Oct 17, 2008

For Cheap Payloads to Orbit, Think BIG!

This blog post is about the Sea Dragon, probably the biggest rocket ever designed.

The Sea Dragon was designed by Robert Truax for Aerojet in 1962 with the intention of determining the cost savings that would be possible by building a launch vehicle on a scale of large ocean-fairing ships. The concept developed was a two-stage vehicle, roughly half the size of the TITANIC, built in a ship yard and then towed to the launch site in the open sea for launch from a partially submerged position direction out of the ocean.

(Sea DragonCredit - © Mark Wade, and Astronautix.com)

The first stage used Liquid OXygen (LOX) and Kerosene, and had a parachute system landing on the ocean 290 km downrange. An option for recovery and reuse of the stage was also investigated. The second was LOX and Liquid Hydrogen, and stayed in the destination low-Earth orbit.

The main design parameters were:
  • LEO payload capacity: 450,000 kg (to 185 km Orbit)
    Take-off weight: ~20,000 tons
  • Height: 168m
  • Diameter: 23m
  • Weight at Launch: 18,000 tonnes
  • Launch Price: $300 million (1962 dollars)

Costs to low earth orbit were estimated to be around $600/kg, about one quarter that of the Saturn V.

Will the future bring gigantic Space-Freighter rockets like this lifting out of the ocean to take large amounts of payload to orbit at low costs? We hope so, because it would make space more accessible

References and further reading:

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tribolumen said...

I think that's probably $300 million in launch cost; $300 billion would be upwards of $600,000 per kg of payload.

There were some really mammoth variants of the Saturn V that were conceptualized, too. I think Sea Dragon was larger than any of them, though.

Of course, the real monster of spaceship concepts was ORION. Versions up to a million tons or so were considered, and appear to be feasible. Then again, ORION uses nuclear pulse propulsion (aka "boom-boom"), so it's not a rocket per se...

White Label Space said...

Hi Tribolumen, thanks for the sanity check. I've updated that typo to the correct value of $300 million

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