Let's take the style of an F-22 Raptor (awesome!), build the fuselage, wings, etc to handle runway takeoff horizontally and then vertically (if needed) up to orbital space flight to reach the ISS in order to deliver fresh StarBucks coffee, then back to earth, all this thanks to jet-rocket engines that can handle the fuel needed for atmospheric and space flying while using one main fuel tank. In this scenario, considering what we already have as tech or in near future, would mid-air refueling with rocket fuel be a better alternative than having to piggy-back on 1rst stage rocket boosters or ride atop a stratospheric plane for launch in upper atmosphere?

I made a video of this fictitious exploit in 2010, and would like some constructive feedback concerning the refueling part and any other details worth debating related to the question that seeks to allow orbital flight with SSTO space vehicles using runways like planes thanks to the refueling idea (which means less fuel to carry upon runway departure).


For those who have no clue what I am talking about or in order to avoid answers and comments that do not rely on the question's reliance to "...if tech was available?", please visit SABRE (rocket engine) for more on the topic of current hybrid rocket engine dev which is a source of inspiration.

Last UPDATE (May 6, 2021)

The "answer" from "HiddenWindshield" does not relate to my question. The question is closed and no more answers are being accepted. Thanks in particular to Guy Inchbald who has provided essential data for pertinent analysis and review.

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    $\begingroup$ < would like some constructive feedback concerning the refueling part and any other details worth debating> that's not how this website works. We do not debate, we don't provide opinion, we don't guess about what "would be a viable advantage", we strive to provide factual answer to practical aviation questions. $\endgroup$ – Federico May 6 at 4:58
  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Federico May 6 at 13:43

As you've already learned from the comments, the hard part of getting to space isn't the height, it's the speed. The Saturn V broke the sound barrier less than 30 seconds after launch. So, how is your refueling plane even going to keep up? The only possible answer, at least with modern technology, is to make it a rocket itself.

So, now you've got two rockets that need to rendezvous at supersonic or even hypersonic speed in order to transfer fuel. Not exactly the easiest maneuver to accomplish. Even military pilots that train for hours and hours to do this need calm air, a steady hand, and lots of patience to accomplish this. Transferring fuel at supersonic speed is not going to be in any way practical or safe, even allowing for computer assistance. Much easier to connect the two craft on the ground, and let them fly in tandem until one has been drained of fuel and can then separate.

Now let's talk about the "Tyranny of the Rocket Equation". In short, fuel has mass, so you need to burn fuel in order to loft the fuel that you need to burn to loft your payload. Using current chemical rockets, your refueling craft would need to carry three to six times as much fuel as the orbiter does, just so that it will have enough left over at the end of its flight to refill the orbiter. This of course means that it will need engines that are more powerful as well, to carry all that weight.

In fact, if you upgrade the fueler's thrust just a little bit more, it could carry the orbiter's weight as well. That would even save a little mass (and cost), since now you don't have to have transfer pumps and plumbing to refill the orbiter, as its engines won't even start until the fueler detaches. Wait, hasn't someone else already had this idea?

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – Federico May 6 at 11:26

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