The Longship Orbiter

The Longship orbiter was conceptualized by Out of this World Tours (OWT) in 1997, then developed at an undisclosed location between 1999 and 2013. Originally a private space tourism concern, OWT went public in 2014 in order to finance the orbiter's initial test flight phase. The U.S. Government later assumed ownership of the company—and more importantly, the Longship—as a means of deploying ODC personnel to orbit.

Of course, the Longship is no more capable of reaching orbit on its own than was its predecessor, the Space Shuttle; as with the Shuttle, this new orbiter requires a launch system to generate the tremendous force necessary to escape Earth's gravity. Much like the more famous STS system used in conjunction with the Shuttle, the OWT system employs a large expendable liquid hydrogen-oxygen fuel tank, along with reusable solid rocket boosters or ‘SRBs'. There are differences, however. Proportionately, the OWT system is almost twice the size of the STS, with the OWT fuel tank standing more than 300 feet above the jetty. In addition, the significantly greater mass of the OWT launch system requires four SRBs rather than just two.

blueprint: ODC Longship and OWT launch systemcaption: Early technical drawing of the OWT launch system (with Longship orbiter in the foreground)
The orbiter itself features what is known as a swept-back cropped delta-wing design (because of its likeness to the Greek letter delta), a body style common among fighter jets but not seen as often in commercial liners. Just aft of the cockpit, the Longship also employs two much smaller wings known as canards, another feature more traditionally associated with fighter jets. And yet the Longship's size very clearly places it into a different class from fighter jets. More than one commentator has jokingly referred to the Longship as the lovechild of the Space Shuttle and a Boeing 747, and the orbiter certainly inherits from both traditions—boasting both the space-worthiness of the Shuttle and the passenger cabin of a large commercial aircraft. And while its capacity for 204 passengers might be considered only midsized among airliners, the Longship ranks as far and away the largest spaceplane developed to date.

The timing of the Longship's development could not have been more fortuitous, considering that its maiden space flight predated the first K'luran attack by a matter of months; without the Longship , the Orbital Defense Corps would have had no means of delivering to orbit the 800-plus personnel it needs to fulfill its mandate. Naturally, this coincidental timing has given rise to numerous popular conspiracy theories, but there is no evidence to support claims that the U.S. Government—aware of an impending K'luran attack—was secretly behind the Longship all along. Another popular theory holds that the Longship was actually born from the ashes of the Soviet space program, which, in the unlikely event it were true, would explain persistent rumors over the last two decades that the Russians had resurrected the Buran-Energiya project.

In any event, when OWT was purchased in 2015, the U.S. government obtained a single working prototype, which was re-christened Herald. Two more orbiters, Harbinger and Hermes, were constructed in the months that followed. The Longship has a crew complement of six, and it enters the record books as the very first mass-transit spacecraft.

adapted from Prometheus Rebound by R.L. Akers

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