A number of years ago when the NASA "Getaway Special" had just been conceived I got to thinking about ways to make use of this delivery system. It occured to me that it would be fun to loft a model aircraft of some kind and to see if it could be released and "flown" safely to Earth. This would not be a trivial problem and I decided to set down the parameters for such a vehicle.
The first thing I discovered is that the "preferred embodiment" violated mission rules and that put the kabosh on the whole idea. Still and all, if I can find an alternative transporter the scheme is still workable. What follows is a brief description of what might be doable with current technologies.
--Broadly the idea is to get the aircraft into orbit, then to eject it from the transporter. Attached to the aircraft there would be something akin to the motor from a Sidewinder missile. This would be used to bring the vehicle to a screeching halt, relative to a fixed point on Earth, where the "pilot" would wait for the vehicle to return within range of an R/C transmitter. This modified descent profile, i.e. straight down, would eliminate the extremes of velocity that would otherwise be encountered by the more typical decaying-orbit reentry used by manned vehicles. Forces and temperatures encountered would by no means be trivial, but they would be moderated by this approach. The other advantage of this descent profile is that it allows for precise pre-positioning of landing zone and pilot. Once within range of radio signals, the pilot would take over and the craft would be brought to a controlled landing.
...would have to be compact and fireproof. I envision a flying wing, which has the lowest wing loading and therefore would encounter the least resistance to reentry forces, i.e. it would brake quickly and therefore heat up least.
...would be provided by towing a "parachute" behind the vehicle. This would be a large diameter object that would be both light weight and fireproof. In essence, this amounts to towing a heat shield behind the vehicle, rather than in front of it.
--There are gazillions of these of course and I will enter them when time permits...
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