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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
October 2002

Copyright of Amadillo Aerospace
(Image captured from video)
Sept. 28, 2002: The first manned flight by an Armadillo Aerospace
reusable, four axis stabilized, liquid fueled," rocket powered vehicle.

This section contains brief articles concerning developments in the field of reusable launch and space vehicles with links to news sources, NASA, company sites, etc.

See the Space Log for entries
on related topics such as amateur rocketry, space businesses, etc.

RLV News Archive Directory

October 31, 2002

News briefs ... Kistler posts two papers from the recent World Space Congress - Space Access for Small Satellites on the K-1 (673kb pdf) & The K-1 Active Dispenser for Orbit Transfer (665kb pdf)

... The EELV companies start looking at carrying the CTV on their vehicles: Boeing, LM To Study Launching ISS Crew Atop Heavy-Lift Delta IV, Atlas V - Aviation Week - Oct.31.02...

...Universal Space Lines has posted a short page on the DC-X. USL was founded by Pete Conrad and several other people involved with the DC-X project. The page includes a flight video....

... Rand Simberg this week talks about the direction of NASA's vehicle development and the need for a broader based public discussion on it : Good Money After Bad - Transterrestrial Musings - Oct.31.02 * at FoxNews. ...

... Elon Musk's SpaceX joins the club : STA announces SpaceX as new member - SpaceX PR/SpaceRef - Oct.30.02 .

Note: The SpaceX Falcon is not a RLV (though partially recoverable) but I'll continue to include items here about it and similar small company launch systems that I find particularly interesting. While RLV's will be required to provide dramatically lower launch costs, it's my belief that entrepreneurial startup companies are also essential components in making lower launch costs happen regardless.

October 30, 2002

RLV Proposed for Orbital Space Tourists... Two fellows at the Aerospace Corporation in a forthcoming Acta Astronautica paper propose a 2 stage RLV system with kerosene engines to support a space tourism business. The system would provide low operations costs and a high flight rate and thus bring cost to orbit down to $15k per seat: Space tourism 'viable at $15,000 a seat' - New Scientist - Oct.30.02 -

Unfair to knock the proposed vehicle based only on a New Scientist article but as described it hardly sounds new or radical. Many RLV designs would bring down costs dramatically if a market became available that drove launch rates into the thousands per year.

News briefs ... XCOR displayed the EZ-Rocket at the recent airshow at Edwards AFB : XCOR EZ-Rocket featured at Edwards AFB, CA. Open House and Air Show - XCOR PR - Oct.28.02 - includes a number of photos ...

... EELV's for the CTV - NASA Working with Contractors to Explore Shuttle Successor - Space.com - Oct.30.02

... Ozark Propulsion Labs and Maryland Delaware Rocketry recently launched a big recoverable rocket : Big Eastern Rocket - HobbySpace News. ...

October 28, 2002

NASA goes for an Orbital Space Plane (previously known as CTV)... Keith Cowing at Spaceref reports on a weekend meeting of NASA managers that examined the Integrated Space Transportation Plan (ISTP). NASA Looks to Replace Space Shuttle With Orbital Space Plane - SpaceRef - Oct.27.02.

Looks like the CTV (Crew Transfer Vehicle) concept has triumphed. The CTV will officially become the Orbital Space Plane (OSP - my acronym) and will launch "aboard an EELV (Delta IV and/or Atlas V) rocket." It will serve to send crews to the ISS and will remained docked there for long periods to act as a crew rescue vehicle (CRV)

Instead of leading a major vehicle development project, SLI will shrink to a technology R&D program. The bulk of the SLI money will instead go to the OSP and to shuttle upgrades to make it "more reliable and more economical to operate." The X-37 program will continue. (Nothing said as to whether the OSP could carry out the SMV (Space Maneuvering Vehicle) tasks that the Air Force wants.)

Looks like the shuttle could operate for another couple of decades under this scenario. Not sure how the shuttle could be made more economial without significant hardware enhancements such as flyback boosters, a hardened thermal protection system, etc.

News briefs... Aviation Week reports on the CTV & SLI developments: NASA Overhauling SLI To Fund Station Lifeboat - Aviation Week - Oct.25.02 ...X43A, B & C projects will continue DOD To Stay Involved With Hypersonics, NASA Says - Aviation Week - Oct.28.02

Feedback*... Speaking of the CTV, one long time RLV News reader, John Shields, thought I was flippant and inconsistent in the remarks I made below about the CTV and X -38. He made some good points, and since it looks like the CTV has become the centerpiece of NASA vehicle development, I will post his comments and give my response.

