, with high levels of radiation shielding. These will allow astronauts and space tourists to live for extended periods of time in comfort with plentiful supplies of provisions. These bases will serve as workshops for the in-orbit refurbishment and resupply of launch vehicles and other craft used in orbit. The next major goal after the development of space stations will be to build large geostationary power satellites. This is a major undertaking and large receiving stations will also be required on the ground in order to deliver enough energy to replace fossil fuel and other energy sources based on the Earth. Efficient large scale power generation and transmission, is the only way a space economy can become viable to the extent that it can fund its own expansion into more advanced areas such as asteroid mining and large space colonies.
Although IST intends to build and operate all craft and other facilities required to achieve its goals, these craft and operating facilities will not be offered for sale to third parties. In terms of commercial offerings we only intend to sell the end products of our development such as energy receivable on the ground, space tours, and other specialised goods which may be manufactured in space.
As our name suggests we intend to patiently build every step of a pipeline into space and subsequently of a fully working space economy. This will require different thinking from most space engineering achieved to date. The era of expendable or even semi-expendable space craft only lifting a few tons per year to space at phenomenal cost - is over. We do not intend to be distracted by continually having to adjusting our technology specifications according to the requirements of customers at every stage. We will deliver pure clean energy to Earth on a scale of millions of Gigawatt hours per year and allow people to travel into space in their millions. Any space activities at a smaller scale belong to the era of preliminary space exploration.