Grumman getting serious about RLV's? The company recently
placed large ads in Space News (e.g. May.7,2001 issue) for an "RLV
Chief Engineer", who will lead a team to "design and integrate
reusable demonstrators and operational spacecraft". The company
recently received several large awards in SLI funding for systems
studies, integrated vehicle health management, and airframe projects.
Grumman Awarded $86.6 Million Contract For Work Under NASA's Space
Launch Initiative. These projects will be run from the company's
Air Combat Systems section. There is nothing about demonstrators
mention in the press release so perhaps the company has bigger plans
down the line.
Grumman and Orbital Sciences announced
back in Dec.2000 that they would work together to develop a
2nd generation RLV for NASA.]
While the countdown to the first X-43 flight continues -Mach
10 scramjet prepares June launch - BBC - May.25.01 - the program
for the Mach 7.6 flight of the Australian Hyshot
prepares for a flight in late summer - Hyshot
Blows Its Nose - Spacedaily - May.24.01....
reduction in satellites needing rides to orbit after the failure
of the LEO communication constellations is leading to big problems
with excess launch capacity - Rocket
Shakeout Looms As Overcapacity Grows- Aviation Week - May.25.01
- This will make it even harder for RLV startups to find funding....
Sciences received $53 Million in SLI grants in the recent
round. This included a "$47 million contract for the Demonstration
of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) program. Under the contract,
Orbital will design, build, test and launch a space maneuvering
vehicle derived from the company's Pegasus rocket that will flight
demonstrate in-orbit autonomous rendezvous and close proximity operations...".
they will get $6 million to study further the company's concept
for a "Space Taxi" or crew transfer vehicle. A multi-purpose
reusable vehicle, it would take people to the Space Station, and
stay there for long periods to act as the emergency rescue vehicle.
It could also deliver small supplies of cargo and do on-orbit satellite
servicing. It would probably be launched atop an expendable rocket.
Awarded $53 Million in contracts Related to NASA's Space Launch
Initiative - Orbital PR - May.23.01
X-40 flights set stage for X-37 but how program will proceed is
unclear. X-37 did not recieve additional funds in recent SLI awards
but the program does have an ongoing contract split between NASA
and Boeing: X-40A
Test Program Ends With Success, But X-37 Fate Not Decided - Aviation
Week - May.22.01
will collaborate with Space
Adventures, which arranged for his trip to the Space Station.
Space Adventures has taken in about $2 million in deposits from
over 100 people for suborbital flights, but the company does
not yet have a vehicle to fly them.
was probably hoping that the RLV startups would fund development
of their own vehicles, probably through the launching of commercial
LEO satellites, and it could then simply contract with them
for tourist flights.
the failure of the LEO comsat market, it now appears that the
tourism market itself will be needed to get the RLV's off the
Adventures will work with Tito to fund a suborbital vehicle.
For example, Pioneer's suborbital, discussed at the recent
SAS meeting, might fit well with their needs.
sees $1200/kg as the magic number. Andrews Space
recently released a NASA funded study of future space transportation
markets. They find that the market is inelastic as the price
per kg to LEO falls to around $1200/kg, i.e. no new markets
open up and the number of launches stays about the same. Thus,
revenues actually fall since the income per launch drops.
the launch price falls below the $1200/kg level, new markets,
such as tourism and in-orbit materials processing, start to
develop and market elasticity kicks in very strongly.
completes final flight test: X-40A
seventh - and final - free flight successful, paving way for
NASA's X-37 space plane - Marshall PR - 05-19-01
big set of Space Launch Initiative (SLI) contracts awarded.
A wide range of RLV technology projects were funded with $767
million spread among 22 companies
Instead of funding X vehicles,
various RLV enabling technologies are to be investigated, developed
or improved.For example, Pratt & Whitney and Aerojet won $115M
to develop 3 separate reusable liquid engines:
& Whitney - Aerojet Joint Venture Wins $115 Million NASA Contract
to Develop Reusable Liquid Booster Engines - P&W PR - May.17.01
It is hoped then that these
technologies will lay the basis for vehicle development later.