JS : While I'll be the first to claim that NASA/our-good-friends-on -capital hill has made the transition from ELVs to RLVs almost criminally slow, I think we need to appreciate what O'Keefe is trying to do here. For one thing, I believe it was you who complained that SLI was designed with the (stupid) assumption of "anything you want as long as it carries 7 passengers and 50,000 lbs of cargo". Well, I think this SLI transition to the CTV will allow a reassessment of that theory and will hopefully result in smaller, less expensive and less developmentally risky vehicles.

I wasn't criticising the design or scope of the CTV hardware. As you say, going from an oversized next-gen shuttle truck down to a small passenger van is a positive step and something I applaud. Rather it is the CTV "program" that looks to be similar to the shuttle's. When O'Keefe began to indicate that he would move vehicle development to a CTV emphasis, I thought this was great because it would result in getting a vehicle in the air much sooner, e.g., by 2006 or 2007.

However, the comments in the letter indicate that, in fact, the CTV would become operational in 2010, just a couple years before SLI's 2012 target for a full RLV system. (Of course, that date wasn't realistic. NASA years must be multiplied by significant factor to convert to real time) An 8 year program is comparable to that for the shuttle development.

JS: Secondly, your little blurb implies that the x-38 was far ahead of the x-37 developmentally, which I don't think is true. As I understand it, the huge parachutes (in addition to being a really kludgy low-tech solution in the age of ubiquitous Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) apparently had a fair amount of technical issues regarding unfolding and control. In contrast, the x-40a seems to fly just fine and is a more advanced solution to boot (think about it: which vehicle would YOU rather pilot? *ESPECIALLY* in higher-than-expected winds?).

I re-read my blurb but I don't see that I implied much at all about the X-37. I just wanted to indicate that it was in the mix of programs that will be affected by the new CTV program. Since it is a prototype for an unmanned SMV that the Air Force would use for various on-orbit operations it really should be on a completely separate track but my impression is that it is not.

JS: Thirdly, your article states that the O'Keefe correspondence says *explictly* that the CTV won't be ready until 2010 at the "earliest" (and thereby implies that the x-38 CRV would be ready far earlier). However, if you simply read the O'Keefe letter carefully, it turns out that what you wrote is fairly misleading, since O'Keefe *also* explicitly states that a preliminary version of the CTV tailored to ONLY bring astronauts BACK (as opposed to up and back) could be ready by 2008, which is the SAME "earliest" date as for the x-38 derivative.

Yes, I should have pointed out the 2008 date but I still believe the plan is not especially ambitious.

The X-38 was a relatively low budget program that intended not only to get a credible prototype in the air but also to show a new way for NASA to carry out development projects. It was sort of NASA's DC-X that would prove that it could also operate in something like a 1950's X vehicle mode, i.e. a small, highly skilled and motivated team, using COTS equipment as much as possibile, would get something done quickly, cheaply and successfully.

Meanwhile, in parallel, SLI was gearing up to spend multi-billions on RLVs, first on studies and later on hardware. O'Keefe comes along and says that instead NASA will spend those billions on a CRV/CTV. It would seem to me that with that kind of increase in funding money, it should do much better time-wise than the original little program that was going along quite well but constrained by its resources.

JS: Personally, I think that O'Keefe is doing the best he can in the face of NASA "tunnel vision" from the "old guard" and from idiotic congressmen whose sole purpose in life is to bring money-- *ANY* money-- into their district. So, why not use your site to heap criticism where criticism is due, but applaud when someone steps up to the plate with much-needed change?

I don't see that it was idiotic to question both the motivation for the cancellation and the way it was done. If I had worked on the X-38 I would be stunned that, instead of my team getting a pat on its collective back for doing a lot on a modest budget, the whole thing is junked with little explanation (at least not until much later.) Asking my Congress-person to look into the matter is what he or she is there for.

I hope for the best from O'Keefe and, in principle, scaling down SLI and going for a small reusable spaceplane are positive steps. I certainly believe he is doing what he thinks is best for the agency and for US space development.

