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Douglas ROMBUS

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By William-Black   |   
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Reusable Orbital Module-Booster & Utility Shuttle

ROMBUS was a reusable single-stage-to-orbit Vertical Take-Off Vertical Landing (VTOVL) launch vehicle proposed by Phil Bono of Douglas Aircraft Company in1964.

Phil Bono’s ROMBUS is the basis for an entire family of aerospacecraft, including a single-stage inter-continental ballistic troop transport concept that could deliver 1,200 combat-ready men or 132 tons of equipment anywhere on Earth within 45 minutes.

Military versions of the aerospacecraft were dubbed ICARUS (Inter-Continental Aerospacecraft-Range-Unlimited-System) and subclasses of this design were Ithacus, a troop carrier,  and Ithacus Jr., a military cargo and equipment transporter, which will be featured in an upcoming post.

The civilian aerospacecraft was Pegasus, a Saturn V-class intercontinental rocket capable of transporting 170-260 passengers and 13-33.5 tons of cargo at 25,000km/h, or 90 tons to a 560km low Earth orbit, or, alternately, transport 172 passengers and their luggage the 12,000 km from Vandenberg to Singapore in 39 minutes.

Scott Lowther has assembled a diagram of the various ROMBUS configurations, which can be found here.    

Source diagram for the configuration I’ve illustrated (also sourced from Scott Lowther’s Unwanted Blog) can be found here.   

Above, image Left, is the booster launch configuration. Image Right is the core recovered stage sans payload aeroshell.

At the heart of the ROMBUS concept is Phil Bono’s patented plug nozzle rocket engine.

The plug nozzle rocket is composed of thirty-six small rocket engines positioned around a central “plug” body, angled inward to fire along the body of the plug, the engine-system is considered a single unified engine. During ascent, a plug nozzle provides automatic altitude compensation and therefore good performance at both sea level atmospheric pressure and in space.

Eight liquid hydrogen tanks are mounted around the core ROMBUS booster – these stage in pairs at 130 seconds, 196 seconds, and 300 seconds after launch. After jettison the tanks would descend by parachute for later recovery.

For final orbital insertion, 16 of the 36 engines would burn for 3 seconds to provide the required velocity. After payload deployment the booster would reenter base first. During reentry the plug nozzle would be cooled by circulating liquid hydrogen through the same regenerative system used for cooling the engines and base of the vehicle while the engines are operating during ascent. Parachutes and then retrorockets would be used to safely land the vehicle. The final touchdown burn would be provided by four engines running at 25% thrust for approximately twelve seconds.
 
Phil Bono’s Douglas ROMBUS & Krafft Arnold Ehricke’s Convair Nexus

There is a great deal of similarity between these RLV’s, both utilize a plug nozzle design – the distinction being ROMBUS used base-first entry and Nexus used nose-first entry.

The Nexus reusable rocket was a concept design created in the 1960’s by a group at General Dynamics led by Krafft Arnold Ehricke. It was intended as the next leap beyond the Saturn V, carrying up to eight times more payload – see my post  here and here.

George Allegrezza, on Scott Lowther’s Unwanted Blog, observes: “Bono and Ehricke knew each other and their paths certainly crossed in the California aerospace culture of the period. Much like the punk/new wave era or the first years of the Internet, intellectual property tended to flow pretty freely between the creative types of the day.”

Ehricke believed that it was the responsibility of humanity to explore space and exploit the resources of the Solar System, in order to sustain the development of the human race. There are no external "limits to growth," Ehricke insisted, because while the Earth is a "closed system," the exploration of space opens the universe to humanity. Ehricke viewed human creativity as an unconstrained limitless resource.  It seems likely the two men had this in common.

Project Selena

Phil Bono’s enormous ROMBUS booster could fly all the way to the lunar surface and back if low Earth orbit rendezvous and propellant transfer were used. He therefore proposed using the booster to establish a lunar base as a logical next step after the Apollo program. Details of his proposal can be found here Project Selena.
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Robbie-Yarber's avatar
The ROMBUS has become my favorite launch vehicle design. This is what we should've had instead of the space shuttle.
PumpChunck's avatar
PumpChunckFeatured
NICE JOB!