The most interesting perhaps
was the award to Kistler
Aerospace. The basic contract is for $10M. If, however, the
K-1 begins flying by Spring of 2003, the company will receive
up to $125M to test various technologies during flight.
Dead--]Kistler Receives NASA Contract - Kistler PR - May.17.01
This represents the first
time that NASA has positively responded to a long sought plea
of many activists and RLV startup companies: instead of demanding
that companies build vehicles to NASA specifications, NASA should
simply contract for services and let the companies decide what
vehicle designs will best deliver those services. Furthermore,
with a substantial contract in hand for such services, the startups
will have a much better chance of raising the money for building
We can hope that now with
this contract, Kistler will finally get the funding package put
together that will allow it to finish construction of the K-1
and the Woomera launch site.
briefs... Kistler has a new New
Kistler Payload Users Guide (3.42MB pdf) available on its
web site. ...
Yet another successful X-40
performs sixth flight - Spaceflight Now - May.17.01 *X-40A
sixth free flight successful, paving way for NASA’s X-37 space
plane - Marshall PR - 05-16-01
brief... First X-43 flight set for early June: Tests
of NASA's X-43 hypersonic aircraft start June 2 - Spacedaily -
engines reach mainstream.
Aerojet announced this week a contract to develop a hydrogen peroxide
engine for the Air Force Space Maneuver Vehicle, of which the
X40a (currently undergoing drop tests) and X-37 (in development)
Wins $10.4 Million Contract to Develop Peroxide Engine for Air
Force Space Maneuver Vehicle - Aerojet PR - May.10.01 * Engine
Work Begins For Air Force Space Engine - Aviation Week - May.12.01
engine being developed for spaceplane - Spaceflight Now - May.14.01]
This reusable unmanned vehicle
will provide various capabilities such as emergency reconnaissance,
rendezvous with orbiting spacecraft for re-fueling and examination
and even repair if configured with some sort of remote controlled
manipulator. (In time of war, it could also disable enemy spysats).
It would typically be launched as a second stage on an expendable
For such missions, the craft
must offer fast preparation for flight. Cryogenic fuels such as
liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen offer very high performance but
are complicated and expensive to deal with and can not be stored
in the craft for long periods. Peroxide, which only needs a silver
catalyst, offers a very simple, stable mono-propellant system
with less performance but with easy operational requirements such
as long term storage onboard.
Note that a recurrent theme
over the years among RLV proponents, e.g. in groups like the Space
Access Society, has been the operational advantages of H2O2
and dense bi-propellants such as kerosene/LOX. In the 1950's there
was a lot of work with these fuels but the performance demands
of ICBM's and the Moon Race, and their de-emphasis of operational
costs, cause a shift in focus to more esoteric fuels.
With the focus now moving
back to low cost RLV's, many such ideas that had been abandoned
are beginning to reappear.
brief...More X-40 tests : X-40A
tests side-to-side maneuvers in fourth flight - Spaceflight
Now - May.7.01 [May.8 - X-40A
Notches Fifth Free-Flight At Dryden - Aviation Week - May.8.01
X-Prize project to unveil engineering prototype rocket
at the Toronto Aviation & Aircraft Show that starts May 6. The
vehicle, which is 7.3m long and weighs 500kg, will undergo drop
tests from 3300m to prove the deployment of the ballute and
claims to be the first X-Prize team to complete the testing
of its rocket engines and flight guidance systems. The flight
vehicle, with 10,000-pound thrust, liquid oxygen and kerosene
fuel, will be launched from a balloon at about 13000m.
has gotten considerable support from several Canadian companies
and have raised nearly "$1 million of in kind donation".
Over "10,000 volunteers hours have already been invested
into the project". However, a primary sponsor will be needed
to proceed with construction of the flight vehicle.
funding, they believe they can do an unmanned test flight before
the end of the year and a manned flight two weeks later.
X-Prize Entrant Unveils Full-Scale Engineering Prototype Rocket
- Spaceref - May.3.01 * Canadian
X PRIZE Team Unveils Rocket Prototype - Space.com - May.4.01
animation - Spaceref
1 , 2001
did a super job as usual in organizing the latest SAS
meeting and in arranging a great lineup of speakers.
