Using the X-37B as a space ambulance?


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Researchers have proposed using the Air Force’s X-37B as an ambulance in space.

Halberg said that an effective astronaut taxi should, among other things, be able to stay at the ISS for two years or more at a stretch; be capable of getting people back to Earth rapidly, within three hours or so; impose minimal G-loads on occupants; have the ability to land close to a hospital; and allow patients to lie in a supine position. These requirements all point to a space plane rather than a capsule, Halberg said — meaning SpaceX’s Dragon capsule and Boeing’s CST-100 capsule, which are scheduled to start flying NASA astronauts to and from the ISS within the next year or two, wouldn’t make the grade as ambulances.

Another private crew-carrying vehicle that’s currently in development, Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser space plane, is an intriguing option that bears further investigation, Robinson and Halberg said. But their initial concept study focused on the robotic X-37B, chiefly because the 29-foot-long (8.8 meters) military space plane has already racked up millions of miles in orbit, while Dream Chaser has yet to launch.

Makes sense, though once Dream Chaser is flying it will have the potential to provide the same service with far greater capabilities.

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5 comments

  • wodun

    Boeing could have built an X-37C if they wanted to.

    I like the idea of more X-37B’s though. We should have a fleet of them with different capabilities and ready to launch on demand just like our nuclear weapons.

    Sierra Nevada actually put their money where their mouth is so it would be great if they got a shot at being an ambulance.

    Two years is a long time to tie up the use of a vehicle. It could be better if the Dream Chaser or an X-37 variant was part of the normal mix of suppliers to the ISS. This would provide for 100% uptime, or close to it, while still allowing the companies to make money through servicing more customers through more launches.

  • fred

    > effective astronaut taxi should, among other things, be able to stay at the ISS for two years or more at a stretch; be capable of getting people back to Earth rapidly, within three hours or so; impose minimal G-loads on occupants; have the ability to land close to a hospital; and allow patients to lie in a supine position.

    Sounds like extreme requirements creep and/or stacking taxi requirements on top of ambulance requirements and vice versa. Should it have 1000 mile cross range? Built-in intensive care?

    There *might* be value in such a vehicle in some extreme circumstances (which haven’t happened yet in the more than 50 years of spaceflight).

    NASA would be better off spending money on having multiple manned vehicles at ISS simultaneously, along with independent shelters, and alternate escape pathways.

  • D.K. Williams

    Adding life support systems to the X-37 might take NASA thirty years if left to their own devices.

  • LocalFluff

    @fred, Yeah, that’s my sentiment too.This might be needed in a future when human space flight (in LEO) is many times more common. Today the money for this be better spent on avoiding an emergency. Today a sick astronaut could be returned in a Soyuz.

  • Wodun

    Soyuze is a rough ride. Dream Chaser might give them a better option soon enough.

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