Your Senators to Save Rocketry! - now's the chance
to get rocketry fuels exempted from the Homeland Security Act's
explosives list. (Links
to Senators' websites)
The SpaceX website
(flash only, ugggh!) has posted some updates on progress in
the development of the Falcon partially refurbishable launcher.
(Click on the "Updates" tab, the front page has
only old news). Topics include:
- Installation of flight test stands at a former Naval engine
test site in Texas is underway. This is the same site where Beal
Aerospace tested its engines.
- First stage construction started.
- Major redesign of propellant tanks "will give the Falcon
one of the best mass ratios of any launch vehicle out there".
- Flight, engine and ground controller computers now working
- Engine igniters tested
- Lease signed for launch pad 3-West at Vandenburg AFB. They will
use it for polar launches while they will use pad 46 at KSC for
- Main engine castings delivered but there have been problems
with the turbopump manifolds castings.
NASA RLV Technology Development...
These two documents outline how NASA expects to develop new technology
that leads to operational RLVs. Also, they discuss how NASA evaluates
the achievements and shortcomings of previous programs.
The "structured approach" involves four
- Basic lab studies and tests of components
- Flight tests of components typically going "piggyback"
on an existing system.
- Flight demonstrators
- Operational vehicle development.
Those proposing new projects must decide where they
fit in this scheme. A particular technology will be assigned one
of nine divisions of the Technical Readiness Level (TRL) from basic
principles up to flight proven hardware.
In addition, there is a new Integration Readiness
Level (IRL) rating accorded to new systems at the vehicle stage.
Appendix B Technology Assessment Database in Structured
Approach... gives an interesting table showing the status of
various technologies such as thermal protection systems and reusable
engines and what TRL rating they have.
Appendix C Flight Options Database provides a table
of ELVs, proposed RLVs, sub-orbital rockets and even NASA balloons.
Includes cost per flight data.
that a shuttle "replacement is decades
"next-generation shuttles...are still in
the realm of science fiction."
NASA is "not set to make the $50-billion
decision on what the next-generation shuttle will be until 2009."
" the technology necessary to do what NASA
wanted to do [e.g. 50 flights per year] has still yet to be
"the only way to solve the problem is to
build the orbiter from stronger and lighter materials that don't
Geesh! I guess the Kistler
K-1 is just a figment of my sci-fi imagination. It was 75% built
for ~$0.5 billion, and many people in the independent launch companies
think that Kistler way overspent. Can a slightly more capable, man-rated
K-2 (my name) really cost 100 times as much to develop??
... I'd certainly
agree, though, that deep space transportation needs significant
development - NASA
planner says space travel hinges on new technology - HoustonChronicle
- Feb.26.03. I wish NASA would concentrate on that and just
pay private companies for LEO transportation.
Prospector 3 launch success...
Last Saturday the Cal State Long Beach/Garvey Spacecraft team
succesfully launched and recovered their Prospector 3 sounding rocket
Vectoring Successfully Demonstrated on P-3 Launch and Recovery -
CSULB - Feb.22.03.
The flight provided an "initial demonstration
of thrust vector control, an improved engine chamber design and
the first use of a new set of flight control avionics." Videos
will be made available of the flight later.
The SLI News site has posted animations
of the four leading concepts for the OSP design showing launch,
docking with the ISS and landing.
OSP heads for the Apollo
era... The latest issue of Aviation Week - Orbital
Space 'Plane' Could Be a Capsule - AvWeek - Feb.24.03 (paid
subscription required) - reports that all of the OSP teams have
looked at capsule designs to fulfill the OSP role. (See artwork
(Note that the same three
teams of major contractors that were selected in the SLI milestone
review last year seemed by default to have become the teams for
A Northrop Grumman/Orbital Sciences team has even
studied the Apollo command module and found it to be a "pretty minimal-capable
The recently released OSP
requirements, however, include a demand that the vehicle deliver
an injured crew person to "definitive medical care within 24
hours." This means that the vehicle must provide high cross
range capability in order to reach suitable landing spots without
delay. This pushes for a winged design.
Current technology development projects include:
- Boeing testbed that will launch in 2006 on a Delta 4 or Atlas
5 and demonstrate reentry and autonomous landing capabilities.
of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology - Orbital Sciences - a
small test spacecraft will be launched in 2004 from a Pegasus
and then rendezvous with a target satellite and carry out several
maneuvers with respect to the satellite.
Abort Demonstration - Lockheed-Martin/Rocketdyne - will use
a 200,000-lb.-thrust system to demonstrate techniques for lifting
the OSP off the ELV in case of emergency.
Canadian Arrow engine test
postponed... Geoff Sheerin of the Canadian
Arrow X Prize team reports that the tests, see below,
will be delayed about 10 days due to the need to replace some fittings
on their LOX lines and because of severe weather ( -35 wind chill).
Suborbitals article on Spaceflight
News... Jeff Foust (spacetoday.net)
has written an excellent article about the Suborbital Institute's
campaign on Capitol Hill : Suborbital
activists go to Washington - Spaceflight Now - Feb.22.03.
Edward Tenner, author of "Why Things Bite Back: Technology
and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences", writes in a Wash Post
editorial about the need for an entrepreneurial approach to space
Next Mission? Attracting the Next Bill Gates - Washington Post -
Launch planned for student
rocket with thrust vectoring ... A launch of the Prospector
3 by California
State University, Long Beach and Garvey
Spacecraft Corporation (GSC) is planned for this weekend. It
will take place at the Mojave Test Area, site owned and operated
by the Reaction Research
According to the CSULB
"The flight is scheduled to include take-off with a 500
lbf engine (using LOX and ethanol) followed by a nose down then
nose up pitch maneuver. The thrust vector control system will
be an open loop control system acting only in one axis and will
serve to generate data on rocket dynamics and compare these with
analytical model predictions for integration into the 2-axis closed-loop
control system to be flown at a later date.
"The Prospector-3 rocket will also fly two sets of payloads
developed by USC students involved in the USC
Microsatellite Program. One of these payloads will be bonding
samples to test this technology for use in MEMS applications.
The other will be a flight computer and launch environment (including
high frequency accelerometers) data recording system."
