VPACC Hangar is the development of software platforms that allow us to implement flexible mission architecture. It's where we build spaceships, and you can follow the art and design team as our concepts come to life. We start with rudimentary design and slowly evolve and shape our unique vehicles and models that define the heart of our simulators.
We started with some simple rules and design goals; every mission profile has to be run from the cockpit and static simulator. This shapes every aspect of our vehicles and defines our ODEV concept and approach, Orbital Delivery and Exploration Vehicle. A fully functional versatile atmospheric aircraft with orbital abilities and even capable of beyond low earth orbit exploration in a special configuration.
The vehicle is comprised of three major components; Lifting body, for access to orbit, the External Engine Module EX-EM and the Multi Purpose Exploration Vehicle MPEV. The MPEV represents our motion platform (cockpit) and static platform (aft science laboratory).
VPACC is progressing from our previous Airbus A320 cockpit base model to a modern concept in the form of the new Bombardier C-Series for the CS100/300 or Pro-fusion flight deck. The Pro-fusion control systems are all fly-by-wire using the latest technology and built by Rockwell Collins. We will build our cockpit around the layout and philosophy of the CS100 and Pro-fusion flight deck with the help of our friends in Berlin Germany, engineer Markus Lankes.
These images show the MPEV docked with the EX-EM in exploration configuration. This allows the crew to journey beyond low Earth orbit and to near Earth objects like asteroids or the Moon. The MPEV uses its nose docking port to connect and synchronize its systems and engines with the EX-EM to become one spacecraft.
Additions to the Seraphim; updating the landing gear, front and rear, with heavier capabilities similar to large commercial airliners. The nose docking port gets updated with IDA International Docking Adapter. However, this forward docking port is planned to be a technical docking port only for power and fuel but retains the ability to be upgraded in the future. The crew docking port will be to the rear of the MPEV.
Here are some artistic impressions of cockpit concepts at an early stage. These images give you an idea of the physical cockpits that would crew four as part of the intended motion platform based on Airbus A320 template. Overtime expect these modifications to radically change as we home in on a final design.
The EX-EM gets added details including work on IDA (International Docking Adaptor) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Docking_Adapter work also progressing on solar panels, remote RCS and radiators.
Iteration #5- Latest iteration of the Seraphim (lifting body) gets some landing gear. We are working on engine intakes and reversers, also control surfaces expect to see some changes as we go. The aircraft will use a fictional advanced version of the Saber engine been developed by Reaction Engines from the UK for the Skylon project http://www.reactionengines.co.uk/. These engines are both air breathing and rocket engines all in one, allowing the vehicle to climb as a conventional aircraft before switching to rocket mode at mark 5 at high altitude and reach orbit.
latest iteration of the MPEV shows details of major components. Each iteration is examined and adjusted as needed as we home in on a final product. We are adding details like solar arrays, robotic arm, docking ports, communications and science equipment bays. Also experimenting with disposable inflatable aeroshells for aerobraking carried in the science bays left and right if required.
The MPEV takes the crew to and beyond orbit. It’s the primary workhorse our crews will come to learn and understand in meticulous detail. It’s where the crew will live, work and explore. Carrying experiments, probes, science equipment and aeroshells it is designed to be the Swiss army knife of the space world.
Iteration #4, team begins adding details while the main shape and aerodynamics are continually improved. Our vehicle has to be specifically designed to execute a number of special missions driven by the strategic goals of the program. This creates extra challenges for the art team.
Work continues on cockpit layout options. Currently a mix of MFDs and touchscreen displays to cover a variety of situations plus considerations on haptics and tactile feedback to enhance the immersion experience. Currently still looking at building within the A320 frame.
The EX-EM gets a second engine to give it more power while we continue to work on the details and mechanics of the inflatable fuel tank concept. The unit will have its own maneuver engines or RCS and will be remotely controlled from the MPEV by one of the crew members. This will help with deploying and docking with the EX-EM.
Iteration #3, lifting body we have currently named the Seraphim and are currently working on engine intake options and aerodynamics. We are working on payload bay dimensions and fuel capacity.
The team has started work on the External Engine Module (EX-EM) a special vehicle that can be carried into orbit in the payload bay of the lifting body. This nuclear engine will be used for scenarios beyond low Earth orbit. Combined with the MPEV, the cockpit and aft laboratory, they become one spacecraft capable of visiting NEOs (Near Earth Objects).
Iteration #2 to take shape with the shaping of the airframe and major components. We need to focus on the engine design, aerodynamics and M.P.E.V (Multi-Purpose Exploration Vehicle) the cockpit and forward fuselage.
Iteration #1: Two rough shapes outlining a first look at early models for our orbiter vehicle and lifting body. From our artists; "these simple silhouettes are VERY rough but give us the first look at the larger picture".
They may appear "blobby" in some areas like the body and wings. Fixing this issue is relatively easy through ‘re-topologizing’ so that the edges, bevels, and fillets appear crisper. Once we determine the basic shape of the craft, then we can work on the details like the windshield, cargo doors, landing gear, etc.
One of the most important aspects of this project is the concepts centerpiece, the cockpit designed to crew four. In this cockpit environment participants interface with the programs and activities associated with VPACC. Particular care and attention is required with the understanding of the broad spectrum of individuals, ages and backgrounds and the many tasks and missions they will be given the opportunity to experience.
Glance at modern and future glass cockpits:
The trend is clearly shifting to clean touch screen information displays approaches to cockpit layout. This is simply the evolution of our understanding how individuals organize and digest information in a structured environment. The trick is implementing such concepts within our cockpit while achieving our goals. Video link Thales ODICIS → concept.
Boeing Flight Deck Research Project; A futuristic commercial aircraft glass cockpit concept can be seen here in this video →
NASA Orion Spacecraft cockpit Video →
Our engineers want to build the cockpit and cabin around the Airbus A320 template, so the job right now is to understand what that might look like and how we would go about that.
Initial ideas and concepts:
The Airbus A320 cockpit consists of three major components the overhead panel, the main instrument panel and the pedestal.
Using Multi Functional Displays (MFDs); First let's look at the main instrument panel. Physical push buttons provide us with better option than touch screen in certain situations. During orbit insertions, reentry or aero braking while the simulator is using vibration or forceful maneuvers crews might not be able to operate touch screens, this could apply when using flight suit which would include gloves. There are touchscreens that function with special gloves that work with touch screens, however it might be easier to avoid any frustration by adding simple push button interface for the most commonly used items like the main MFDs and important or critical information displays. Commercial pilots don’t wear pressure suits and gloves so touch screens would make more sense in that environment. Again, we are trying to rebuild an aircraft into a spaceship or orbital vehicle, and they are built to do very different things, but yet have a good deal of similarities.