A space vehicle (also referred to as spacecraft or spaceship) is a vehicle designed for spaceflight. Space vehicles are used for a variety of purposes, including communications, earth observation, meteorology, navigation, planetary exploration, and transportation of humans and cargo. The main particularity is that such vehicles operate without any atmosphere (or in regions with very low density). However, they must scape the Earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, we can identify different kinds of space vehicles:
- Artificial satellites.
- Space probes.
- Manned spacecrafts.
- Space launchers.
A satellite is an object which has been placed into orbit by human endeavor, which goal is to endure for a long time. Such objects are sometimes called artificial satellites to distinguish them from natural satellites such as the Moon. They can carry on board diverse equipment and subsystems to fulfill with the commended mission, generally to transmit data to Earth. A taxonomy can be given attending at the mission (scientific, telecommunications, defense, etc), or attending at the orbit (equatorial, geostationary, etc).
A space probe is a scientific space exploration mission in which a spacecraft leaves Earth and explores space. It may approach the Moon, enter interplanetary, flyby or orbit other bodies, or approach interstellar space. Space probes are a form of robotic spacecraft. Space probes are aimed for research activities.
The manned spacecraft are space vehicles with crew (at least one). We can distinguish space flight spacecrafts and orbital stations (such ISS). Those missions are also aimed for research and observation activities.
Figure 2.7: Space shuttle: Discovery.
Space launchers are vehicles which mission is to place another space vehicles, typically satellites, in orbit. Generally, they are not recoverable, with the exception of the the American space shuttles (Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endevour). The space shuttle was a manned orbital rocket and spacecraft system operated by NASA on 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. This system combined rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane. See Figure 2.7, where the Discovery is sketched. Major missions included launching numerous satellites and interplanetary probes, conducting space science experiments, and 37 missions constructing and servicing the ISS.
The configuration of space vehicles varies depending on the mission and can be unique. As a general characteristic, just mention that launchers have similar configuration as missiles.