See info on previous launchings of the Prospector
series at Garvey's Kimbo
More information appearing about prior concerns with the Columbia
wing : Risk
Of Burn-Through Raised At NASA In 1988 - Aviation Week - Feb.21.03...
More about the seconds : New
data shows Columbia's state in final moments- Spaceflight Now -
The market waits...
Despite Columbia there remains a surprisingly strong level of interest
in space travel. As I discussed yesterday in the Space
Log section, the recent Gallup poll - Support
for NASA Shuttle Flights Remains Firm Three in four Americans want
funding levels maintained or increased - Gallup - Feb.17.03
- found that "3 in 10 Americans would like to take a space
shuttle flight at some time in the future. This number is just slightly
below the 34% who expressed this desire in 1991, and the 38% who
said that shortly following the 1986 Challenger explosion."
I find this result quite amazing. This resilient public
desire for going to space should be quite encouraging for those
developing vehicles for suborbital tourism.
Leonard David reports on the state of space tourism development:
Columbia - Space Tourism Supporters Vow to Carry On - Space.com
... NASA will
probably get most of the OSP funding that it wants but there's going
to be lots of questions from Congress about it: NASA
Releases Initial Requirements For Orbital Space Plane - Av. Week
Armadillo X Prize vehicle
artwork... Over at the ARocket
forum John Carmack posted more information about the Armadillo
X Prize vehicle and provide links to some new artwork of the current
design (see above).
The drogue shoots from the bottom of the vehicle as
soon as the engines stop. The drogue pulls out the main parachute
and the vehicle comes down head first. This allows the front of
the vehicle to have a simple, crushable nose cone for absorbing
the impact of landing.
As mentioned before, the pilot and passengers will
be seated in a look-down
postion so that on the return and landing they will be facing
upwards. Carmack says the vehicle will "fly a low acceleration
trajectory so we burn out above most of the atmosphere" and
therefore the stresses in that position will not be severe. Then
on reentry and landing, when the loads are much larger, they will
have firm support in the upward orientation.
They have looked at rotatable seats but found these
impractical for the amount of space they have.
Note that this configuration is only for the X Prize.
He has indicated that a next generation vehicle after the X Prize
will be larger and allow for more comfortable configurations.
My thanks to Andrew Case for the link info. Thanks
also to Armadillo for posting the new info and imagery.
Jeff Foust warns that US rocket propulsion companies are facing
a severe shortage of customers : Main
engine cutoff : Is the American rocket propulsion industry in danger
of extinction? - The Space Review - Feb.17.03 ...
... The latest
Aerospace update includes a video of their drop test of a crushable
nose cap of the same size that will top their X Prize vehicle. The
vehicle will return upside down by parachute and needs to absorb
safely the impact of the landing of the 2400+ lb empty weight structure.
... Came across
a couple of interesting news group items. Here is a nicely compact
summary of the X-20
- Dyna-Soar vehicle : Dyna-Soar
review...by Franklin Ratliff - Space Policy Digest - Feb.20.03
... Henry Spencer,
in a thread
at sci.space.policy about the OSP, mentioned
Rocket's ATV demonstrated not only the Roton's landing
system but also a high mass fraction. Gary Hudson confirmed
that the fraction was around 0.935. Something to remember when you
hear sweeping statements that SSTO structures are impossible with
National Academy urges revitalization
of suborbitals... While space tourism is expected to
be the big market that will drive the suborbital RLV industry, the
traditional scientific suborbital market should not be ignored.
Sounding rockets have been used since the 1940s for a wide range
of scientific missions including atmospheric, magnetospheric, astronomy
and microgravity studies. (See, for example, NASA
Rockets to Explore Northern Lights Next Week - National Geographic
The number of sounding rocket launches sponsored by
NASA has steadily decreased over the years. However, this has less
to do with a lack of interesting experiments than with a lack of
For example, the Space
Studies Board of the National Academy of Sciences released last
fall a major report on the priorities over the next decade for the
solar and space physics programs in the US including those at NASA,
NOAA, DOD, and NSF. A draft of the report, titled The Sun to
the Earth—and Beyond A Decadal Research Strategy in Solar and Space
Physics, can be found at Space
Studies Board - Quarterly Bulletin - Vol.13, Issue 3 July-Sept 2002
in this pdf
The report gives special attention to the need for
suborbital flights and recommends that NASA "revitalize the
Suborbital program". It also recommends that "NASA aggressively
support the engineering research and development of a range of low-cost
launch vehicle capabilities for scientific research."
The small startups that are developing suborbital
RLVs typically cannot get the attention of NASA. Perhaps they should
use this report to help fight for attention and money, at least
with the Congressional committees who these days want to give space
related sciences a higher priority.
Here is the section of the report (see page 19) that
discusses the need for cheaper and more frequent access to space
(both orbital and suborbital) for scientific research:
Access to space: The continuing vitality of the nation’s
space research program is strongly dependent on having cost-effective,
reliable, and readily available access to space that meets the
requirements of a broad spectrum of diverse missions. The solar
and space physics research community is especially dependent on
the availability of a wide range of suborbital and orbital flight
capabilities to carry out leading-edge science programs, to validate
new instruments, and to train new scientists. Suborbital flight
opportunities are very important for advancing numerous key aspects
of future solar and space physics research objectives, and for
enabling the significant contributions that such opportunities
make to education.
Recommendation: NASA should revitalize
the Suborbital program to bring the flight opportunities back
to previous levels.
Low-cost launch vehicles with a wide spectrum of capabilities
are critically important for the next generation of solar and
space physics research as delineated in this report.
1. NASA should aggressively support the engineering research
and development of a range of low-cost launch vehicle capabilities
for scientific research.
2. NASA should develop a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with
the DOD that would result in a formal procedure to identify
in advance opportunities for the piggybacking of civilian spacecraft
on certain USAF missions.
3. NASA should explore the feasibility of piggybacking on appropriate
foreign scientific launches.
Columbia related articles...
We're starting to see how the Columbia disaster will undermine support
for human spaceflight:
The issue in these articles concerns the NASA budget.
For those who support a different
path for space development, the worry is whether there
will be a significant reduction in the appeal of space travel for
potential space tourists and for rich
investors who will help fund the vehicles.
