Overheard on CNN: New shuttle needs space plane 'coolness'

Story highlights

  • CNN commenter: Space planes have higher "coolness" than shuttle
  • Winged space shuttle passes first aerodynamics flight test
  • SpaceX Dragon capsule plans to add propulsive landing on solid ground
  • Wings-versus-capsule engineer debate can be "almost religious"
They call it the "coolness factor."
CNN commenters -- clearly energized about the promise of a new, privately developed space shuttle -- are buzzing about winged spacecraft versus capsule-based vehicles like Dragon, which SpaceX used for its historic visit to the space station last month.
A commenter called "gregory" points out the Skylon space plane project in the UK. The theory behind space planes is they would be able to take off from a runway, rocket into low orbit, and then fly to a landing on a runway.
Gregory suggests that space planes are preferable because their engines would be designed to "breathe air like a jet at lower speeds" and then "switch to rocket mode in the high atmosphere." CNN reported on Skylon last year and one insider estimated development cost to be around $10 billion. NASA's program to fund private spacecraft development offers only a fraction of that amount -- less than $400 million awarded so far.
Sierra Nevada's Dream Chaser orbiter, which passed an aerodynamics flight test last month, would launch atop an Atlas V rocket and uses wings to fly back to a runway landing on earth.