This was my
fourth SAS meeting and I found it the most encouraging
of them all. This came as a big surprise after last year's rather
There were a number of positive signs that we are, in fact,
still on the road to low cost access to space, though the trip
will take longer than was expected a couple of years ago.
Space on the Cheap
The one and
only mission of the SAS
is to encourage the development of low cost access to space.
More than 4 decades after Sputnik, it still costs several thousand
dollars per pound to place a payload into low earth orbit.
believes that NASA and the big aerospace giants are just not
institutionally built for or motivated to achieving drastic
reductions in space transportation costs - i.e. to the level
of a few hundreds of dollars per pound to orbit at most .
the major space conferences, which are dominated by NASA, Lockmart,
Boeing, etc, the SAS meetings are primarily attended by representatives
of small startup launch companies and a number of advanced amateur
rocketry groups. In addition, there are proponents of new launch
technologies, space activists and just plain old space enthusiasts
such as myself.
themes that emerged from the presentations include:
Recovery - by last summer it was clear that the collapse
of the LEO constellation market had killed or deeply wounded several
promising RLV startups such as Rotary, Pioneer, Kistler, etc.
Since then the survivors have identified potential new markets,
applications and investment sources. In some cases, they redesigned
their vehicles for much lower cost development. As a result, the
chances for the small launch startups to survive and thrive look
much more promising now than even a few months ago.
Some of the launch companies are also surviving on small NASA
research contracts. While some participants thought this would
not lead to a viable business, most see it as a necessity for
the time being. However, in at least one case, the NASA proposal
requirements were so enormous and intrusive, that none of the
small startups even applied.
- develop systems one small step at a time; keep costs as low
as absolutely possible to match the smaller available markets.
- at previous meetings, suggestions of commercial
sub-orbital RLVs, such as TGV's
Michelle, were generally not taken very seriously. Compared to
the huge potential income from placing satellites into orbit for
Iridium, Teledesic, etc., sub-orbital looked like an insignificant
sideshow. It was clear at this meeting, however, that sub-orbital
is now seen as a sensible first step in an incremental approach
to development of a launch company.
Airbreathers - despite the "let's get small"
movement, there are still big projects getting attention...more
Apps - imaging from sub-orbital
platforms offers a strong potential new market as described by
Pat Bahn of TGV (more below.) Vertical drag
racing events at air shows could also become a sizable source
of income for small rocket companies.
Problems - despite years of strong support from RLV
startups, especially from lobbying by Gary Hudson, for the AST
(FAA's Administer for Space Technology), the recently released
encylopedia sized book of RLV regulations completely ignores the
input of the industry and threatens its very existence. For example,
flight testing over land, even vertical up and down testing over
a desert area, would essentially be forbidden. The alternative
of testing a manned RLV over the ocean would both endanger the
pilot and eliminate the possibility of at least partial recovery
of a vehicle after an emergency landing. The loss of the vehicle
could easily put a small startup company out of business.
There was considerable discussion of how to deal with and possibly
reverse these regulations. The potential of a passenger/tourist
sub-orbital market looks completely hopeless if these rules go
Rising - amateur rocketry groups are making substantial
progress, especially now with the entry of wealthy enthusiasts
such as John Carmack of Id Software. Following the incremental
approach described above, we may see manned amateur experimental
rocket vehicles in the sky within a couple of years.
- by fortunate happenstance, Dennis Tito's voyage to the
ISS coincided with the meeting. Many in the Society have been
advocating space tourism for decades. Such a concept was long
considered prepostrous by most people in NASA. The resistance
by NASA against Tito's flight was seen as consistent with the
agency's reluctance to follow a vision of opening space in every
way possible to all of humanity and not just members of its club.
Here are short
summaries of most of the talks, categorized roughly by topic:
& Sub-orbital RLVs
Spaceplane - Mitch Clapp would not discuss
details of the company's downsized vehicle, but it probably is
a sub-orbital. Instead of several hundred million to develop,
it will cost about $35M.