Model & high power
rocketry in trouble...
An announcement from UPS means that it will soon be impossible to
ship even Estes rockets if the rocketry groups don't succeed in
getting the fuels removed from the explosives list used by the new
Homeland Security Act. Details in the Space
NASA says what it wants in an OSP: Initial
requirements set for Orbital Space Plane System - NASA PR - Feb.18.03.
The list: Orbital
Space Plane (OSP) Level 1 requirements - SLI News - Feb.18.03
OSP economics, a dismal science...
examines the claims by NASA officials in this article - NASA
steps up planning for Orbital Space Plane: It would ferry astronauts
more cheaply than shuttle - sunspot.net - Feb.5.03 - that the
OSP will offer launches at $100 million a flight : One
Giant Leap Backwards - Transterrestrial Musings - Feb.17.03.
NASA capabilities decreasing...
And even if the economic theory was sound, can NASA actually carry
out such projects when its manpower and other resources continue
a steady decline:
Side Note: The
NY Times article raises some good points but, as usual for the Times,
they mostly interviewed people from the basic sciences rather than
members of the aerospace community. Exactly why Robert Park, a professor
in condensed matter physics and a dedicated foe of human spaceflight,
should be held as an authority on either space science or aerospace
has always mystified me. (How many space related patents does he
I've often wondered why it is there are so few spokes-persons
seen in the media with regard to aerospace issues that actually
come from the aerospace community. Aerospace has been one of America's
premier industries for a century and it obviously has an enormous
influence throughout our society.
Yet when an aerospace news topic comes up, it is typically
John Pike that you hear on TV or radio. He is a very smart and articulate
guy but where are the smart and articulate people who actually have
worked on aviation and space projects?
I've recently seen Donna Shirley, the former JPL manager
who ran the Mars Pathfinder mission, on a couple of shows and was
quite impressed. Besides being very articulate, she seemed quite
aware of and looked favorably towards the world of small startup
aerospace companies. Perhaps she will become a popular alternative
to the usual suspects chosen when a space issue arises.
Mark Goll's Texas
Spacelines company used an HPR hybrid to inaugurate a spaceport
in south Texas - Taking
Flight: Elected leaders and officials gathered to witness event
- Valley Morning Star - Feb.18.03 . More about the launch and
Texas Spacelines in the advanced
rocketry section. (Thanks to spacetoday.net
for links to articles about the launch.)
Though it's a modest beginning, it's great to see
such facilities starting to develop. The more spaceports that become
available, the greater the options for future suborbital RLV ventures
Boeing considering an increase in the size of the X-37 : NASA
plans for its future 'Space plane': may be used by 2010 for rescues
- LA Daily News - Feb.16.03 ...
Bahn argues that current rocket engine technology suffers badly
in terms of reliability, lifespan, and cost and proposes that suborbitals
offer testbeds where improvements in those areas can be developed
Flight Vehicles to improve propulsion technology - SpaceEquity.com
... And Taylor
Dinerman urges continued development of the SSME: The
Case For a Highly Evolved Version Of the Space Shuttle Main Engine
- SpaceEquity - Feb.16.03 ...
... This issue
of Space Equity also includes a review of the carbon-carbon thermal
protection on the leading edge of the shuttle wing and gives a scenario
of how its failure can explain the data and observations of Columbia's
final minutes :
Reinforced Carbon Carbon (RCC) Leading Edge Panel Failure by Allan
Shapiro - Space Equity - Feb.16.03 ...
... More discussion
of the X Prize and suborbitals in the general press : Come
fly with me... into space - Guardian - Feb.16.03.
FAA/AST yearly review available...
A nice summary of the status of old and new launch vehicles and
US spaceports has been released by the FAA Space Transportation
office - Developments
and Concepts - January 2003 - FAA / AST.
It begins with a review of the currently available
US ELV's and then describes new ELVs in development.
Though the report no longer includes the term "Reusable
Launch Vehicles" in the title, it still provides an excellent
overview of the current US orbital and sub-orbital RLV projects
and also describes some of the X Prize vehicles.
The report finishes with a look at the status of
various US spaceport projects.
Seven years to build a space
plane ... Space
plane won't be ready before 2010 - Florida Today - Feb.15.03.
Dennis Smith, OSP program manager, says "We are moving forward as
fast as we can...(We) looked if there is any way we could do it
faster. It isn't obvious we have options (to speed up)."
[I wonder if he has looked outside of MSFC? Note that
it took 8 years to reach the Moon after Kennedy's
decision to go.]
Smith goes on to indicate that it is not decided yet
if the OSP will actually be a plane or a capsule.
News briefs ...
The Romanian X
Prize team Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Assoc.
(ARCA) now has opened a nice website
with details on their Orizont vehicle ...
Space Team, an advanced rocketry group that plans to enter the
X Prize competition, has posted its newletter
for January. [Thanks to Andrew Case for this item.]...
... NASA gets
money for new vehicle development: 2003
bill fully funds Marshall's top efforts: Space Launch Initiative,
shuttle propulsion do well in spending plan - Huntsville Times -
... Columbia articles
at Aviation Week: Growing
Evidence Points To Columbia Wing Breach - Aviation Week - Feb.14.03
of recent articles....
... Marcus Lindroos
comments on the OSP and combining winged vehicles with ELVs in the
Canadian Arrow Engine Test...
Arrow X Prize team announces a test of its first stage engine.
See Press release:
Canadian Arrow Engine
Test is a Go!
February 11, 2003 - The Canadian Arrow team has
announced that it is set to test the largest liquid propellant
engine ever built in Canada. The Arrow engine will be tested on
Thursday, February 20th at a gravel pit north of London.
The Canadian Arrow is a passenger space vehicle that is being
built in London, Ontario to compete for the $10 million X
The engine, with 57,000 pounds of thrust, is modeled after the
V-2 rocket engine. The test is one of a number of ramping-up trials,
which will gradually increase and test the powerful engine that
will one day fly passengers into sub-orbital space.
