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Reusable Launch Vehicle News
Archive: Sept. - Dec. 1999

Other RLV News sites:
RLV Alert at Spacer.com - Space Frontier Society -
Space Access Society Updates - X-33 History Timeline - 2000 -
Highway2Space * Space Transportation Directorate
* NASA Watch Launch System New


Note: These articles provide a sampling of developments in RLV technology during this time. Unfortunately, many of the links here will expire over time.

When the the links go dead, an attempt to "relink" them will be made if the pages can be found at a new location. Otherwise, the text will be disconnected but still shown in italics.

If you want to follow up on an interesting but disconnected item, there are a few possiblities:

  • Most of the Yahoo news items are based on press releases from companies, NASA or other agency. If you go to the website of the particular company
  • or institution involved, it may have the PR in its archive. Look for the News or Press Release page.

  • Many online newspapers break their links after a period of time but keep the articles in an archive. However, they often will charge for a search.

  • If all else fails, try Google
  • or other search engine using the title or keywords from the title.

Archives: RLV News Archive Directory


 


  January-March 2000

December 19, 1999

D-21 supersonic drone resurrected for RLV engine tests. Aviation Week in its Dec. 6, 1999 issue discussed plans by NASA MSFC to test a rocket-based combined-cycle engine ([--Link Dead--]RBCC) in the formerly top-secret D-21 reconnaissance vehicle.

The D-21 , which began flying in 1966, reached Mach 3.3 using a ramjet engine. A super-secret Lockheed Skunkworks project, the D-21 initially was launched from atop a YF-12 fighter, the predecessor to the SR-71. After an accident that killed a pilot, all further launches came via a drop from a B-52.

Nearly 40 vehicles were built but apparently only 21 were flown. The last known flights occurred in 1971. After declassification in the late 1970s, several vehicles were distributed to museums. Aircraft locator for Lockheed D-21 - Drone .

The RBCC combines a ramjet and a rocket in the same flow path so that separate engines are not required. The RBCC has become a top priority within NASA, which believes it offers greater performance for RLVs than a purely rocket based system, such as the aerospike engines planned for the X-33/VentureStar.

The engine would start in rocket mode to reach Mach 2.5 and then switch to ramjet propulsion. This would drastically reduce the amount of oxidiser needed to be carried onboard. After the vehicle reached high Mach number and altitude, it could switch back to rocket mode.

Initially NASA sees a two-stage vehicle with the RBCC in the first stage. They see a single stage vehicle with an RBCC powerplant allowing them to reach their goal of $100/lb to LEO by 2025.

The D-21 project would be a follow-on to the [--Link Dead--]X-43/HyperX program that should begin flights next year. The X-43 vehicles will use an Orbital Sciences Pegasus booster to reach ramjet ignition speeds after dropping from a B.52. The converted D-21, though still requiring a B-52 drop, would not need a booster.

The D-21 conversion is still at the early design stage. A competing concept is a X-43 derivative.

X-43 scramjet engine tests continue at Langley's High Temperature Tunnel in preparation for the first flight next summer according to Aviation Week. The initial flight will be over the Pacific and should reach Mach 7 and the vehicle will not be recovered.

They are now considering using the Poker Flats launch site in Alaska for the second Mach 7 flight in hopes that the vehicle could be recovered.

NASA Trailblazer budget gets boost. The year 2000 NASA budget included a last minute addition of $100 million for its [--Link Dead--]Spaceliner 100 initiative, which currently is not so much a particular design project as a general program to develop RLV technologies. (See Space News Nov.8.99) The goal is to reduce launch costs by a factor of 100, reaching $200 per kg to LEO.

According to Space News (Nov.22.99) NASA will give $10 million of this money to Cleveland's Glenn Research Center's (formerly Lewis RC) Trailblazer program to develop air-breathing launch technologies such as the RBCC discussed above.

X-38 out, CCTV in? NASA Watch reports that the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) is pushing NASA to phase out the X-38 Crew Rescue Vehicle (CRV) project in favor of a Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle (CCTV). The CRV would be delivered to the Space Station in a shuttle bay and then remain indefinitely for emergencies. The CCTV, such as Orbital Science's proposed Space Taxi , could serve both as a reusable passenger and cargo craft. It could be launched as a second stage to an EELV or even an Ariane5, and then remain at the station to be used as the station emergency vehicle.