The state of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Spaceport organization
is working to provide tax benefits that will bring Pioneer and
other startups to the state. With this support, Mitch seemed quite
confident of getting the project underway.
- Pat Bahn said that they now have substantial funding commitments
lined up for their sub-orbital Michelle vehicle. The vehicle will
be piloted and VTVL. It will have 6 engines with pressured fed
LOX/Kerosene. There is high redundancy and up to two engines can
fail and still land safely.
Furthermore, he described an exciting new market involving the
use of sub-orbital platforms for imaging and remote sensing.
A sub-orbital platform offers advantages over both aerial and
satellite imaging. Aerial photography at low altitudes involves
a lot of expensive post-processing to properly align and register
the many small scenes with mapping coordinates. A sub-orbital
can provide imaging as frequently as desired rather than the twice
a day rate from a satellite. A sub-orbital will allow a view of
an area up to several thousand miles.
- Near Space Transport
Hare, owner of a construction concrete company and self-taught
rocketeer, is a member of Len
Cormier's XVan2001 team. Unable to raise the several million
dollars needed to build the XVan, he presented a new vehicle that
is somewhat less ambitious but can be built for less than $2Million.
with the kit aircraft company WingCo,
they are proposing to combine Wingco's Atlantica,
a blended wing body design, with rocket engines that will
take the vehicle with a pilot and two passengers to 50km.
develop the vehicle in several stages:
- In stage one they
would use the current long wing design but would use a jet
engine to achieve Mach 0.85.
- In stage two they
would replace the wings with short ones suitable for supersonic
flight. They would then gradually over multiple flights
bring the vehicle to Mach 1.5.
- Once they are confident
of the vehicle performance at this speed, they would replace
the jet engine with 2 rocket engines. Again, they would
test the vehicle in a methodical, one step at a time, fashion
to attain faster and higher performance until they achieved
the 50km altitude.
The moldings to build the vehicle are ready and Hare has several
investors ready to contribute the cash. The big hurdle,
though, is to arrange $5Million in contracts for microgravity
science experiments and whatever other business they can find.
(They are not going after the tourist ride market due to the
regulatory and liability problems.)
- Dan Delong described the various projects that the company is
working on and also put on a couple of conference hall live fire
demos of their small bipropellant engine.
After a year since founding with their own money, they now have
4 major investors and a couple of contracts. They have developed
a proprietary electrical ignitor and also 150lb and 400lb thrust
engines. They are working on a 1500lb engine that could be scaled
Their primary goal is to build rocket engines and sell them to
those building vehicles. However, they will also build their own
vehicles if funded by someone else. For example, the Kommet-II,
a modernized version of the German Me-163b rocket warplane from
WWII, has been designed. It would take about $2.0M to develop
it and they would sell copies for $0.5M.
of the most surprising and encouraging presentations was from
John Carmack. He is famous as one of the founders of
Id Software and a key
programmer for its games such as Doom and Quake.
around for a challenging hobby, he has gotten heavily involved
in amateur rocketry. Last year, for example, he funded a couple
competitors to the tune of $35k.
He is now
actively pursuing development of VTVL vehicles. He decided
on this since high altitude rocketry is typically restricted
to just a couple of attempts a year and those may fail with
limited feedback. VTVL tests can be done frequently and incrementally.
Also, at least during the early development phases, the vehicles
can be easily tested in parking lots and even indoors rather
than at remote locations.
phases have involved small remote controlled vehicles using
hydrogen peroxide engines. The goal is to move step by step
to a high altitude manned version by the end of 2002. The progress
of the efforts of his team of volunteers can be monitored at
has the resources to simply buy all the parts from commercial
sources, the goal is carry out the project with a budget of
around $50k. So, while some parts have simply been purchased,
many have been designed and built by him and his team.
he said that developing the flight control software within the
old style DOS environment of a PC-104 card and its limited memory
resources has been harder than developing the rocket engines!
of the Experimental Rocket
Propulsion Society gave a talk on the various projects
that the group is involved in. Their vehicle
projects include reusable VTVL's and manned sub-orbitals.
of Microcosm gave a status
report on their very low cost expendable launcher development.