But if you step back and forget that he is involved, it looks suspiciously like same ol'same old: X-33, X-34, X-38, SLI are all RLV programs canceled after large investments of person-years and money. The CTV (or OSP) - a new program, a new mix of letters. Will it be any different? I would have more confidence that it would be if O'Keefe challenged the agency to do it on much faster schedule. That would require that NASA do project development differently than it has in the past.The program will extend across at least 2 administrations. A lot can happen in 6-8 years.

(Of course, this discussion skips the whole question as to whether NASA should be developing vehicles to begin with. But that's a matter for another blurb.)

*Note: I occasionally add commentary to the news items posted here to provide some color and perspective. I try to confine it to policy and economic issues, for which I think I can make intelligent comments, and not on the technical aspects of the various RLV approaches. I have a Phd in physics but that doesn't make me a rocket scientist by a long shot!

October 25, 2002

News brief ... The Space Transportation Association, headed by Frank Sietzen who is also editor of the NSS Ad Astra magazine, defends the Shuttle against Rand Simberg's slings and arrows : STA Responds to Fox News Article on Shuttle, SLI - STA PR/Spaceref - Oct.25.02.(STA Membership list.) [Rand's response - Oct.26.02]...

... XCOR will bring the EZ-Rocket for display at the Edwards Air Show in Southern California on Saturday, October 26th. (Static display only, no flights.)

October 24, 2002

News brief ... Rand Simberg says we should eliminate "'Shuttle' from our national space vocabulary". Instead of focusing on a s-----e replacement, NASA should focus on nurturing a private space transportation industry: A Shuttle By Any Other Name - Transterrestrial Musings - Oct.24.02 (at Fox News.)

October 23, 2002

Quick CRV becomes Slow CTV... Rep. Ralph M. Hall [Democrat-Texas] has released letters (PDF file, 559kb) exchanged with Sean O'Keefe about the cancellation of the X-38/CRV (Crew Rescue Vehicle) and NASA's plans for a seven passenger CTV (Crew Transfer Vehicle) to take its place. (I assume the CTV program will absorb the X-37 project.)

Summarised in a press release - Rep. Hall Releases O'Keefe's Responses on Crew Return Plans for the Space Station - House Science - Oct.22.02, O'Keefe indicates that, in fact, the CRV was canceled before any detailed "quantitative analysis" was carred out.

Also, " 2010 is estimated to be the 'earliest' availability date for a Crew Transfer Vehicle (CTV) to support crew return functions on the International Space Station." and "No estimates of the cost to develop and operate a CTV are provided."

So nearly 40 years after lifting bodies began flying at Edwards and more than 20 years since the first shuttle flight, NASA will requre 8 years and, no doubt, several billion dollars to build a small spaceplane module without even a reusable first stage to get it into orbit.

Note that the X-38/CRV was supposed to represent a new development approach for NASA in which a small, highly focused team, using cheap-off-the-shelf technology as much as possible, would design, build, and fly a vehicle in a short time frame. It's replacement CTV looks to be a return to business as slow as usual.

October 22, 2002

Partially Recoverable Falcon... Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies (mentioned earlier) has now posted a much more informative set of web pages. It gives a number of details about the 2-stage Falcon, which later will become the 2nd and 3rd stages of a 3 stage vehicle.

The Falcon's 1st stage is recovered:

"Falcon’s 1st Stage is a recoverable portion of the  launch vehicle.  The recovery system uses flight proven technology by deploying a hypersonic drogue just after stage separation.  At 20,000 feet the main parachute is deployed for a ocean landing."

Each stage employs a single LOX/kerosene engine. The first stage engine produces 60,000 lbf thrust and is based on the Apollo Lunar Module descent engine and uses a "low cost single shaft turbopump". The pressure fed second stage engine produces 7500 lbf thrust.

The system can place 1000lbs (454kg) into LEO. The company says it will carry out its first launch in late 2003.

News brief... Another billionaire's space company makes a deal for insurance coverage: Aon Space To Supply Insurance Brokering, Risk Management Services for Orbital Recovery Corp.'s Satellite Retrieval System - Orbital Recovery PR - Oct.22.02 ...

... Partnership will guide military, civilian space activities - Air Force News/Spaceref - Oct.22.02 :

"'We'll be working closely with NASA, as NASA continues to be involved with reusable launch vehicle technology. It's in a technology development phase now, but there's not a doubt in my mind that we will have a reusable launch system,' [Undersecretary of the Air Force Peter B.] Teets said."

