Hard SF Feature 04: Scott Lowther
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By William-Black   |   
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When it comes to real-world hardware or designed but never flown air and spacecraft or questions about propulsion systems real or theoretical aerospace engineer and spaceflight historian Scott Lowther, author of Aerospace Projects Review, is a bona fide authority.

I consider technical drawings to be an art form, art raised to an exacting level of precision, and Scott is a master of the craft.  

In Aerospace Projects Review issue Volume 2, Number 2, available here Scott offers a beautifully illustrated 56-page article on Project Orion. This is one of the most definitive articles on the subject, covering the large designs, 20 meters and diameter and larger. The 4,000 ton nuclear pulse propulsion orbital battleship design for the USAF is shown in never-before-published detail. Scott was able to interview one of the surviving members of the original General Atomics Orion team, this issue contains details unavailable elsewhere and is highly recommended.

Scott was kind enough to provide these illustrations for purposes of this feature, pick up  APR  issue Volume 2, Number 2 at the link above to view these (and many, many more) diagrams in glorious full hi-resolution detail. Aerospace Projects Review offers an entire series on Orion, each article beautifully illustrated and packed with information unavailable elsewhere, see the links below.

USAF Orion Battleship Interior Detail

USAF Orion Battleship Interior Detail by William-Black

USAF Orion Battleship Exterior

USAF Orion Battleship Exterior by William-Black

One scheme for lofting the Orion involved launching it atop a Convair Nexus booster.

4,000 Ton Orion and Nexus Booster

4,000 Ton Orion and Nexus Booster by William-Black

Orion and Nexus Booster/Saturn V Scale Comparison

Orion and Nexus Booster/Saturn-V Scale Comparison by William-Black

The Nexus booster was a “plastic” design in the sense it could be stretched or compressed, scalable to accommodate a large range of payload sizes and weights.

Aerospace Projects Review, Issue Volume 3, Number 1 contains an in depth article on the Convair Nexus super-booster from 1963/64, available here.

See my 3D Convair Nexus models based on Scott Lowther’s diagrams, here, here, and here.

“Pax Orionis: A History of the Third World War and Its Aftermath”

A few years back Scott started work on Nuclear Pulse Propulsion, which is to be the comprehensive tome on the subject, he had the idea to include a short fiction on the Orion Battleship to bring the concept to life in the mind of the reader, the result is a rough-draft short tale of Orion orbital Battleships going full-commitment against Soviet forces. Scott is presently considering developing the work into a full fledged novel.

In Scotts words: "This is planned to be an official history, with the (tentative, subject to change) title: “Pax Orionis: A History of the Third World War and Its Aftermath.” Written in the alternate history 2014, it focuses on nuclear pulse propulsion, how it began in the fifties, turned into a reality as a result of a small nuclear war in the sixties and became a dominant force in geopolitics until the Third World War in the 1990′s (currently scheduled for 1994, so the book is a “20th anniversary” thing). This alternate world is quite a different place due to some very small changes that quickly spiral into massive consequences. WW III is as bad as it gets; somewhere in the history will be population tables from before the war, right after and as of 2014, with discussions of the possibility that within the next X years the planetary population might make it back up to one billion. But on the other side, the war leaves translunar and interplanetary infrastructure largely intact; while Earth is trashed, the universe is now open and the ships are there."

Scott has made a rough draft of the opening-of-battle scene, which is available free of charge here.

One additional short scene concerning development of a low-cost, near-fission-free bomb, written in television script format, is available here Things Blow Up.  

Frankly I’d love to read this novel, so I encourage everyone to download and read the sample scenes, even in rough-draft form this promises to be epic.

The Doomsday Orion

One notational 1959 concept for a large military Orion was the “doomsday weapon” idea. This was to be an Orion equipped with one single weapon, a hydrogen bomb of immense size and capability. While the data is sketchy, the payload would be a single nuclear device with a mass of 1,650 tons. Yield is not readily available, but is estimatable. Assuming 5 megatons per ton from a highly efficient nearly pure fusion lithium deuteride device yields 8,250 megatons, or 8.25 gigatons.  

Doomsday Orion

Doomsday Orion by William-Black

Such a weapon would of course be a last ditch weapon to be used when the United States was threatened with extermination. Needless to say, such a device detonated in low Earth orbit would devastate a large area of the Earth’s surface. The damage would come in the form of high energy radiation rather than blast. Scott observes that weapons of this size were so far beyond contemporary understanding no one really knew exactly what would happen if the bomb were touched off. Would the high energy radiation simply sleet through the atmosphere being absorbed in the ground or structures, or would it be absorbed in the upper atmosphere heating it well beyond incandescence … essentially setting the sky on fire? Whatever the effects were, they would be spread over most of a hemisphere. 


Aerospace Project Review, The Project Orion Issues

Aerospace Projects Review issue Volume 1, Number 4 V1N4

The primary article in this issue is a 58-page article on the development of Project Orion. This article covers the initial development of Project Orion, from the earliest configurations through to the near-final designs, test facilities, safety and environmental issues, and subscale flight vehicles. Vehicle scaling relationships, operating principles, and, published for the first time, pulse unit physics and interactions.

Copiously illustrated with photos, film stills, presentation graphics, diagrams and original drawings.

Aerospace Projects Review issue Volume 1, Number 5 V1N5

The primary article in this issue is a 71-page article on the late 10-meter Project Orion vehicles designed for the USAF and NASA by General Atomic. This article is packed with diagrams taken from official reports, as well as data, performance graphs, all-new reconstruction drawings and artwork. The Orion vehicle is described and shown in greater detail here than ever before in publicly available articles. Also includes information on 8-meter and 12-meter concepts for military applications as well as the baseline 10-meter design that was to serve both military and Martian exploration purposes. Launch vehicles, both solid and liquid rockets, are also described.