News briefs... a balloon assisted reusable rocket (BARR) is under study at NASA. See the [--Link Dead--]short blurb at Highway2Space's Advanced Concept page... See the report on the possibilities of RLV startups launching from Texas in Spaceport Texas State vies to become commercial hub - Dallas News - Dec.12.99

December 3, 1999

Rotary reduces staff again according to an article in the Antelope Valley Press on Dec.1.1999. They are down to 5 people at the Mojave Airport assembly and testing facility and to 15 people at the headquarters in Redwood City, Ca. Rotary is continuing the search for the $150M in funding needed to build an orbital vehicle. According to spokesman Geoffrey Hughes, they could have the vehicle ready 2 years from the time they get the money.

It appears that there will be no more test flights for the time being with the ATV. Emphasis will be on the design of the prototype test vehicle, or PTV, that would reach orbit. Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites would do the actual construction.

November 30, 1999

Kistler is considering selling bonds and/or shares to raise another $400m to finish the development phase of the K-1. The company has raised $500m so far from over 400 shareholders. See [--Link Dead--]Yahoo - Satellite group Kistler may launch share issue - 25.11.99.

News briefs... The X-33 aerospike engine tests continue. An 18sec firing occured last week ...

November 23, 1999

News briefs..See a photo of the proposed Krunichev Angara flyback booster at Jens A. Lerch's Astronautics ...

The Space Enterprise Symposium in Seattle last week brought together space activists and RLV and other space startups to discuss the challenges facing them. See these reports [--Link Dead--]Space ventures struggling in a dot-com world - MSNBC - Nov.18.99 * [--Link Dead--]Selling Space to the Masses - Space.com - Nov.19.99

November 16, 1999

Aviation Week describes severe problems in the X-33 H2 tank program that led to the tank failure last week. Entitled Engineers Anticipated X-33 Tank Failure , the article implies that the program was flawed in several respects. With quotes such as '"That tank belonged in a junkyard, not a test stand," said one knowledgeable engineer.", there were clearly disagreements all along about how the tank development was being managed.

Ironically, the VentureStar designers have long decided to use an aluminum H2 tank anyway. "Perversely, it now seems that the X-33's tank failure could kill VentureStar, even though there is no link."

The article shows photos of the damage. See also photos at NASA watch.

November 9, 1999

Hydrogen Tank failure will cause several months of delay, at minimum, in the X-33 program according to press reports. Still no official announcement about the details of the failure but apparently the tank debonded over a substantial area. This will not only have to be fixed but carefully studied to find out why it happened and how to prevent it.
[--Error [--Time Out--]--]Official VentureStar Website PR - Media Advisory - Nov.8.99
[--Link Dead--]X-33 Test Failure Will Delay Program - Space.com-Nov.8.99
SpaceViews Article: Report: Tank Problems May Delay X-33 Six Months - Nov.7.99
[--Link Dead--]Development of Space Vehicle Suffers New Setback - Wash.Post- Nov.7.99
[--Link Dead--]X-33 fuel tank flunks big test - Orlando Sentinel - Nov.5.99

[Nov.14 - CHAIRMAN ROHRABACHER'S STATEMENT ON X-33 HYDROGEN TANK DAMAGE - Posted at Reston.com]

Two New X-Prize contestants. TGV Rockets of the US and [--Error--]Cosmopolis 21 of Russia have announced plans to build vehicles to compete for the $10M X-prize.

TGV will use its single state vertical-takeoff and landing sub-orbital vehicle, MICHELLE-B, that it is developing also for the commercial sounding rocket market.