October 21, 2002

News brief... Robert Becerra, a Florida based attorney, will appear on The Space Show this Wednesday (8-9pm PST), October 23th to "discuss the typical requirements to obtain a license from the FAA for launches of expendable and reusable vehicles, and for reentry vehicles." The program is available live via internet streaming at http://www.newschannel1150.com/....

...SLI goes into standby mode: NASA delays review of Space Launch Initiative requirements - SLI News - Oct.22.02. The review will take place after NASA:

"completes its assessment of its Integrated Space Transportation Plan, ascertains the role of the Department of Defense in the SLI, determines the future requirements of the International Space Station and firms up the agency’s future space transportation needs."

Gee, is that all?

October 20, 2002

Advent Returns for the X Prize...The Advent Launch Services company initially planned a large vehicle called the Mayflower Rocket that would take 6 tourists to 110km. The vehicle was a bit unusual in that both the takeoff and landing would occur at sea.

The approximately $10M effort was to be funded by payments from those joining the Civilian Astroanuts Corps who would get a ride on the Mayflower in return. The prospective pilot for the rocket even got an appearance on the David Letterman show. Unfortunately, the project shut down in 1999 because of the slow rate at which people and sponsors were signing up. According to the article Space Tourism Company Shuts Down - Spaceviews - Apr.15.99, they refunded $200k raised from 62 candidate space tourists who had put deposits down.

However, the Houston based project now continues with a scaled down version of the vehicle for the X Prize. Their entry page recently received an upgrade and a data sheet (575kb pdf) describes the vehicle, the flight profile, the liquid methane/LOX engine, and other aspects of the project.

News briefs... I finally came across an image on the web of Rutan's mystery plane, mentioned here previously as possibly a first stage in his X Prize entry....

... See videos of the recent flight of Japan's Phase I prototype at High Speed Flight Demonstration - NASDA....

...A Chamber of Commerce commission recommends that NASA use its purchasing power, for products and services like launch vehicles, as a tool to encourage their development: Government Urged To Be Reliable Buyer Of Space Products - Aviation Week - Oct.18.02

October 18, 2002

The Rebel Rocketeers vs the Establishment...As reported in several places, the X Prize managed to get the rest of the $10 M purse by making a bet with an insurance company that a winner would occur by January 1, 2005. See the X Prize Fact Sheet for a brief report on the scheme.

A good part of the $5 million previously raised includes funds promised by FirstUSA credit card and some other sponsors (that is, this money only appears if a winner appears.) Not counting this money, I assume the X Prize used whatever cash they had to make the bet with the insurance company.

I'm rather surprised that an insurance company agreed to such a deal without at least getting a committment for some advertising rights if they lose. My guess is that the company contacted various experts at NASA, the big aerospace companies, and DC beltway gurus who dissed the whole X Prize concept and promised there was no way little startups and amateur groups could possibly succeed at launching an RLV.

The X Prize thus becomes more than just an interesting race. Like the Eclipse low cost jet aircraft, which has been relentlessly criticized as an impossible dream by many in the mainstream aerospace industry, the X Prize competitors will try to open an alternative route to the development of new rocket vehicles.

Japan's Phase I Vehicle Flies...Mentioned here earlier, a spaceplane prototype called the Phase I vehicle made a successful low altitude autonomous takeoff, flight and landing today on Christmas Island in Australia.

This prototype will only make subsonic flights to test the autonomous control and guidance systems. A Phase II vehicle will fly at supersonic speeds in tests next year at the Esrange center in northern Sweden. The vehicle will drop from a balloon at 30km and reach speeds up to Mach 1.2. It will land with the aid of parachutes and airbags.

October 17, 2002

More X Prize Publicity... Space.com confirms that the X Prize now has the full $10 M purse.

"'The $10 million is in place,' said Peter Diamandis, Chairman and Founder of the X Prize in St. Louis, Missouri. That money is secure and available to January 1, 2005 he announced today at the World Space Congress."

An article at CNN also gives a generally positive report on the X Prize project, Armadillo Aerospace and the other entrants: Armadillo, Romanians join private space race - CNN.com - Oct.16.02. Great to see the X Prize starting to get some attention. I expect that as test flights begin, the publicity will quickly grow. Proabably soon, bookies in Las Vegas will start taking bets on the competitors.

Sounds like the Jan.1, 2005 date has become the de facto deadline since the sponsors will withdraw their money then. Since several teams have indicated they will begin test flights in 2003, looks like there is a fighting chance of making the 2005 deadline.

