Encyclopedia Astronautica

Credit: NASA
American VTOVL orbital launch vehicle. Chrysler ballistic single stage to orbit alternate shuttle proposal of June 1971. This was the most detailed design study ever performed on a VTOVL SSTO launch vehicle. The 2,040 tonne SERV was designed to deliver a 53 tonne payload to orbit in a capacious 7 m x 18 m payload bay.

The Chrysler SERV single-stage-to-orbit ballistic vehicle was the subject of a six-volume report produced under the $ 1.9 million NASA contract NAS8-26341. The booster could be launched from the existing LC39 built for the Saturn V. SERV would be built at NASA's Michoud facility and transported by a 'Bay'-class vessel modified to carry the wide load through the existing inland waterway system between Michoud and Cape Canaveral. SERV was a squat 27.4 m in diameter and 20.3 m tall. A payload of 52,800 kg, housed in a 7 m x 18.3 m cargo bay, could be transported to a 185 km/28.5 deg orbit. The vehicle was powered by a 12-module aerospike engine, 26.6 m in diameter and 2.5 m tall, producing 2.45 million kilograms of thrust at a specific impulse of 347 seconds at lift-off. The engine could be throttled to 80%, and the turbopumps were interlinked, so that the failure of any one pump could be compensated for by bringing the others up to 120% of their rated capacity. Protective doors covered the engine during the base-first re-entry, which would be accurate enough to bring the booster to within 6500 m of the aim point.. After slowing to subsonic speed,. 28 x 11,400 kgf turbojet engines powered by JP-4 fuel braked the spacecraft to a hover and soft touchdown on landing pads 2.8 km from the Vertical Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. For manned missions, a MURP spaceplane would be used for separate return of the crew to earth. Total development costs was estimated as $3.565 billion, with each SERV costing $350 million in FY1971 dollars, and being rated for 100 flights over a 10 year service life.

As had Philip Bonob at Douglas before them, the Chrysler team, led by Charles Tharratt, fervently believed that they had the best solution to providing America with routine access to space. But NASA was wedded to the concept of a winged shuttle and never gave SERV any serious consideration.

LEO Payload: 52,800 kg (116,400 lb) to a 185 km orbit at 28.50 degrees. Development Cost $: 3,565.000 million in 1971 dollars. Flyaway Unit Cost $: 350.000 million in 1971 dollars.

AKA: Single-Stage Earth-Orbital Reusable Vehicle; SERV.
Status: Study 1971.
Gross mass: 2,040,816 kg (4,499,229 lb).
Payload: 52,800 kg (116,400 lb).
Height: 20.30 m (66.60 ft).
Diameter: 27.40 m (89.80 ft).
Thrust: 25,795.30 kN (5,799,014 lbf).
Apogee: 185 km (114 mi).

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Associated Countries
Associated Engines
  • Plug-Nozzle SERV Notional lox/lh2 rocket engine. 31,980.2 kN. Study 1971. Isp=455s. Used on Shuttle SERV launch vehicle. More...

See also
  • Shuttle The manned reusable space system which was designed to slash the cost of space transport and replace all expendable launch vehicles. It did neither, but did keep NASA in the manned space flight business for 30 years. More...
  • VTOVL The concept of a reusable single-stage-to-orbit Vertical Take-Off Vertical Landing (VTOVL) launch vehicle that would reenter and return to its launch site for turnaround and relaunch was first proposed by Philip Bono in the 1960's. The appealing simplicity of the concept has been offset by the technological risk in developing it. The problem with any single-stage-to-orbit concept is that if the empty weight of the final vehicle has been underestimated it will not be able to deliver any payload to orbit, or even reach orbit. Since weight growth of up to 20% is not unknown in aerospace projects, this is a very real threat which has made both NASA and private investors reluctant to invest the billions of dollars it would take to develop a full-scale flight vehicle. More...
  • Winged In the beginning, nobody (except Jules Verne) thought anybody would be travelling to space and back in ballistic cannon balls. The only proper way for a space voyager to return to earth was at the controls of a real winged airplane. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
Associated Stages
  • Shuttle SERV-1 Lox/LH2 propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 2,040,816/226,757 kg. Thrust 31,980.52 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 455 seconds. Single stage to orbit, ballistic reentry. More...

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