On February 20 th, at 1 p.m. the Canadian Arrow team will take
the engine to about 30% of its capacity or 20,000 to 30,000 lbs.
of thrust. The engine is fueled by a mixture of liquid oxygen
and ethyl alcohol and consumes approximately 250 pounds of propellant
The engine and test stand are part of an approximately 50 ft.
tall structure that is surrounded on three sides by concrete walls
that are two feet thick. Large beams stand between the engine
test structure and the control center where the team will electronically
direct and monitor the test.
“We were pleased with the success of our first burner cup test
last summer,” said Canadian Arrow Team Leader Geoff Sheerin. “Now,
we’ll see how the 18 burner cups that make up our main engine,
RLVs... As mentioned below,
the FAA's Space Transportation
office (AST) has actually done a number of good things with
regard to developing a regulatory environment that the industry
can live with. One item discussed at the recent Suborbital Institute
breakfast on Capitol Hill was the issue of licenses for RLV flight
Usually rocket vehicles must get a license for each
launch. That's fine for ELVs, which combine their flight test with
their operational flight, but not for RLVs, which test incrementally
and frequently. On the other hand as discussed
below, they are not the same as aircraft and shouldn't
require aircraft type certification, especially during this early
phase of their development.
The AST has therefore developed a licensing scheme
that takes these concerns into account and last August released
Circular that describes how an RLV developer can obtain a test
flight license. See Licensing
Test Flight Reusable Launch Vehicle Missions, AC 431.35-3, August,
2002 (pdf, 69kb). There is, of course, a lot of legalistic filler,
but most of it is quite readable. Generally, they expect a RLV to
begin with tests in a low-performance mode (e.g. low altitude, short
distance) and then gradually move to high-performance tests over
an unpopulated area. A flight test license would be issued according
to the particular type of tests. Data from the flight tests will
be used for the application for a operational license near or over
A SHARP reentry...
The fragility of the shuttle's tile based thermal protection system
has been tragically emphasized by the Columbia disaster but it has
long been realized that practical RLVs need to use more robust TPS
New materials have in fact come available since the
shuttle was developed. For example, the NASA SHARP:
Slender Hypervelocity Aerothermodynamic Research Probes project
has developed strong ceramic materials that can withstand extreme
temperatures. These would allow for sharper edged structures than
the bulbous lifting bodies like the shuttle. Such low drag structures
would provide greater aerodynamic maneuverability and flexibility
Thermal Materials Test May Revolutionize Spacecraft Design - NASA
Ames - 2000).
Spacecraft received a NASA grant in 2000 to develop sounding
rocket tests of the materials: SHARP
Spaceplane. The funding ended in 2001 but the company has continued
with the program - SHARP
Spaceplane Progress Report - and hopes to develop a small unmanned
orbital vehicle by 2009.
Another press article gives a good review of the potential of suborbital
space development : Stars
-- and dollar signs -- in their eyes Travel: An annual federal conference
ponders the future, and the potential payoffs, of commercial space
tourism. - SunSpot - Feb.13.03 (found via spacetoday.net).
Includes a report on the annual FAA
Forecast conference held this week.
Mr. SpaceX speaks... Elon
Musk talks about his company SpaceX
in the article Rocket
Man: Paypal Co-Founder now Banks on Space - Futuredex Magazine -
March 03 Issue. (My thanks to Aleta Jackson for forwarding this
link.) He claims the partially reusable Falcon will go after the
smallsat market that currently relies on Orbital Sciences' Pegasus.
The Pegasus "costs $14 million to $20 million,
whereas the Falcon fare may range around $6 million to $9 million
per trip." He will fund the project with up to $50 million
to reach operational status.
Concepts - SLI News
Info on the OSP... SLI
News has posted some PR items about the Orbital Space Plane
and the Next Gen Launch Technology (NGLT) development program:
The NGLT program will concentrate on "reusable
kerosene engine designs and — in concert with Department of Defense
initiatives — on a variety of launch system technologies, including
development of air-breathing hypersonic propulsion systems. Within
two years, NASA expects to decide how it will pursue development
of a reusable launch vehicle." For more info, see NASA
engine projects, e.g the RS-84, and the various X-43
hypersonic vehicle projects.
Defense wants new expendables
& reusables... The Boeing and Lockheed-Martin will
be glad to hear they will get a bonus for staying in the EELV business
willing to fund two EELV companies - spacetoday.net - Feb.13.03.
While the Air Force Undersecretary for Space Peter
Teets wants a new "operationally responsive" expendable
Expendable Rocket Needed To Supplement EELV, Teets Says - Aviation
Week - Feb.13.03. He wants a vehicle that could be ready in
days rather than months to launch.
However, Teets also said that "further down the
road" the Defense Department should commit to developing RLV
systems and he will create a "technology roadmap" that will lead
to an SSTO RLV. "We're not going to be truly, fully operationally
responsive until we do have fully reusable launch systems...I think
we need that technology roadmap, and I'm determined to get our arms
Columbia alternatives ...
NASA will again look at modifications to the shuttles
to make them safer : NASA
To Re-Examine Crew Escape System For Shuttle, O'Keefe Tells Congress
- Aviation Week - Feb.13.03 .
But to me the shuttles are a lost cause. I prefer
the type of plan
advocated by the science writer Oliver
Morton. In his essay
at the Edge
he states that we should shut down the shuttle program and mothball
the ISS and use the money to develop a whole set of vehicles and
spacecraft to do serious exploration and development in the solar
system. The hardware would range from heavy lift launchers to space
nuclear power systems and be used to develop rotating systems for
artificial gravity, manned bases on Mars and other projects.
In the same page, check out the views of other deep
thinkers such as Piet Hut, Gregory Benford, Martin Rees at The
Crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia -Edge - Feb.12.03.
This Article Gets it Right...
One of the best post-Columbia articles in a major publication
that I've seen about the alternative path to space via a private
suborbital industry is Countdown
for Rocket Planes By David Chandler - Technology Review - Feb.7.03
(link found at Spacetoday.net).
The extensive article focuses on XCOR but also mentions
several other projects and gives a good background review. Unfortunately
he ignores VTOL approaches but the thrust (so to speak) of the piece
is right-on : suborbitals offer a realistic path to fully reusable
vehicles that eventually will lead to low cost orbital flight. I
sure hope that some science reporters in the general press read
I was just informed about this site Astrium
Space Propulsion that provides lots of information and specs
on various propulsion systems built by Astrium....