Aerospace Projects Review issue Volume 1, Number 3 V1N3

The Helios program: contained nuclear-pulse propulsion program, run parallel with Orion, specifically the ideas of Dandridge Cole and Project Helios. This is the first part in a series on the Orion Project. Included are full-color reproductions of period artwork as well as all-new reconstructions of the designs.


Project Orion Links: Artwork, Journal posts, and Winchell Chung's Atomic Rocket Site

My 10-meter NASA Orion 3D models

Orion In Flight
On Orbit

My journal entry: Orion: Nuclear Pulse Propulsion.

Winchell Chung’s Atomic Rockets site Orion page.

Winchell Chung’s Orion Battleship Page.   

General Atomics NASA report on Orion, PDF: GA-5009 vol III "Nuclear Pulse Space Vehicle Study - Conceptual Vehicle Design" by General Atomics (1964).  
Comments13
anonymous's avatar
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GBLXVIII's avatar
GBLXVIIIFeatured
Very very intresting.
xenoorb's avatar
xenoorbFeatured
These Aerospace Project Reviews are awesome. They all have a lot of great detail in them, not just the Orion stuff but the other Aerospace projects as well. Definitely worth the few dollars Scott asks!
William-Black's avatar
William-BlackProfessional Digital ArtistFeatured

An unfortunate individual who, apparently, is incapable of reading and following instructions, posted a false statement on this page. That individual has now been permanently banned. I have ordered numerous items from Aerospace Projects Review and every time I have received the items I ordered in a timely manner.

 

Please read the notice that is posted  when you complete your APR order:

 

If you order a drawing or a document, you will be emailed a link address and a username/password for each of your items. This email will be sent by me personally, not automatically... so it could be back to you within minutes (if I happen to be online) or within the next 12 hours or so (I gotta sleep sometime). For more info on downloading files, see the Downloading FAQ.

Scott is a fine upstanding guy, if something goes awry, he'll put it right. In regards to this incident, see Scott's commentary here.

XLjackbot's avatar
XLjackbotHobbyist Digital ArtistFeatured
Well that was an interesting read, I think Pax Orionis has the ability to become an interesting story which would be worth reading. I've always wondered about how to design an Orion battleship and those schematics were rather helpful. But the idea of launching it on Convair Nexus is something new to me.  I did read up somewhere though that any nuclear device with a yield over 100 megatons would mostly vent the energy into space.
William-Black's avatar
William-BlackProfessional Digital ArtistFeatured

Scott’s articles in APR are the only place I’ve seen Orion lofting schemes covered in any detail. The Nexus lofter is the most compelling, to me, because the booster is fully reusable.

 

Of course, the optimal use for Orion is lifting heavy payloads to orbit, and the chemical rocket lofting schemes go right past taking advantage of that efficiency. Winchell Chung’s Atomic Rockets site Orion page addresses the major objections to ground-launched Orion, and Aerospace Projects Review issue Volume 1, Number 4 V1N4 covers safety and environmental issues, with a very interesting global map projection showing where launch sites would have to be located on the surface of the Earth in order to avoid magnetic field trapping and creation of artificial radiation belts – which is information I have never seen anywhere else. Ted Taylor’s goal was always a fission-free pulse unit, and he claimed to have designed a pulse unit that achieved just that, but with tight security wraps still on the details of pulse unit design we’ll never know. Talk on Lowther’s blog is that several credible fission-free pulse unit designs have since been put forward, all of which languish for lack of interest. The part of Orion that survived cancellation of the program is the military application, as Casaba Howitzer, and indications are that the design was not only refined, but that full up underground tests occurred.

 

> I did read up somewhere though that any nuclear device with a yield over 100 megatons would mostly vent the energy into space.

 

Sure. Any explosive that is not a shaped charge device will expend its energy isotropically. But whatever intercepts that energy will receive energy equal to the square of its distance from the detonation.   

Reactor-Axe-Man's avatar
Reactor-Axe-ManHobbyist Digital ArtistFeatured
The battleship that gave JFK the willies...
NyrathWiz's avatar
NyrathWizHobbyist Digital ArtistFeatured
Just so. Showing JFK the mock-up model bristling with weapons was a big mistake
NyrathWiz's avatar
NyrathWizHobbyist Digital ArtistFeatured
Cool stuff!
I actually had never seen Scott's blueprints for the doomsday Orion before. Scary.
William-Black's avatar
William-BlackProfessional Digital ArtistFeatured
Yeah, it's definitely a frightening concept.
NyrathWiz's avatar
NyrathWizHobbyist Digital ArtistFeatured
I did notice a tiny difference in the Battleship Orion blueprints, between the version above and the version in Aerospace Project Review vol 2 no 2.
In the magazine version, the hypersonic landing craft are longer and skinnier than the blueprint above.
No big deal.
William-Black's avatar
William-BlackProfessional Digital ArtistFeatured
I noticed that as well, I'm not sure what accounts for the difference.
BrutalityInc's avatar
BrutalityIncFeatured
Thanks a lot for this. I'm quite fascinated by Project Orion...
William-Black's avatar
William-BlackProfessional Digital ArtistFeatured
Hey, no problem. The thanks really goes to Scott who agreed to do this and generously provided the artwork.
anonymous's avatar
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