Cosmopolis's two stage system consists of a M-55 "Geophisika" carrier aircraft, which already exists, that carries a rocket powered module in which 2 passengers and a pilot ride. This module is released from the carrier at 20km altitude and fires its engine to reach 100km. It is not yet decided whether to use a parachute system for landing or wings for gliding back to earth.
[--Error--]Press Release // X PRIZE Foundation
[--Link Dead--]Two New Contestants Join X-Prize Race - Space.com - Nov.5.99

SpaceViews Article: X Prize Announces Two New Competitors - SpaceViews - Nov.6.99

News briefs... ProSpace, along with the Space Frontier Foundation and the National Space Society, organized a Space Transportation Roundtable of representatives of government, industry and space activists to discuss the US commercial launch strategy. [[--Link Dead--]Private Rocket Groups Say They're Stuck on the Ground - Space.com - Nov.10.99]

November 6, 1999

X-33 Hydrogen Tank fails in test. Tank #2 had recently been repaired after earlier tests showed several small leaks. The tests resumed this week with the tank filled to flight load and subjected with hydraulic jacks to presures similar to those expected during launch. After the test was finished and the tank was being safed for the night, workers notice a damaged region. Exact details of the problem has not been released.

Previous problems with delamination of the composite layers caused several months delay in the program.

See SpaceViews Article: X-33 Hydrogen Tank Damaged in Tests - Nov.5.99 * [--Link Dead--]SpaceToday: X-33 liquid hydrogen tank damaged during tests - Nov.4.99 * [--Link Dead--]Space.com X-33 Fuel Tank Damaged - Nov.4.99

November 3, 1999

The first X-43A/Hyper-X vehicle has been delievered by Microcraft to NASA. See Press Release . After dropping from a B-52, the X-43A vehicle will be given a 1st stage kick by an Orbital Pegasus booster and then will use a hydrogen-powered scramjet to reach speeds as high as Mach 10. Three vehicles will be built. The first 2 will go to Mach 7 and the third to Mach 10. The vehicles will be lost in the Pacific but instrumentation telemetry will provide the data on the engine and other new technology in this new flight regime. First flight is scheduled for May 2000
Hyper-X Activity - Beyond 2000 - Nov.9.99

News briefs..See NASA's new Highway2Space.com site for information and links about NASA's RLV and other advanced space transportation developments...

The X-33 aerospike engine has completed the 5 sec startup tests. Next will be a 20sec test...

The Space Access Society reports from the Congressional budget wars that they succeeded in obtaining funds for the Air Force's SMV (Space Maneuver Vehicle), a reusable upper stage. However, the $100M that had been expected to go for generic RLV development at NASA was instead diverted to the [--Link Dead--]Spaceliner 100 project and none for the [--Link Dead--]Pathfinder program.

October 30, 1999

The third X-33 aerospike engine test occurred this week. The 5 sec startup test at 80% full thrust apparently went successfully according to Aviation Week.

A test of the hydrogen tanks are underway after a several weeks break to repair several leaks.

Meanwhile, NASA is discussing a follow-on vehicle called the X-33B that would have lighter thermal protection and other improvements. (See [--Link Dead--]Space.com article - Sept.27.99.)

Intense interest in Rotary's recent flight has encouraged them to add more information about the flight. Besides several videos, a pilots report of the flight is now posted on their What's Hot page.

Lots of talking at NASA and Congress about future transportation plans.

The House Space committee had a hearing this week to discuss the results of NASA's Space Transportation Architecture Studies: The Future of Earth-to-Orbit Spaceflight - October 27, 1999 . NASA presented the various possible upgrades to the Shuttle for improved safety and performance.

Also, possible routes to replacement vehicles for the Shuttle were discussed. Michael Griffin , for example, of Orbital Sciences discussed their Space Taxi vehicle (as the CCTV - Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle) that could take astronauts as well as cargo to the Space Station. It is bascially a resusable upperstage similar to the X-38 that could also serve as the stations crew rescue vehicle.

Watch the hearing via [--Link Dead--]RealMedia stream.

A separate presentation of NASA space transportation plans took place at Marshall Spaceflight Center. The various X programs were discussed and how soon they might lead to a shuttle replacement. Basically, NASA wants to spend another 5 years investigating RLV technologies before committing to a particular RLV design.

For more info see
SpaceViews Article: Decision on Shuttle Replacement Years Away Nov.1.99
NASA delays plans to replace shuttle - Space Chronicle - Oct. 27.99. *
The Future of Space is Unveiled in Alabama - Space.com - Oct.28.99
* [--Link Dead--] Bold steps for space travel are on horizon - Huntsville Times - Oct. 28.99 *
Space Transportation Architecture Studies: Future of Earth-to-Orbit Spaceflight - NASA Watch - Oct. 27.99
.

