Answers Your Questions
From: Mike Hilton, of Natchitoches,
- Is there anything in the
payload bay, or is this simply a "shoot for the limit" exercise?
The contents of the orbiter could be stripped down to reduce weight,
which translates into a greater possible altitude. Items such as payloads,
the mechanical arm (RMS), the external airlock and docking system, and
much of the crew compartment contents could be left behind, not to mention
some or all of the four crewmembers you specified!
- What orbital inclination?
More fuel is required to reach a given orbit at higher inclinations.
For a shuttle-record-setting altitude attempt, a low inclination is
- Circular orbit, or elliptical?
With an elliptical orbit the orbiter could attain a much higher maximum
altitude (apogee) at the expense of having a low minimum altitude (perigee;
limited to ~85 nautical miles high).
- Do you plan on a safe return?
Much of the orbiter's on-orbit fuel supply is needed to slow the vehicle
down so that it will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere for landing. This
could instead be used to further raise the orbit, but the crew would