... The Investment
Capital Conference on March 12, 2003 in Los Angeles is a "well
attended, high-level event for investors and companies seeking investment."
This years speakers include a presentation by Elon Musk of SpaceX.
Frontier Foundation "participates each year with the Los
Angeles Venture Association (LAVA) in several events." Bob
Hillhouse of the SFF's Space Enterprise Project says that "if
you are a company seeking investors, or wanting to learn more about
seeking capital, this is a great event to attend, and I encourage
you to register for it."
Members of Space Frontier Foundation! can obtain a
$40 discount. Register online today at icc.lava.org.
Love & Rockets: Suborbitals
on the Hill... The newly formed Suborbital Institute
carried out its first campaign on Capitol Hill yesterday. Beginning
with a breakfast in the Russell Senate Office Building, members
of the group and volunteers (including this editor) fanned out during
the rest of the day to give briefings to over two dozen congressional
The primary goal was to raise awareness of the existence
of the infant suborbital reusable launch vehicle industry and to
ensure that heavy regulations don't strangle it in the crib. The
campaign was labeled "Love & Rockets" in recognition
both of Valentines Day this week and the passion with which many
people hold for rockets and space exploration.
The industry trade organization was formed by several
suborbital companies and supporters including Jeff Greason (XCOR
Aerospace), John Carmack (Armadilo
Aerospace), Ed Wright (Rocket
Racing Inc), and Patrick Bahn (TGV).
The breakfast audience included congressional staff,
journalists, and a number of space advocates.
FAA & Suborbitals
At the breakfast Kelvin Coleman of the FAA's office
of the Associate Administrator of
Commercial Space Transportation (AST) spoke about the efforts
of AST to support the industry while also pursuing its obligations
to ensure public health and safety. He reviewed the history of the
office's work with the commercial orbital RLV projects of the late
1990s and indicated that suborbitals will be included under the
same regulatory framework.
He said the FAA recognized that suborbital RLVs lie
somewhere between aircraft and orbital rockets, but exactly where
the line is drawn has been a subject of great debate within the
department. The AST knows that applying a strict aircraft type regulatory
regime to these vehicles could kill the companies but many on the
aviation side of the FAA believe that vehicles which fly the same
airspace and use the same air traffic control system should be treated
in the same way as aircraft. So where the line will be set has not
yet been decided.
Flight Testing Suborbitals
When XCOR began
flying its EZ-Rocket, the company decided to fly under an experimental
aircraft licences rather than seek a license from AST, whose main
job is to issue launch licences
for orbital rockets. However, a license usually must be obtained
for each launch, but this isn't practical for fast turnaround RLVs.
Since then the licensing framework for suborbital
RLVs during flight testing has developed considerably and Jeff Greason
said that if they were starting out today they probably would seek
an AST license. Jeff said that in general XCOR was quite pleased
with the progress made in a relatively short time in developing
a regulatory regime for suborbitals.
Commerce & Suborbitals
Paula Trimble of the Department of Commerce's Office
of Space Commercialization talked about their recent report
Reusable Launch Vehicles and Applicable Markets (see RLV
News - Dec.5.02) -and their continuing efforts to boost
the industry. They hope, for example, to carry out various market
studies and to look at financing and insurance issues.
The Suborbital Route to Space
Pat Bahn compared the industry to the early days of
aviation which was sustained by commercial activities such as barnstorming
and air racing and by air mail delivery. Suborbitals will allow
for rocket based vehicles to develop in an incremental, self-financed
approach that will eventually lead to low cost orbital vehicles.
After the breakfast, the true believers set out to
educate staff members about the industry and to emphasize a few
- Regulatory Realism - Suborbitals
should not be put under the same regulatory regime as aircraft
like business jets. The $100-200 million cost for certification
would far excede the costs of the vehicles ( $10 to $50 million
depending on the payload and design) and what the companies could
- Gapfiller Insurance - The
companies can raise $1 or $2 million insurance policies for flights
but the "Most Probable Loss" requirement is around $10
million. Some sort of gapfiller fund should be developed, perhaps
jointly with industry and government.
- New SpacePorts - the federal
government should support the creation of local spaceports rather
than relying on a single "national" spaceport.
We broke up into small teams that met individually
with legislative aides to members of Congress (usually those who
were on committees with impact on the Department of Commerce and
the FAA.) I was teamed with Lee Valentine, a physician and a director
at the Space
Studies Institute, who gave eloquent presentations of our case
while I occasionally chimed in with supporting, and occasionally
In general, the response was quite good with particular
enthusiasm shown for the possibility of developing low cost spaceflight
that was self-supporting rather than government financed. The other
teams also reported positive feedback and plans are on for future
campaigns to keep up the momentum.
Earlier entries about the Suborbital Institute:
Thinking Beyond NASA... This
article - Thinking
Beyond the Shuttle - NY Times - Feb.11.03 - illustrates the
type of thinking that will unfortunately dominate the coming discussion
on what to do with about the shuttle:
The debaters will ignore any commercial alternatives.
They will declaim that the X-33 failure proves that significant
advancements in fully reusable systems are out of reach. Exotic
futuristic technologies will be held as the only hope for big reductions
in launch costs. The arguments will mostly focus on how much NASA
has underestimated the cost and completion time of the OSP. And
John Pike will provide articulate confirmations that we have no
Space Review debut...
Jeff Foust has just opened a new site called The
Space Review which will provide "essays and commentary
about the final frontier". The new site will complement the
daily news listings of Jeff's Spacetoday.net.
He wants to focus on the "fundamental problems with how we
approach space today". These problems include space transportation
but many others as well.
Space Access Society Bulletin...
Henry Vanderbilt released the latest Space
Access Update yesterday. Items include:
- Suborbital Institute's First DC Lobbying Project This Week
- Space Access '03 Conference Info & Rates (Unchanged!)
- Columbia Lost With All Hands - Where To Now? A First Look
Columbia vehicle related links...
Molniya site offers quite a bit of information about the various
Russian/Soviet spaceplane projects over the years including Buran,
Spiral, and MAKS.