October 26, 1999

News briefs..The Cosmos Mariner X-Prize vehicle is making progress. See their latest design...

Orlando Sentinel publishes an [--Link Dead--]4 part report on the future of the Space Shuttle, [--Link Dead--]NASA X-vehicles, and the [--Link Dead--]private RLV efforts. Also, a video (Realmedia) report "Our future in space" available for [--Link Dead--]high and [--Error--]low bandwidth connections...

Starting a RLV Models sub-section for links to information on scale models of the various RLV vehicles in development.

October 22, 1999

The first two X-33 aerospike engine tests have been carried out according to the X-33 Timeline . The short 5 sec "ignition tests" exercise the start sequence and initial turn on of the engine. Six such tests are planned before proceeding to a second set of tests that fire the engines for up to 250secs. Finnally, full flight duration tests of 1142 secs will be carried out. See the recent [--Error [--Time Out--]--]status report for more on the engine test plans.

The hydrogen tank leaks have been fixed although there were apparently some inner lining delamination problems that are worrying the Skunk Works engineers.

New VentureStar design shown at Space.com. As discussed here in an earlier report , the payload bay for the VentureStar has been removed from the interior center of the vehicle. Instead, separate payload structures will be attached to its back. These could be a simple cargo vessel or even the Space Staion Crew Rescue vehicle. See the Space.com story for an image and more details. [--Link Dead--]Exclusive: New Look for Venturestar - Space.com-Oct.22.099.

News briefs..More on the recent Rotary ATV tests at [--Link Dead--]Space.com - Roton Tester Flies Down the Desert and at SpaceViews Article: Roton ATV Completes Third Test Flight ... If you have a fast link, watch the long videos of the test now available from [--Link Dead--]Rotary video page...The Upgrading the Space Shuttle - National Academy of Sciences Report discusses options such as the fly-back booster for extending the lifetime of the Shuttle and lowering its operating costs.

October 15, 1999

Rotary's ATV vehicle makes 3rd flight. During Gary Hudson's testimony to Congress this week (see below), he showed videos of the most recent flight of the ATV. Instead of just a short hop or a steady hoover as in the previous tests, the vehicle this time moved for considerable horizontal distances along the airport. We hope they soon post videos and photos on their website. [Oct.16 Rotary has now posted a press release about the latest flight and they provide videos and photos - What's Hot . The vehicle flew for 3min and 47secs for nearly a mile at up to 50mph and 75ft altitude.]

RLV startups testified to House Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics about their status and the challenges they face.The House space committee hearings archive has posted the statements made at the Oct. 13 session from the Chairman Dana Rohrabacher and representatives from Kelly , Kistler , Pioneer , Rotary , and Space Access . [There is also a link to a [--Link Dead--]RealMedia file of the hearing.]

The companies discussed primarily the difficulties they are having with raising capital, especially after the Iridium & ICO bankruptcies. They did not request direct subsidies but suggested various ways the government could support them such as tax breaks for investors, minimzation of regulations, NASA technical support and encouragement. Or, at least, that NASA should not discourage investors who seek out NASA advice on the viability of the startups.

See more in Space.com's report New Launch Companies Ask for Help, Still Bullish on Future . [Oct.22 . SpaceViews Article: RLV Companies Look for Government Support ]

Kistler makes progress but still short of funds...Marcus Lindroos reports from the recent IAF (Int. Aeronautics Federation) symposium in Amsterdam on Kistler K-1 status. He says that the Kistler payload manager, Debra Factor Lepore, claims that the vehicle is 80% complete and could launch in 2000 if funding is found. They are still in negotiations with Saudi investors who were mentioned earlier by Aviation Week. Read more in Marcus's message to sci.space.policy.

Checkout also Marcus's new site on RLV developments in Europe .

Proposals for reusable space tugs and fly-back boosters at the IAF were heard, as well, according to Aviation Week (Oct.11,1999, pp.36-38.) The tugs would be a simpler version of the [--Link Dead--]ATV (automated transfer vehicle) being developed for the ISS by Aerospatile Matra.

Orbital Science is also talking about a Space Taxi that could ferry either people or cargo to ISS. It would initially mate to an EELV but later to a spin off of Orbitals reusable X-38.

The German DLR research center is studying a flyback booster for a semi-reusable version of the Ariane 5.

