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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
2003 - More Feedback

Armadillo X Prize Vehicel
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An artist's composite rendering of Armadillo Aerospace 's X Prize
vehicle under development.(Large Image

RLV News Archive Directory

Sept. 18, 2003

A response to Dave Ketchlege's posting below:

I agree with Mr. Dave Ketchledge views and support the wingless lifting body plus airbreather first stage 100 percent. I admit that Jeff Bell did a good job listing winged lifting body issue's in Spaceplane vs Capsule. However a wingless lifting body such as the Lockheed Star Clipper [see entry in "The Space Shuttle Decision" ] would be a very robust space plane. How the Space Shuttle was chosen over such an excellent design as the Star Clipper in the first place is just inconceivable. What was NASA and congress smoking back in the mid seventies?

Lockheed could scale the Star Clipper design to fit the OSP requirements, add the X-33 iconnel alloy heat shields, B-1 type crew escape, and dependable kerosene or hybrid rocket engine and have one hell of an OSP. The NACA and later NASA had a successful incremental X-plane program going back in fifties and sixties (X-15). That was until the capsule concept was adopted for a fast track moon landing program. Mercury, Gemini and Apollo sucked all the funds away from the reusable X-15 program and our space plane program has never recovered since. The Star Clipper had a better lift to drag ratio than any of the recent OSP designs. Some of early the Star Clipper concepts even included pop-out scissor wings to improve landing characteristics even more. The wingless lifting body design combines the best of the capsule and the winged OSP. Why spend billions to develop a new design when all we need to do is to blow the dust off from an existing design?

Doug Gard
Mechanical Engineer
DANA Corporation

Sept. 17, 2003

Dave Ketchledge sent this essay about the OSP design:

With some 32 years in model rocketry, published works in aerodynamics and flight mechanics for the NAR and TRA along with my 1988 Microshuttle work (see the Compuserve, ModelNet forum). I would like to offer some insights into the Space Shuttle and the OSP that you may be overlooking in the recent OSP debate.

Back in 1971, the Air Force wanted a high cross ranging space shuttle with a 60-65 foot long cargo bay for its spy satellites. In addition the Air Force wanted to be able to fly a single orbit back to Vandenberg. Orbital Mechanics and physics moved the earth some 1200 miles in that 90 minute period. Note the Air Force did not help fund the Shuttle

At the MSFC, Max Faget was pushing for a straight wing space shuttle that would come in at a 60 degree angle of attack, literally belly flopping into the atmosphere at Mach 25, until at 40,000 it would nose dive into a landing at a reasonable subsonic speed. Any pilot who has flown a stall knows that doing this is unstable and the Air Force and Mr. Drapper at the Flight Dynamics Laboratory held firm to the idea that lifting entry works.

Faget was not for lifting reentry, his ball game was the capsule of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo era. Those saying he designed the shuttle is bunk! He had no technical basis for designing the Space Shuttle. Far better were the people at Edwards who flew the X-15 and the lifting body programs like Dale Reed.

Enter the OMB who forced NASA, with no real support by the Nixon Administration into a fixed budget that would only allow an orbiter and no fly back booster. Mathematica who did the cost analysis said a launch rate of 50 flights a year would help NASA breakeven and NASA ran around painting a pipe dream to Congress.

The Air Force won a delta high cross range orbiter with a large cargo bay. But at what cost? Certainly Casper Weinberger was one of the few Space Shuttle supporters after his staff trimmed the NASA budget 3 times in 18 months leading to the canceling of the last two Apollo flights. We should not continue paying for these mistakes.

What is also clear from an engineering stand point is that the J-2 engine on the Saturn was a very good engine able to run continuously for some 90 minutes without signs of wear. That's a very long time in terms of liquid fuel engine operation.

But NASA got greedy wanting a high pressure combustion chamber in the SSME. (Again it was MSFC pushing the wrong way.) The SSME by the way needs its bearings replaced every two flights. With my 20 years in nuclear engineering and maintenance, I understand reliable design and equipment operation. And NASA missed the ball entirely. You design for reliability not because you have a new toy or idea to try out. Would you want me to get creative with a nuclear reactor core? I think not.

So here we are in 2003 and have to develop a small crew orbiter and ISS life boat. You have learned that the ceramic reentry tiles and carbon carbon leading edges are maintenance intensive. Langley has a inconel alloy metal tile that is low maintenance, easy to manufacture and will cut then of thousands of hours off the operation and maintenance expense a "lifting" reentry vehicle. You see some good did come out of the X-33 effort.