Singing the Reusable Anthem... Rand Simberg gives a good rendition of why RLVs trump ELVs in his Fox News column: Throwing Away Our Future - FOXNews.com - Oct.17.02.

News brief... Houston Chronicle offers a short article on John Carmack's "violent game creations" and rockets: Game creator taking a shot at space race - HoustonChronicle - Oct.17.02

October 16, 2002

SLIming Down? ... Space.com reports that the "chatter" going around the World Space Congress this week in Houston says that the SLI will undergo radical restructuring and reduction in scale. Much of the money intended for SLI will go to the ISS, a crew rescue vehicle, and shuttle upgrades.

I would bet that SLI will ends up as a small program supporting various RLV technologies - e.g. kerosene engines, lightweight structures, etc. - but not vehicle development.

News brief... Pop Sci gives a nice report on the HyTech scramjet engine and vehicle project : Scram! - Popular Science - Oct.02. See also the previous entry here about HyTech and other hypersonic programs.

October 15, 2002

X Prize: Two New Entries and a Test Launch... X Prize announces at the World Space Congress that two new entries signed up for the contest: Armadillo Aerospace (XPrize page) and the ARCA Team of Bucharest, Romania:

X PRIZE Competition Heats Up with entry of two new teams to win the $10 Million "New Race to Space"- X Prize PR/Spaceref - Oct.15.02

[Press release on the X Prize site - Oct.16.02]

Also, the Argentine team of Pablo De Leon plans to launch in 2003 a half-scale version of the Gauchito. See the Asociación Argentina de Tecnología Espacial (AATE) site and their Rocket Projects page for more info.

In addition, the X Prize organization introduced a new "trustee & benefactor". Perhaps she is bringing more money. I've heard a rumour that the project is now fully funded but an announcement would come later.

Frankly, I've never thought that the fact that the purse had not yet reached $10M was an issue. First of all, raising the additional money would obviously become much easier once viable competitors start making test flights. Secondly, anyone who needed the purse to pay for their project shouldn't be in the contest to begin with. As discussed previously, America's Cup entrants pay $70-80M to go for a trophy with no purse at all. Similarly, no car racing team pays for its operations through winnings (well, maybe Ferrari which has won every Formula 1 race this year!) Sponsorships pay the bills.

Malaysian Space Tourism Project?...Patrick Collins, of Space Future and a professor at Azabu University in Japan, will try to convince Malaysian officials of the viability of space tourism.:

IKAM serious about space tourism - New Straits Times (Malaysia) - Oct.13.02

The article claims that a RLV with a 20-30 passenger capability is under consideration.

You might check out as well this paper by Prof. Collins recently posted at Space Future: Meeting the Needs of the New Millennium: Passenger Space Travel and World Economic Growth by Patrick Collins - IAF Congress 2001

October 14, 2002

News brief...Check out Armadillo's Tube Vehicle status. The streamline vehicle (jpeg) includes a ballistic parachute system for emergencies...

...SLI is funding a flexible, space based telemetry and range safety system that will allow launches from just about anywhere in the US and at a much lower cost than current systems: SLI's Space-Based Telemetry And Range Safety Project Demonstrated - KSC PR - Oct.10.02

October 9, 2002

Zero-G Flights Approved - Space Log

October 8, 2002

US Air Force & NASA Sign Agreement on RLVs...NASA Watch is reporting that NASA and USAF this morning signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that deals with development with Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) developmen. The MOA divides up responsibilities between the two and establishes a connection "between the DoD's National Aerospace Initiative (NAI) and NASA's Space Launch Initiative (SLI)."

More should be revealed this afternoon about the collaboration at the Space Transportation Association Town Hall Meeting.

NASA and Pentagon Pledge Cooperation In Space But Provide Few Details - Space.com - Oct.8.02 (5pm)

Space Tourism Study Shows Strong Market - Space Log

October 7, 2002

Rocket Event Promotions...In the Space Log section I wrote an article the other day called Promoting Space Events about the rise of companies in the business of organizing and promoting advanced rocketry and space related events.

Takeoff Technologies, for example, helped to organize a recent OK Spaceplanes event in which several hundred paper airplanes made by Oklahoma school kids were carried by a high altitude balloon and released at 100k ft. Similar to JP Aerospace's Pongsat program, the idea is to use high altitude balloons and rockets for educational and entertainment projects. (The Oklahoma activities have been helped along by the development of the Oklahoma Spaceport.)