Russia's Khimavtomatiki and US Aerojet are working on a RD-0120 engine aimed for reusable launchers. They hope that the engines could eventually go up to 100 missions before overhauls.

Also, Russia's Khrunichev is looking at a liquid fly-back booster for its Angara launcher series.

X-33 engine and hydrogen tank tests continue. As of Oct.1 the first engine had still not been test fired due to chasing down some hydrogen leaks. Similarly, during the tank test at full flight load some facility leaks were found and are being fixed. Other components such as the thermal protection panels, and GPS system have been delivered. - X-33 History Timeline - July-Dec.1999

October 11, 1999

News briefs...NASA will hold a one day symposium to discuss its many new RLV and advanced propulsion projects: [--Link Dead--]Space Transportation Day'99.

October 6, 1999

News briefs...See the interesting article on the status of the X-33 and the challenges of funding the VentureStart in Assembling VentureStar Puzzle Makes X-33 Look Easy - Aviation Week Space Business Oct.1.9 .... The X-34 captive carry flights have been completed for this year. (Odd that there was no publicity prior to the flights after the first one.) See SpaceViews Article: X-34 Completes Test Flights for Year

October 1, 1999

X-33 development reaches crucial testing stage. The engines and hydrogen tank began tests this week. Success will mean a roll-out in early 2000 and flight tests during the summer. Difficulties could result in delays of flights till 2001. See status report at [--Error [--Time Out--]--]VentureStar . Mission Updates . Press Releases .

A hearing on the status of X-33/VentureStar took place this week at Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee in the House of Representatives.

[NEW: Oct. 16. The hearing can be viewed via RealMedia file from the space subcommittee's hearing archive - [--Link Dead--]NASA’s X-33 Program - September 29, 1999]

NASA Watch has posted the statements from the NASA & Lockhee-Martin officials:

Payton defended the program against charges in a recent GAO report of delays and costs overruns.

Rising gave an overview of the program status. He said the weight growth was primarily due to the fast pace of the program that didn't allow time for optimizing the design. The resulting Mach 13.8 speed instead of the original Mach 15, however, is not a major setback and will, in fact, result in harsher tests for the thermal protection system.

Li also discussed the delays and overruns and also how a decision to develop VentureStar would affect the International Space Station. Interesting comments include

  • Originally, Lock-Mart intended VentureStar just for cargo but NASA wants it also to be used for carrying 4-5 passengers to the Space Station.
  • "Lockheed Martin estimates that it would cost $7.2 billion to build and begin operating two vehicles." for cargo by 2005 and carrying passengers by 2007.
  • The lower payload of VentureStar (11,725kg) vs the Shuttle (15545kg) means more visits to the Station, thereby reducing the periods without disturbances to microgravity experiments.

VentureStar payload to ride piggyback in new design. Lockheed-Martin's team designing the VentureStar has decided to move the payload from inside the vehicle to an external module that rides on the back of the primary vehicle. They claim that this allows for a more compact design and greater flexibility in handling different shapped payloads. - [--Link Dead--]Lockheed Plans Redesign of Venture Star - Space.com - Sep.30.99

In the hearing mentioned above, Jerry Rising says "...the VentureStar design is on track for a Preliminary Design Review in October 2000, which combined with successful X-33 flights will permit Lockheed Martin and our teammates to go ahead with development of a full scale SSTO RLV with aircraft-like operability."

September 21, 1999

Rotary Rocket carried out a second ATV flight test on Sept. 16. A new posting on sci.space.policy by Gary Hudson says

"It exceeded our expectations for a second test flight. A press release should be out by now. Altitude was about 15-20[ft] for most of the hover and the pilot took it up to 30 ft for some photograhic purposes. Hover time was 2 min 15 second by my watch."

"The vehicle behaved pretty much as the simulator suggested. The autothrottle worked very well (especially since it was implemented in about five weeks) and the crew workload is now more normal for a heavy helo. Basically, the vehicle performs as we said it would at this point in the flight test program."

Rotary Rocket Press Release - Sept. 20 * What's Hot * Roton Prototype Makes Second Test Flight - SpaceViews * [[--Link Dead--]Space.com - Sept.23 - 'Ice Cream Cone' Lifts Off Again]

September 19, 1999

News briefs...The SpaceViews article NASA Looking at Alternatives to VentureStar discusses NASA's CCTV and other possibilities to reduce launch costs in case Lockheed-Martin doesn't succeed in building VentureStar.

