Go to Orbit and Turn Right…Not!

Harold (Hal) Smith, BSAE 1975, Senior Staff Systems Engineer

In 2004-05 I had the opportunity to help lead the Raytheon Concept Exploration and Refinement study team. During our astrodynamics and aero courses, Prof Buning would often throw us little gems that really weren’t practical and we got to figure out why. One of them I called, “go to orbit and turn right.” It involved launching straight up thru the atmosphere and then changing direction to get to orbital velocity in the name of avoiding aero drag. Someone came to our study group with a paper that proposed just this approach. I quickly dismissed it and after a little study, a colleague with a PhD from Cal Tech confirmed what I said. Actually, early shuttle launches did a little of this by flying a steeper trajectory in early ascent then losing a little altitude and gaining speed before heading back up hill – but not straight up and turn right (or left).

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