If you are involved in a high altitude rocket or ballooning project, you might consider contacting one of these companies to help organize and promote events centered around a launching.

In particular, Joan Horvath, president of Takeoff says "We'd like to encourage your readership that is actually flying vehicles (or close to it) to contact us to get involved in our flying-for-the-public activities. We also will have some ability to loft small scientific or educational payloads as we build up our flight schedule."

October 6, 2002

Rocket Flashback - DC-X Video On Line... A very nice video montage of the second DC-X flight in September 1993, and of scenes before and after, has been posted at Armadillo Aerospace. The video was made by space enthusiast Chris ‘Xenon Hanson.

In the story behind the video, he tells how, along with a friend, he passed himself off as a reporter and obtained entry into White Sands to see the launch.

They also got to wander around the launch site the day before and take some pictures. I like this one - that's the way a rocketship is supposed to look!

I also liked his description of the flight:

"...The DC-X did nothing short of exactly what it was supposed to, and did it perfectly. Watching it climb rapidly out of its exhaust plume into the pale sky, and then come to a gentle halt with no visible means of support is nothing short of pure science fiction."

"The cryogenic hydrogen/oxygen engines burn so cleanly that they produce no visible flame, making the vehicle look like a flying saucer that someone forgot to flatten. It appears to have no business whatsoever just hanging there in the sky."

"Even more astonishing is when it nonchalantly slides sideways a few hundred feet, stops again for a couple seconds just to prove it can, and then gently descends to the desert floor."

"The four little pneumatic landing struts that zip out (not quite in synchronization with each other) make it seem all the more likely that a little green man will pop out waving a ray gun as soon as the dust settles."

"The crowd went wild..." - Chris Hanson

You can find more info on the DC-X in the RLV History section; see, for example, this list of flights.

For the politics of the DC-X, especially as to why there was no money to build two or three vehicles as was typical for previous X rocket vehicle programs in case one was lost, I recommend the late G. Harry Stine's 1996 book Halfway to Anywhere: Achieving America's Destiny in Space (Amazon commission link). I was amazed at his recounting of how a mid-level staffer in Congress could stymie such a promising program.

(Written just after the X-33 program started, Stine also gave a number of prescient criticisms on the chosen design and his preference for a simpler, incremental DC-XB/C approach.)

JP Aerospace Launches Rocket in Texas - Space Log

Starchaser Update...The Starchaser web site has had a major upgrade that's flashier, but, more importantly, provides a number of additional details on their Thunderbird X Prize vehicle. (Note that only the Flash version currently has the new info. Sigh...)

The vehicle includes two powered stages plus a crew module. The vehicle design is now longer and slimmer than in previous drawings. The first and second stages use kerosene/LOX engines plus strap-on solids on the first stage. All components return by parachute, though the crew module switches to a paraglider for the landing. (See the flight profile.)

The goal is for a manned launched is in August, 2004. According to the article Space countdown for Woomera - theage.com.au - Apr.14.02 , Starchaser has obtained financing from several sponsors and raised $A1.3 million from the sale of two seats on a flight of the vehicle. This article also says that the launchings may take place at Woomera.

Starchaser definitely seems to have plenty of funding. For example, it is also sponsoring a couple of Mars Society projects. It gave $90k to support the Euro-MARS hab, and the Australian Chapter received $A41k for its Marsupial analogue rover.

The organization seems to have transformed from an amateur/academic project into a commercial company, but one still involving volunteers and students.

I should note that Steve Bennett, the founder and head of Starchaser, is a very controversial figure among British amateur rocketry enthusiasts, as indicated by the article Private rocket launch is 'suicidal' - BBC - June.27.01. Among other affronts, one of his early rockets failed and caused a fire that led to the loss of access for all amateur rocketry groups to a favorite launch site . However, the launch of the large Nova rocket was quite impressive and the organization definitely seems to be growing and developing into a real rocket company.

October 5, 2002

Elon Musk's Launch Company...A posting on sci.space.policy today gave the link to the website for SpaceX: Space Exploration Technologies, the new launch company (mentioned here earlier) founded by Elon Musk.