The rocket man talks about Columbia and his suggestions on a replacement
for the shuttles; The
Space Shuttle Columbia: Goodbye to A Good Old Girl by Homer Hickam
- SpaceRef/WSJ - Feb.7.03 ...
... Came across
this item via Transterrestrial
Musings on how far space transportation needs to go to match
aviation safety: Aircraft
and Space Shuttle Accident Rates - FuturePundit.com - Feb.5.03.
Spirit of Liberty vehicle of the new X Prize team American
Astronautics was designed by the whole team and not just Robert
Truax as I had reported. Bill Sprague says:
"Mr. Truax was responsible for the design in
an earlier project denoted as the 'X-3' which was conducted under
his company, Truax Engineering, Inc. While Mr. Truax is currently
a member of our X PRIZE team, our vehicle is a design resulting
from activities within American Astronautics Corporation."
Sorry about that...
Jon Bonne of MSNBC was kind enough to exchange a few emails with
me after I sent him a note correcting the statements in his article
and frustration at NASA - MSNBC - Feb.6.03 about the Kistler
K-1 being partially reusable. He has been checking occasionally
on the status of private launch development for several years and
doesn't see much progress. I tried to convince him that at least
with respect to suborbitals there are a lot of positive things happening.
He said that Kistler
Aerospace had refused to grant him an interview (he had also
tried to talk with them a few years ago without success.) I'm surprised
that Kistler wants to keep such a low profile. Perhaps they don't
want to be seen as taking advantage of the Columbia tragedy in any
way (the company includes several former NASA employees such as
CEO George Mueller who was lead engineer of the Apollo program.)
However, they in general don't say much publically.
At the six or so Space Access Society meetings I've attended, for
example, they have never sent a rep to talk, while most of the other
startup launch companies did.
I don't hold the K-1 to be the ultimate in RLV designs
but its high level of development is a proof of principle that we
are not decades away from fully reusable vehicles, unmanned or manned.
(See my comments below
on what the K-1 implies.) As the debate begins on what to do about
replacing the shuttle, it would help if the company spoke out and
let more people know about the K-1 and what it proves about the
state of RLV technology.
Appears that Columbia's leading edge had a structural breach
Imagery Confirms Columbia Wing Damaged - Pictures from ground camera
in Southwest shortly before breakup show jagged edge on shuttle’s
wing - Aviation Week - Feb.6.03...
Optical Range image of Columbia and its damaged wing...
... More discussions
in the press about replacing the shuttles - Where
will NASA go next? - USATODAY.com - Feb.6.03
Appears as that Columbia's leading edge had a structural
breach - USAF
Imagery Confirms Columbia Wing Damaged - Pictures from ground camera
in Southwest shortly before breakup show jagged edge on shuttle’s
wing - Aviation Week - Feb.6.03.
Teams Vow to Continue the 'Conquest of Space' Twenty-four teams
from Seven Nations honor the legacy of Columbia’s crew by forging
ahead - X Prize Press Release - Feb.6.03...
... RLVs not a
priority in the Defense Dept. and they may cut one of the EELV programs
Eyes Cuts To 'Assured Access' - Aviation Week - Feb.6.03 ...
... There's a
lengthy article at MSNBC on NASA's efforts to replace the shuttle
and frustration at NASA - MSNBC - Feb.6.03. (Note that the Kistler
K-1 is fully reusable, not "partially" as reported
in the article. And most of the Kistler SLI contract is only paid
after it starts flying.)...
... Rand Simberg
that Mike Gallo of Kelly
Space and Earl
Renaud from TGV
Rockets were on yesterday's Neil
Cavuto show on Fox News. Apparently, though, they just talked
about spaceflight dangers.
Wall Street Journal discovers
the X Prize... A generally friendly and positive report
on the X Prize was in yesterday's WSJ - Disaster
Doesn't Deter Teams in Space Race Teams Vie for $10 Million in Competition
To Build, Launch Manned Space Vehicle - WSJ - Feb.5.03 (paid
subscription required.). It focused mostly on the contrast
between space looking more dangerous than ever versus the undaunted
enthusiasm of the X Prize teams, but gave a good review of the project.
It mentions a handful of the teams, e.g. the Canadian
Arrow, the da Vinci and Rutan, and includes comments from Peter
[Thanks to Jeff at Spacetoday.net
for spotting this link. I subscribe to WSJ and visit it frequently
but somehow missed this article.]
X Prize Press Releases:
A couple of press releases have been sent out today:
Shuttle Forum Webcast...
Andrew Case forwarded an announcement of a Space
Shuttle Technology Forum at the University of Maryland tomorrow
at 2:00 - 4:00 p.m EST. :
The tragic loss of the Columbia and its crew has prompted a
broad review of the technologies that underpin the shuttle and
the manned exploration of space. At this Forum, Clark School faculty
and research staff will share first hand experience and knowledge
of these technologies and the trade-offs and risks inherent in
the development of spacecraft. Following a series of brief presentations,
the Forum will open for questions and comments from the audience.
The entire University community as well as the general public
It will be webcast at www.enme.umd.edu/shuttle
Columbia, the OSP, &
Spaceports... The effects of the Columbia disaster on
Space Plane and on commercial spaceports are starting
to be discussed:
Orbital Sciences OSP... Find
info on Orbital's OSP design at Orbital
Space Plane - Orbital Sciences and in the Fact
More Columbia vehicle related
Feedback: TPS and Replacing the Shuttle...
Dave Ketledge who has for many years studied re-entry systems and
lifting body designs, sent me some interesting information about
thermal protection issues and also responded
to my entry below "Ten
Years and $35 Billion? Here is an excerpt:
...In my Microshuttle work I spent a chapter on the subject of
aerothermodynamics stating that the Ceramic tile system on the
poorly bonded to the vehicle and was time consuming to keep in
operation. My suggestion which I own a copyright on is a foaminated
boron silicate glass with a pyrolized graphite skin panel. While
heavier than a shuttle tile, the graphite/glass matrix offered
outstanding ability in mechanical and thermal conditions. Current
NASA R&D with metal heat shielding such as ARMOR would be essential
on a next generation orbital space plane.