September 17, 1999

News briefs...X-33 assembly starting to pickup. The [--Error [--Time Out--]--]Avionics Bay was installed this week. It sits in the center between the oxygen tanks and the hydrogen tanks. You can just see it in the [--Error [--Time Out--]--]webcam picture from the assembly floor.

A one-day conference "[--Link Dead--]Space Transportation Day '99" on Oct. 27 sponsored by Marshall Spaceflight Center will discuss the various programs to reduce launch costs and assist Space commercialization. [--Link Dead--]SpaceDaily article ,

Geoffrey Hughes of Rotary Rocket discusses the effects of the Iridum bankruptcy on funding efforts of the startup launch companies in his essay What [--Link Dead--]'Iridium Effect' at SpaceViews.

September 12, 1999

News briefs...X-33 propellent feed system has been delivered for installations at the launch site. This includes the umbilicals, pumps, etc. needed to fuel the vehicle until the moment if lifts off and the connection broken. See the [--Error [--Time Out--]--]press release .

September 9, 1999

News briefs...X-33 lightweight composite Hydrogen tanks begin tests at Marshall Spaceflight center - [--Error [--Time Out--]--]NASA PR . Along with the upcoming engine tests, these are crucial to meeting the goal of a first launch by next summer....

Rotary Rocket has posted more videos of its short takeoff tests of the ATV carried out in July. These include external shots and also looking from the pilots cabin ...

A Space.com article - [--Link Dead--]Writing Space Flight's Next Chapter - talks about the challenges facing the startup launch companies.

September 7, 1999

News briefs...Kelly Space wins a NASA contract to continue its study of next-generation space transport - [--Link Dead--]Kelly Space & Technology Wins $2.1 Million NASA Contract - Yahoo news...Another X-34 update at [--Link Dead--]Space.com - X-34 Test Plans Nearing Completion.

September 2, 1999

News briefs...The RLV startups discuss effects of the Iridium bankruptcy on their fund searching in a Space.com article - [--Link Dead--]Space Launch Startups Worry About 'Iridium' Effect....In response to the recent X-33 critique from the GAO, Gary Payton, head of NASA's X-plane projects, defends the project in Space.com - NASA Defends Itself Against X-33 Critique . Basically, he claims that the X-33 has done its job of discovering previously unknown problems, such as, for example, building lightweight engines, and thus saved VentureStar from having to deal with them later. He also says that the testing of the thermal protection can still be accomplished at the Mach 13.8 max speed, which is lower than the originaly goal of Mach 15.

September 1, 1999

A CCTV (Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle) is being seriously considered by NASA as an interim vehicle until a replacement for the shuttle comes online in the 2010 timeframe according to an article in [--Link Dead--]Aviation Week & Space Technology/Aug. 30, 1999, pp. 25-26. Skeptism is growing within NASA that Lockheed-Martin will actually build VentureStar so alternatives are being investigated.

The CCTV is similar to the canceled Hermes vehicle in Europe. It would have a lifting body with size between the X-38 and the Shuttle. It could be launched on either an expendible (e.g. [--Error--]EELV ) or on a new reusable first stage.

However, the EELV's would have to be manrated, which would be a non-trivial expense.

More info at Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle Preliminary Requirements .

News briefs...X-33 engine testing begins soon at Stennis. Four engines, 2 for the vehicle and 2 test engines will undergo an extensive number of firings. Assuming that pass, the 2 engines will be installed in the vehicle at the end of 1999. See [--Time Out--]VentureStar . Mission Updates . Press Releases * -[--Link Dead--]NASA will begin tests in Sept. for X-33 engine- Alabama Live Aug.31 ]

Reston.com has recently posted several interesting NASA pages related to the NASA plans about new transportation development:

Earlier archives at:
    April - August 1999

 

 

 

 

 

The Rocket Company
The Rocket Company

Fictionalized account of the challenges faced by a group of seven investors and their engineering team in developing a low-cost, reusable, Earth-to-orbit launch vehicle. Forward by Peter Diamandis
Amazon: US
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