Their second successful sub-orbital
Scorpius rocket launch took place this past March. The "SR-XM
flight used the ultra-low-cost Scorpius 5,000 lb. thrust engines,
avionics, and composite fuel tank".
approach, similar to that for low cost RLVs, is to make simple
boosters with as few parts as possible and to trade off some
performance for big gains in operability, reliability and low
cost. The follow-on Sprite Mini-Lift will take 700lb payload
to LEO for just $2.5M.
approach is looking quite promising but progress has been slowed
by the trickle of funding that they have received. So far they
have won 18 competitive awards from NASA and the military since
Airbreathers - despite the "lets get small"
movement, there are still big (i.e. multi-billion dollars
to reach orbit) projects in the running:
- Alan Bond's hybrid airbreathing/rocket combo SSTO vehicle
is still very much alive. Roger Longstraff present a status
report on the Skylon project. He said that the company recently
received substantial funding from a private source.
It will be used to build a demo version of the crucial heat
exchanger system for the SABRE engine. The hot incoming
air must be cooled during the airbreathing phase. Up to
Mach 5 this air is pressured fed into the combustion chamber.
Above 26km, the oxidizer is fed from on-board LOX tanks.
Once this technology is proven, they will seek out private
and government sources to build an actual vehicle. The unmanned
vehicle would take a 12 ton payload to LEO.
Space Technology is proposing its two stage
Gryphon. Dana Andrews described the HTHL vehicle which would
takeoff using turbofan jets and then spend an hour or two
at low altitudes where its Alchemist system gathers and
liquifies oxygen. This LOX is then used to feed rocket engines
that pushes the first stage to about Mach 7.5 and 120km.
There it releases a piggyback second stage that goes on
to orbit. The first stage glides down to about 10km and
the turbofans turned on again for landing.
Andrews has gotten a NASA contract to prove the air liquification
propulsion is usually relegated to Star Trek fantasies.
Even with the routine production of antiprotons at Fermilab
in the US , it would take millions of years to produce even
gram amounts of the amazing stuff.
Gerald A. Smith, formerly a professor of physics at Penn
State University, presented a report on propulsion applications
of reasonably attainable quantities of antiprotons. While
at Penn State he worked on several projects to capture
and hold antiprotons for long periods.
Now at Synergistic
Technologies in Los Alamos, N.M, he is involved with several
funded by NASA to prove that significant quantities of antiprotons
can be captured and stored for long periods. A
$600k degrader/spectrometer combination experiment, for example,
is being setup at Fermilab to capture and hold a trillion antiprotons.
small quantities of antimatter would be used to catalyse
microfusion explosions of deuterium and Helium 3. Fusion
is normally very difficult to achieve but with the addition
of a bit of antimatter, the resulting very high energy in a
small volume will be enough to trigger the fusion reactions
and lead to a net production of energy.
reactions would heat a hydrogen propellant. Such
a propulsion system would provide an Isp of 61,000secs and would
allow a spacecraft to reach 10000 A.U. in 50years.
See the publications
page at Penn State for several articles on antimatter propulsion
gave an update on his laser
propulsion experiments and the formation of the Lightcraft
Technologies company. He discuss several ideas on how to
expand the system to provide for manned spacecraft. (See the
here on Lightcraft.)
expanded on rocket racing ideas that he first proposed at the
Space Frontier Foundation
conference last fall. The concept now is for vertical drag
races of two manned rockets to a given altitude. The races
would occur as events at air shows, just as currently there
are airplane races. Developments are moving along rapidly and
there could be formal announcements of teams and demonstrations
within a few months.
of Vega Aerospace in Germany gave, in addition to his yearly
review of RLV developments in Europe, the results of a brief
study that he has done on the potential for low cost RLV's to
serve the geostationary comsat market. According to his
calculations, if fueling and modular assembly (e.g. connecting
a small booster to take the comsat to take it to GEO) were done
in low earth orbit, RLV's would offer a considerable cost advantage
over current ELVs. Even though it would take at least 2-5 trips
to orbit for the RLV to bring the fuel and modules to LEO, they
would still offer much lower costs. The major hurdle, however,
is convincing the very conservative telsat companies to take
the initial risk to prove the approach.
my revive X-33. The Washington Post reports of discussions
between the Air Force and NASA to keep the X-33 project alive.