The issues in reentry are vehicle surface area, wing loading (weight/area
) and air density. The shuttle with a high wing loading flies
a profile lower in the atmosphere with a higher BTU transfer rate
over time. Lifting body vehicles with higher surface areas offer
lower heating rates and support metal thermal protection except
for leading edges where carbon-carbon-silica carbide is required.
Subsonic L/D values from 4-7 are possible with the right design.
The X-20 Dyna Soar or Hope-X programs offer good airframes for
consideration in the OSP programs. The X-43 with its stubby wings
does not support the metal reentry tile concept due to a low surface
area. Its manufacturer needs to go back to the drafting board
and rethink its OSP submittals with aerothermodynamics in mind.
The nation needs to consider retiring the shuttles and use the
Delta IV for now to launch the OSP and can do so in 5 years if
the funding is there. Using the K-1 would also be an idea. And
other vendors such as AST offer outstanding concepts well worth
NASA should look at its prior research efforts and have a focus
group with the Air Force and ISS partners to hammed a design out.
With the right design, we will arrive with an ISS rescue craft,
a manned transport vehicle and can use the remaining shuttle parts
for cargo lifting even for a real Mars program at a fraction of
a cost. But government has to think out of the box and embrace
rapid design and development found in industry to gain success
while remaining safety focused.
Continue to the complete
vehicle developments... How the Columbia disaster affects
the development of a suborbital vehicle industry will be among the
topics discussed this Sunday on the Space
Show when David Livingston interviews Pat Bahn of TGV
Rockets. Press release:
Sunday Space Show
Sunday, Feb. 9, 2003
The Sunday Space Show will feature Pat Bahn, CEO of TGV Rockets
and the Washington director of the Suborbital Institute, a trade
association aimed at promoting the nascent suborbital launch industry.
TGV Rockets is planning a piloted reusable suborbital launch vehicle,
thus bringing to the market a new class and generation of rocket
that will facilitate the development of space commercialization.
Pat will be joining the Sunday Space Show, along with some of
the other participants of the Suborbital Institute, immediately
after their meeting. We will be discussing FAA Reform, including
working toward having Congress encourage "licensing" of suborbital
vehicles and how best to get the FAA to assist in this activity.
We will also talk about ITARS which have restrictions that limit
access of this industry to international resources, insurance
issues and encouraging the Department of Commerce to provide third
party inability insurance for suborbital launchers, and inland
spaceport licensing as this new and growing industry needs both
the spaceports and wide spread support.
The impact and aftermath of the Columbia Shuttle disaster on
the suborbital launch industry will be discussed in detail.
Listeners are encouraged to call or e-mail questions or comments
to the guest or the host either before or during the show. To
speak to with Pat Bahn or the host during the program, please
call the toll free number, 1 866-687-7223. Please use the e-mail
addresses below either before or during the program should you
wish to participate using e-mail. This show will air at the special
time Sunday, Feb. 9, 2003 from 5:30PM-6:45PM Pacific Standard
Time to allow Pat and his associates to complete their Suborbital
Send question & comments during the program to email@example.com
Webcast on Live365.com
The Comet and the Shuttle...
The shuttle reminds me of the De Havilland Comet, the first turbojet
powered passenger airline introduced in 1949 just a few years after
jet powered military planes appeared. It was considered the pride
and hope of the British aerospace industry. However, within just
two years after it began passenger service in 1952 three vehicles
had disintegrated in flight, each with the loss of all aboard. (See
Crash- Carol Judkins and Ch.
13 - Quest for Performance by Laurence K. Loftin, Jr- NASA)
The Comet was withdrawn from service, re-engineered
and in 1958 re-introduced as the Comet 4. However, new airliners
like the Boeing 707 had appeared by then and the Comet failed in
the passenger market.
While metal fatigue was the primary cause of the Comet
disasters, complexity fatigue could be said to be the shuttle's
fatal flaw. This first partially reusable launch vehicle (actually,
refurbishable is a better term) is so complex and fragile, that
even an army of several thousand support personnel cannot keep it
flying safely. There are just too many ways for it to fail.
We must replace the shuttle as quickly as possible,
else the shuttle will not be the Comet that initiated routine spaceflight
but the Hindenburg
that ended spaceflight for generations.
Replace the shuttle...
Last night on the PBS Newshour program - Unanswered
Questions - PBS Online NewsHour: - Feb.3.03 - there was an interesting
discussion with Donna Shirley, former JPL manager of the Mars Pathfinder
mission, John Logsdon, director of the Space Policy Institute at
George Washington University, and Gregg Easterbrook.
Easterbrook, the well known science writer, repeated
his view as stated in the article The
Space Shuttle Must Be Stopped by Gregg Easterbrook - TIME.com
- Feb.10.03 issue mention below, that the shuttle should not
fly again. He supports building a new replacement vehicle but doesn't
see the need for a big rush to do so.
Logsdon repeated the Beltway mantra that it will take
at least 10 years to build a replacement.
Shirley was more optimistic and, surprisingly to me,
emphasized that new companies could offer a faster alternative:
"it is time to really start incentivizing private enterprise
to fill in gaps in space transportation that is currently just a
monopoly of a few big companies."
Further, she said the US could give "the struggling
fledgling private aerospace industry the same deal that [the government]
did with the early aviation industry, like mail contracts, for air
mail contracts, for example, [...] there could exist within a few
years a viable private industry.."
Easterbrook responded that "several companies
[..] attempted to build private rockets in the 1990s and the early
attempts were not successful."
He should have noted that it was not the failure of
their technology but the failure of the satellite constellation
market (i.e. Iridium and Globalstar) on which they depended that
made their efforts unsuccessful.
years & $35 billion??... In the coming debate over
what to do about the shuttle we will frequently hear statements
like Logsdon's above that it will take 10 years and at least $35
billion to build a replacement vehicle such as the Orbital
Space Plane (OSP).
A month or so ago I sent a letter to the Space News
editorial page in response to the widespread pessimism about the
state of RLV technology. It seems quite relevant now and since it
doesn't appear that it will be published (thus continuing my long
unbroken string of unaccepted letters to the editors of various
newspapers and magazines - I'm starting to know how Snoopy feels!),
I include it below, along with some hyperlinks added:
As a humble space enthusiast I claim no expertise
in the design of launch vehicles, propulsion systems, or reusable
launch vehicles. In fact, like many other space fans, I'm rather
confused at the moment about the state of these technologies and
wish that someone at NASA, the Pentagon, or a major aerospace
company would answer a few questions to enlighten me.