Currently the site only gives a one page brief description of the company and its Falcon rocket project:

"Our first launch vehicle, named Falcon, is a two stage, liquid oxygen and kerosene powered rocket capable of placing half a ton into low Earth orbit. We expect to have the Falcon ready for launch by late 2003, with the actual liftoff date subject to Air Force and NASA safety approval. Following this vehicle, SpaceX plans to develop a large three stage rocket using the first and second stages of the Falcon vehicle as its second and third stages. That vehicle would compete in the heavy lift payload class occupied by Arianespace, Boeing, Lockheed, China Aerospace and Russia's Krunichev. "

"While drawing upon the ideas of many prior launch vehicle programs from Apollo to the X-34/Fastrac, SpaceX is privately developing the entire Falcon rocket from the ground up, including both engines, the turbo-pump, the cryogenic tank structure and the guidance system. A ground up internal development increases difficulty and the required investment, but no other path will achieve the needed improvement in the cost of access to space." - SpaceX

The site also lists what looks to be a solid group of engineers involved in the project.

They certainly will need good engineering to meet their schedule. It doesn't say if any of the stages are reusable or expendable but I think that to get a vehicle flying in just over a year both stages must be expendables.

Sooner Spaceport Conference...Looks like an interesting line up for the Southwestern Oklahoma State University's Fall Conference 2002: Stake Your Claim in Oklahoma's New Frontier - Nov.8.02. The meeting will focus on the potential of the Oklahoma Spaceport and its support for new entrepreneurial space businesses. Speakers include John Carmack of Armadillo Aerospace, Chuck Lauer of Pioneer Rocketplane, and James Benson of SpaceDev.

October 4, 2002

X Prize Rocket How-to Guide...The X Prize site has posted an excellent article from the August 2002 issue of Sport Aviation called Designing an X-Prize Homebuilt Spacecraft by Mark Christopher Russell ( also available in pdf - 346kb).

The article leads you through the rocket equation with the goal of designing a vehicle that will reach the 100km X Prize altitude for a pilot and 2 passengers and with reasonable assumptions for structural weight, engine thrust, etc.

Russell runs RL Aerospace, which has built and test fired a 1000lb thrust LOX/Kerosene regeneratively cooled rocket engine with a composite jacket. He is also designing a 15,000 lb thrust re-usable liquid rocket engine. In the article he assumes the availability of three of these latter engines for his vehicle design.

He provides a spreadsheet file so you can play around with the different parameters in designing your own homebuilt spacecraft.

Russell "was a project engineer for the Van's Aircraft RV-8, developed spacecraft separation systems for Boeing's Sea Launch project, and was a lead systems engineer for loads and dynamics of the Kistler K-1 reusable launch vehicle."

X Prize Entry Updates..Some of the entry pages at the X Prize site have been updated with new images, project descriptions, and summary sheets in pdf files:

October 3, 2002

News Briefs...The GAO has issued a review of SLI - short summary at GAO-02-1020 Space Transportation: Challenges Facing NASA’s Space Launch Initiative - Spaceref - Oct.3.02, full report at 619kb pdf. [GAO: Not time for new shuttle - Florida Today - Oct.4.02]...

...SLI dropped support for Pratt & Whitney COBRA LH2/LOX engine, but work continues on the Boeing RS-83 - Stennis to begin preburner testing for Boeing Rocketdyne's RS-83 engine - NASA PR - Sept.20.02...

...Note that the Aviation Week article mentioned earlier on jet powered flyback boosters has now been posted on their site for free viewing - Gas Turbines Eyed For 'Flyback' Booster -Aviation Week - Oct.3.02.

October 2, 2002

Teledesic Memories...A RLV News reader asked me what I thought about Teledesic's announcement that it was "suspending" plans to launch its first two satellites (Teledesic Suspends Work Under Satellite Contract - Teledesic - Sept.30.02) .

I had posted a comment earlier in the Space Log section but I didn't address the impact on RLV's because I don't know of any company still basing a business plan on Teledesic ever getting off the ground. (The system, in fact, had shrunk from the initial 900 satellites in LEO to 30 in MEO.)

It is worth noting, however, on its passing that Teledesic did give a big boost to the RLV companies in the late 1990's. The announcement of a 900 satellite system, supported by credible investors like Craig McCaw and Bill Gates, certainly entered into their presentations to investors and helped them get initial funding.

Even if the various LEO constellations used ELV's to launch the first generation of satellites, the yearly replacement rate (say ~50 satellites per year for a 5% failure rate after the first 5 or 6 years), would have provided a very nice market for the RLV companies.