May I remind you the X-20 would have worked using hot structures and metal skin back in 1968 had Robert McNamara not canceled that effort.

Those of you saying capsules are our only choice are equally wrong! You end up splashing down in the ocean, costing a tidy sum for recovery. The reentry heat shielding is not reusable, and the gee loads to the crew are high. Considering the ISS crew can have the cardiovascular health problem space flight entails, you are risking them in a ballistic reentry.

And finally what comes after the OSP? If we want a low cost two stage to orbit system eventually, would it be better to have a small manned vehicle that would serve as a lead on orbiter? The early Hope X, or HERMES efforts fall into this range. Married with a metal heat shielding, you could get a very good return on the investment, and greatly improve crew safety as well. As the X-38 successfully demonstrated, a para-wing will work at subsonic speeds.

Dale Reed was absolutely right for the role that a lifting body can perform, and some designs can achieve lift to drag ratios of 6:1 ( i.e. the Lockheed Star Clipper ).

Now take that OSP shape and put it on top of an Andrews Aerospace (LACES ) air liquidfier air breathing booster. And for the size and weight of a 747 you have a vehicle that can service the ISS and paint a vivid space program.

What is lacking is an informed and well established course of action not driven by political or institutional goals. OMB has no right to dabble in the design of such a craft.

Would I want an economist to tell me not to buy the right parts for a nuclear safety system. The MBA's be damned, you are not rocket scientists. And if congress wants to blame someone for the Challenger and Columbia accidents, part of the blame in in their own court as well, not only NASA management. But are those political animals man enough to admit that. That would takes some ethics wouldn't it?

The smart and informed way to rebuild our space transportation system is to separate the crew from the cargo as the CAIB stated. Either flying a lifting body or blended body delta orbiter (HOPE-X) that later would be part of a two stage to orbit transport system.

Designed to good hypersonic and supersonic aerodynamics. Please note the ASSET program of he 1960's proved that the X-24 shape works in such regions of flight.

Keep the Space Shuttle to fly large and heavy payloads infrequently. You could build a Dr. Zubrin style Mars ship for a fraction of the program cost or return to the moon in only a few years with a new lander. Certainly just orbiting the planet in a can, brings no public excitement or drive to explore.

Lets build the right program with the right tools in the right sequence. A nuclear-electric powered VASIMR engine could carry a crew to Mars in 4 months. That is shorter than some of my old submarine patrols !!

The focus has to be both strategic and tactical to meet the immediate goals and long term needs in a cost effective design. Going back to a capsule has a low development cost and high recurring cost. That sank the Shuttle and we should not repeat that failure again. Lets get a design with a metal heat shield, low maintenance and rapid turnaround. So when the day comes to get to space repeatedly we can.

Look at the crew compartment separation ability of the B-1 bomber as a possible example of what can be done for crew escape. A liquid fueled booster like the Atlas or Delta IV allows you at any time to separate the orbiter. You can not do that with a vehicle running large SRM's. Had OMB been less pencil pushers, we would have gotten liquid fueled boosters

We have the technology to do much more that what we do today in both the manned and unmanned programs. A real vision is needed to lift our aerospace and NASA teams to new goals and a brighter future.

Dave Ketchledge
Fmr. USN Reactor Operator, Nuclear Engineer
Member TRA and NAR

Sept. 14, 2003

Space act: just a wish list or a step in the right direction?... A reader wrote in to point out that the H. R. 3057 "Space Exploration Act of 2003", Rep. Lampson - Spaceref - Sept.12.03. mentioned on Sept. 12.03 does not provide any funding for the RLVs and other projects that it lists. He states that the bill, which was also introduced in 2002, is not an appropriations bill but just "an authorization bill. Everyone on the Hill knows that it is worthless and does nothing except placate constituents by making it appear that something is doing something."

My response is that the bill is still a worthwhile effort. The wording of the act is quite explicit that it is just setting long term goals for NASA and not giving it money. I also know about the history of this bill and similar ones (see Space Legislation in the Activism section for a listing of various proposed space legislation.)

The fact that it's getting more attention this year is because after Columbia there is a much greater focus on deciding exactly what NASA's long term mission should be. I disagree that because the bill does not authorize funding, it is not meaningful. NASA requests money for projects that fulfill its mission. Ever since Apollo ended, manned missions into deep space (well, some may not consider the Moon "deep" space but for NASA it is) have not been part of its mission. For Congress to make it explicit that they should be would, in fact, signal a huge change from 30 years of not looking beyond LEO with respect to manned spaceflight.