For example, managers from such institutions have claimed in Space
News editorials (e.g. "No
Time for RLVs?" by Antonio Elias of Orbital Sciences on Aug.26.02)
and articles (e.g."USAF
Space Deputy Says Operational RLV 20 Years Away", Sept.23.02)
that fully reusable launch systems lie beyond our current capabilities
and will remain so until at least 2020 or later. Yet, how does
that square with the Kistler
K-1, which according to that company
is more than 75% complete and could, with the availability of
funding, fly within two years? This 2-stage vehicle can deliver
2500kg of cargo to the ISS and return with up to 900kg. Kistler
claims a flight will cost $17 million and allow for a turnaround
time of 9 days.
failures pulled the market out from under Kistler and it lacks
a few hundred million dollars to get a K-1 to operational status.
So why doesn't NASA or the Pentagon simply fund the completion
of the K-1 and take advantage of its capabilities and the opportunity
to learn what is needed for more advanced RLVs? The money is not
trivial but is a fraction of the funding planned for the Orbital
Space Plane and seems modest compared to the extra billion dollars
going to a couple of companies to insure the profitability of
I'm well aware that the unmanned K-1 is not a shuttle replacement
(why the first RLV needs to be shuttle-size is a separate question)
and does not provide every feature needed for every conceivable
military mission, but it would seem to me to be a fine system
to start with. Would not a K-1 provide real world data on operational
costs and on the robustness of hardware undergoing routine flights?
I guess I was out sick the day it was explained where the fatal
flaw in the K-1 lies.
Perhaps some other private firm could produce a vehicle even more
capable and cost effective than the K-1. I have never heard a
good explanation as to why NASA doesn't simply put out a one page
solicitation that promises, say, a billion dollars a year to anyone
that can deliver X amount of cargo to LEO and the ISS. (I know
that Kistler received a contract
from SLI that promises around a hundred million dollars once the
K-1 starts flying but that promise has been insufficient to attract
the private investment it needs.)
Other such questions come to mind. For example, I see repeated
claims that the cancellations of the X-33
projects prove that RLV technology is beyond our grasp, especially
for single stage to orbit (SSTO) capability. But how do we know
this? As far as I can tell, NASA has never published a full and
detailed summary of what was accomplished by these projects, where
they fell short, why they were canceled, and what this tells us
about the state of RLV technologies.
For example, the review committee report
on the de-lamination of the X-33 composite liquid hydrogen tank
didn't state that such a tank was impossible to build but instead
provided details on serious mistakes made during the construction
and listed corrective actions. So how can it be said that the
X-33 proves one way or the other that the low mass structures
needed for SSTO are unattainable?
Similarly, the cost overrun of the X-34 apparently had little
to do with shortcomings in its core RLV technologies. As I understand
it, costs escalated dramatically after a project review was ordered
in the aftermath of the Mars probes disasters. The expensive additional
measures required to ensure against any possible failure pushed
the project's cost above NASA's overrun threshold. These extra
measures were demanded despite the fact that, in true X project
spirit, three vehicles were in construction for protection against
the loss of one or two vehicles.
I've also heard that the X-34 cancellation involved the Fastrac
engine, or the lack thereof. It's rumored that NASA insisted that
Orbital Sciences use NASA's Fastrac engine rather than a preferred
Russian engine. Was the delay in the Fastrac development thus
the main reason that the X-34 was canceled? Was an operational
Fastrac engine ever built? How much money was spent on Fastrac?
Does the failure of the Fastrac project mean that turbo-pumped
rocket engines are also beyond our current capabilities?
Perhaps such stories are spurious but how would I know? These
supposedly public projects are veiled in obscurity and secrecy.
Again and again we've seen hundreds of millions and even billions
of dollars go to projects and programs that are started with great
fanfare and then vanish with no clear and definitive report (or
even a web page) ever made available on where the money went,
on what basis important decisions were made, and, most importantly,
on what mistakes were made so they are not repeated again and
Today I read that estimates have gone from the six billion dollar
range for the SSTO VentureStar to $35 billion for a two stage
to orbit RLV. Sean O'Keefe says that four independent study groups
brought him similar estimates. Will these studies ever be published?
Will we know who were in these groups? Did they include anyone
from the "independent" launch vehicle companies? Exactly which
technologies require $29 billion more than experts estimated in
To reach operational status, the K-1 program would probably total
around a billion dollars (including the private money spent up
till now.) OK, I'm no rocket scientist but should I blindly accept
the proclamations that it must cost 30 to 40 times as much to
build a somewhat more powerful second generation version of the
K-1 with a second stage that can carry a crew of 3 or 4?
Unfortunately, I don't think anyone in Washington or big time
aerospace will ever answer these questions. Instead, I think the
answer to low cost access to space will come from small independent
companies that cannot afford to waste so much time and money.
More Columbia vehicle links...
RLV & SSTO at Chaos Manor...
in the course of discussing
Columbia is also discussing RLVs and SSTOs.
His report from last year - Getting
To Space - Jerry Pournelle - July.22.02 - offers a good
review of the history of RLV concepts.
Pournelle was deeply involved with the efforts to
get the DC-X project going. The DC-X was a scale model of the
SSX concept, which he and others developed in 1989.
See also How
to Get To Space: an affordable prize system.
Recent updates at Armadillo
Aerospace indicate progress with both construction of a small
test vehicle and with development of their X Prize vehicle that
is following a parallel track. The latest
report provides an intriguing artist composite image of how
the X Prize vehicle will look. See image at top.
Hybrid progress ...
Successful test of a hybrid
motor powered sounding rocket by Lockheed
Martin suggests new applications for hybrid motors including
possible use in a crew escape system for the OSP during launch -
Puts Hybrid Rockets Back On The Table - Aviation Week - Feb.3.03.
The sounding rockets will be particularly useful for testing of
hypersonic components and systems.
I don't really feel like saying much yet about the implications
of this disaster on vehicle development. So for now I'll just post
some links to vehicle related articles:
to Jan. 2003