Dead--]New Mission for Lockheed Space Plane? Air Force May Give
Life to Canceled X-33 Shuttle Replacement - Washington Post
Eberhart, head of the Space Command, is asking NASA to provide
bridge funding of $15M to maintain the program till October
when the military could then take over with money appropriated
in the next fiscal year. Furthermore, Lockheed Martin
has offered to pay half that if NASA pays the rest.
The Air Force
sees the X-33 project, with a VentureStar follow-on, as a quick
route to hardware development of a military space plane. The
aerospike engine tests had been going along successfully and
other major sub-systems, such as the thermal protection system,
were on schedule for a 2003 launch before the project was canceled
. The new aluminum fuel tank design was ready to move to the
shown interest but hasn't made any committments yet. He's apparently
afraid that come autumn there would be no new money budgeted
to the Air Force for the project and NASA would have funded
a bridge to nowhere.
Donald Rumsfeld is apparently supporting the idea. The renewed
interest by the military for a space plane was, in fact, kicked
off by the report from a military space commission on which
he served before taking over his new post.
mentions that a possible application for the space plane is
as a long range bomber. A VentureStar-like space plane could
deliver a warhead to anywhere in the world within 90 minutes.
The bomb's destructive power would come from simple kinetic
energy due to the speed of delivery from an orbital platform.
briefs... At least some in the military seem to be
getting serious about supporting RLV development - Air
Force Steps Up Quest For Reusable Launchers - Aviation Week
- April.12.01 ...
Meanwhile, the NASA/Air
Force Space Maneuvering Vehicle proto-prototype, X40A, makes
another successful drop (X-37 would be the SMV prototype)
... X-43 getting ready for
first flight - Briefing
Set As Hyper-X Flight Preparations Begin - NASA PR - April.12.01
brief...The LA Tines has a nice review of the X-43
project and the upcoming flights: [--Link
Dead--]Plane's Final Destination Mach 7 - LA Times - April.10.01.
brief...France may build a crew rescue vehicle similar
to the canceled (or at least postponed) X-38 - Italy,
France May Build New Pieces For Station - Aviation Week - April.4.01.
France could perhaps build on what they learned with the defunct
spaceplane project, which was canceled after considerable investment
in its development.
Phoenix rises in Germany...A consortium of German
government agencies and commercial companies have approved funds
for development of the Phoenix "demonstrator for reusable
space transport ": Go-ahead
for new, reusable space transport system - EADS Press Release
- April.4.01. Image
is a prototype for the Space
Hopper concept that Astrium began developing in 1999.
The Hopper consists of a winged first stage ([--Error--]illustration
at Astrium) that is horizontally launched on a sled.
At the apogee of its sub-orbital trajectory, the first stage
releases an expendable second stage that takes the payload to
orbit. (See [--Error--]sequence diagram
at Astrium). The Hopper stage then glides back for landing.
The Hopper looks a bit like a smaller version of the Shuttle.
due for completion in 2003, is a sub-scale version of the Hopper
with a length of "just under seven meters long. It will
have a wingspan of 3.8 meters, a weight of 1,200 kilograms."
Exactly what capabilities the Phoenix will possess have not
yet been detailed in the press releases or on the web sites.
11, 2001 - Update: The April 9 issue of Space News
has an article about the Phoenix project. Items of interest
[ April.11.2001 - Editor:
In general, these and other European RLV programs focus only on
long term technology development. There are no plans for an operational
vehicle earlier than the 2015 time frame. The European space powers
want to insure they first get a return back from their huge Ariane
5 investment before developing other major launch systems. ]
says good-bye. A Flash animation gives a project summary and
listing of the participants....
begun development of the Angara
launch system: Russia
starts serial manufacture of new heavy rocket - Strana.Ru -
March.20.01. This will encompass a family of heavy launch
variations. One of these later variations will include a reusuable
flyback booster. Just how soon they can begin work on this booster,
however, is very uncertain.