I come from a physics background and I know that committees formed to decide on the long term priorities of a field, such as in high energy physics or astrophysics, are taken extremely seriously by researchers even though the committees can only issue recommendations and have absolutely no power to obtain the money directly. This is because they realize that DOE (for high energy physics and fusion), NSF, and NASA will only allocate funding (or go to Congress and request funding) according to what the people in that field believe are their top priorities.

In the case of NASA, the setting of priorities can't be done by it alone but must be done via interaction with Congress and the public. However, once the goals are set, NASA can then come up with explicit proposals to fulfill those goals. It's quite true that Congress may then turn down funding requests for RLV's to L1/L2 or whatever, just as it may turn down funding for a new accelerator or a scientific satellite that physicists say they absolutely need. But NASA won't even get to the request stage for such projects if it doesn't know where it is supposed to be going.

In Paula Berinstein's book "Making Space Happen" she interviews the lunar and planetary scientist Wendell Mendell about space activism and NASA. He said that when students doing some sort of project like a Moon base design came to talk with him, it would take him an hour to convince them that he could not just reach into a drawer and pull out a detailed plan for such a project. In fact, NASA has no such blueprint for a lunar base, a Mars base, or any of the other possible exciting missions that people expect NASA to be working on. And it won't create such blueprints until it is told by Congress that it should.

So, the bottom line, is that I believe that passage of such a bill would be quite significant even though it would only be a first step in reforming NASA.

March 3, 2003

Kaido Kert writes:

I just read the interview with Mr. Diamandis on Hobbyspace, very good one. I also have read the recent X-Prize press release by Mr. Diamandis where he stresses the need for frequent space flights. It would have been very interesting to hear comments from Mr. Diamandis on "A Rocket a Day" concept, proposed in 1993 ...

There has been a lot of discussion of benefits and shortfalls of prizes to advance space developments recently. Some people say that one-time prize will not be sufficient to sustain continued interest in space access by private sector. Also, manned flight sets very high reliability requirements for space vehicles. And as is said "when failure is not an option, success can get very expensive". Unmanned "a rocket a day" launcher would be very good stepping stone for private enterpreneurs to build up experience and reliability of their vehicles incrementally.

Obviously, the usual launch customers ( satellites, space probes ) will not trust their multimillion-dollar hardware to launch vehicles with 60% success rate, even if those are indeed very cheap. If there were market for raw materials, like rocket fuels or bulk construction materials up there, that cost very little on earth but can be of high value up in orbit, such vehicles can be very useful.

For instance, putting an orbital "gas station" up there ( perhaps even on ISS ) would possibly serve as very good kickstart to cheap space access. Theorethically, there could be many customers ( space tugs, interplanetary vehicles, manned orbital vehicles with powered reentry as opposed to thermal). Also, supply could potentially come both from earth, and from space ( asteroid mining, lunar LOX ).

Essentially this would create a entire new market and economy on orbit, plus it would finally establish some real space infrastructure to build on. This is something that government should initially fund, but probably wont....

Yes, mass production of rockets would be one good way to lower the costs to orbit. I think, though, I would let the RLV companies also bid for the contract. E.g. the government would promise up to $500 M to the first company that can launch X amount of payload per day or week. If an ELV approach wins, fine, but fast turnaround, even one-day, is not impossible for RLVs and so such a design might win.

BTW: Kistler has proposed a somewhat similar concept in the sense of providing potential small payload users a fixed date launch service. See "Space Access for Small Satellites on the K-1" at http://www.kistleraerospace.com/publications.html They would like to sell "Tickets-to-Orbit" that would guarantee a slot on their multiple payload dispsenser for a launch on a particular day. Kistler claims the K-1 could fly every 9 days for $17 million with up to 4000kg to LEO equatorial.

I do think their would be a strong response to such reliable and low cost launch opportunities. I attended the Utah Smallsat meeting a few years ago and came away very impressed with all of the great ideas for small payloads. I also was very pleased to see many young people, including a lot of undergrads, involved in satellite projects. (The undergrads seemed to be in a state of giddy amazement that they were actually building something that would go into space.) However, I'm sure that most of the undergrads long graduated before their birds made it to space. There really is a serious deficiency in low cost, frequent rides even for nanosats.

With Mr. Diamandis being the most recognized proponent of frequent space access, it would have been very interesting to hear his thoughts on the matter. Could there be a follow-up interview ?

Not so keen on asking for another interview so soon. Like most of the interviews I have in progress, it can takes a few weeks to get responses back from super busy people like Peter. I will send him a suggestion that he start a regular column at the X PRIZE site where he responds to feedback from the public.

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