Unfortunately, with the Iridium/Globalstar bankruptcies the startup RLV companies could not convince investors that the constellations would provide a realistic launch market for them. (At the past 3 Space Access meetings, I remember the speakers for the RLV companies expressing great skepticism that Teledesic would ever fly.)

I discuss in the Space Log why I think the current constellations will survive but I think they will need a few years to solidify their situation before we'll know if they can offer a replacement business for launch companies. I also think broadband from LEO will eventually make a comeback, especially for mobile apps, but it will be after the recovery from the telecom meltdown and with a much lower cost satellite system (perhaps launched by RLVs.)

It seems increasingly clear that space tourism is the one sure big market that can get the private RLV companies into business. First sub-orbital and then orbital.

News Brief... Leonard David talks with John Carmack about the Armadillo manned rocket flight : X-Prize Entrant Makes Small Leap - Space.com - Oct.2.02

October 1, 2002

SLI Going for Kerosene Engines... As first reported last week by NASA Watch, SLI will not renew the contract with Pratt & Whitney/Aerojet for development of the COBRA LH2/LOX engine according to the latest issues of Space News and Aviation Week - NASA Shifts SLI Funds Kerosene Engines - Aviation Week - Sept.30.02.

This doesn't immediately affect Boeing's RS-83 LH2/LOX engine since its contract runs till next Spring. But all signs indicate that SLI wants to concentrate on kerosene engines and may not continue that program either.

Note that a number of people in the "independent" launch industry, such as Mitchell Clapp of Pioneer Rocketplane, have been promoting the advantages of such non-cryogenic fuels, especially with regard to simpler and cheaper operations, for many years. Expect, though, to hear NASA claiming this approach as its own revolutionary discovery.

Jet Power for FlyBack Boosters... Aviation Week also reports that NASA is funding studies by General Electric and Pratt & Whitney into the use of gas turbine engines for flying a booster back to the launch site after it detaches from the second stage that goes on to orbit.

The separation would occur at high altitude (~60km) and at around Mach 8, so the boosters would glide down to low altitude (~11km) and Mach ~0.7 before turning on the engines.

Part of NASA Glenn's Revolutionary Aeropropulsion Concepts program, the studies will look into various aspects of such a system including cold-start capabilities and robustness with respect to high vibration levels and wide thermal variations. No current engine meets all the requirements but modified versions of Pratt's F135 and GE's F136 engines, intended for the Joint Strike Fighter, look promising.

[ Gas Turbines Eyed For 'Flyback' Booster -Aviation Week - Oct.2.02]

Ruslan Air Launch Project Continues.. A report at TelecomWeb - Russian Airline Company Targets Satellite Profit In 2006 - TelecomWeb - Oct.1.02 [link has switched from free to subscription - Oct.7.02] - indicates that the Russian Air Launch Corporation's plan to use Ruslan cargo planes for a launch system remains alive.

First announced back in 2000 - Space rockets to fire from plane [Ruslan] - BBC - Apri.19.00 - the huge planes, which can fly 120-tonne payloads, would carry a 100-tonne, two-stage Polyot rocket to around 11km where it would perform a "zoom maneuver".

As described in Russians to Launch Satellites by Plane - SatNews - Mar.5.01, the zoom consists of first a dive to gain speed and then a climb at 26 degrees and the release of the payload at the apex of the trajectory. A drogue chute would stabilize the rocket's free-fall for a few seconds before it fires.

The first launch is now expected in late 2004 or 2005. They could fly from several locations around the world. The target market is LEO satellites including remote sensing and comsats. The project investement is around $130 million and each launch would cost around $20 million - Arab Investors Could Back New Russian Air Launcher [Ruslan] - Spacedaily - Aug.16.01 for a cost would be around $2500 per kg for an 8 ton payload.

Such air launched systems can offer substantial cost advantages compared to ELVs if the carrier aircraft needs only minor modifications so that it can still do other tasks, e.g. normal cargo delivery, in between launch flights. A big drawback of the Orbital Science Pegasus is the cost and maintenance of the dedicated L-1011. Since the Ruslan holds the rocket internally and just drops it out the back door, it presumably doesn't need as much customization. [The paper A Study of Air Launch Methods for RLVs (PDF 542kb) gives an excellent overview of launch costs and air launch advantages & disadvantages.]

News brief... Check out the cool Xerus posters and collectables at the XCOR store.


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