The story of a rocket company
and its struggles to develop a low cost reusable launch vehicle
will begin here tomorrow. Be sure to drop by every week to read
the latest installment of The
Rocket Company by Patrick J. G. Stiennon and Dave M.
Hoerr and with illustrations by Doug
and Hoerr are engineers with real-life experience with
rocket startup companies. Their fictional group of billionaire
space financiers will try to build a vehicle that will cause
the cost of space transportation to spiral rapidly downward as
the market for launch services expands. In this context, the authors
will explore the marketing, regulatory, and technical problems
facing any serious attempt to reduce the cost of space transportation.
next vehicle will not be the Xerus
but one that will test technologies for the Xerus. After I got Dan
about XCOR's RLV license application, I asked him what vehicle they
were getting a license for. He responded as follows:
Actually, it's for a vehicle that is 'less than' the Xerus. The
intention for that vehicle is to test one of the Xerus type pump-fed
engines, to reduce XCOR's investment risk, and to show market.
As you probably know, potential investors and venture capitalists
look at several things before parting with their money. Management
risk (will your founders flake out?), technical risk (will it
work?), financial risk (is development cost acceptable, and will
operations costs be low enough?), market risk (are there customers
for this, and will they buy from you?), and regulatory risk (will
you be allowed to sell it?). With our limited resources, we decided
to lower the regulatory risk to help raise money.
The license application does not yet include passenger rides.
That is more difficult and time consuming to get. We plan to have
at least a dozen test flights (probably more than 20) before the
first passenger ride anyway. Later, we plan to apply to carry
passengers and at least defray the marginal flight costs. At that
time, we'll have a much better grasp of the market and a much
better chance of getting Xerus development money.
Disclaimer: Randall Clague and Jeff Greason are the experts in
this area, I'm primarily a hardware developer. They will be back
from Washington DC next week with better answers.
More details should appear when the license is issued.
Dan also points out that the license will be for a "mission"
that includes multiple flights rather than just one launch as with
News briefs... Via Chris
Hall's Spacecraft blog I came across this Scientific
American : Feb 1999 Issue with articles about innovative propulsion
schemes including Compact
Nuclear Rockets, Space
of Light, Air-Breathing
Engines , and Light
... Chris also offers
an interesting discussion on potential instabilities
of space elevators: Den
Beste Takes on the Space Elevator - Spacecraft - Oct.31.03....
... Update on the Australian
scramjet program: Super-hyper-mega
scramjet on way - www.theage.com.au - Oct.31.03
The first three RLV licenses may
be handed out soon according to Dan DeLong, Chief Engineer of XCOR,
who passed along this message:
Patricia Grace Smith, FAA Associate Administrator, has made a
public statement that there are three organizations with RLV launch
licenses in process at AST. They are: Armadillo
Composites, and XCOR
Aerospace. Furthermore, she said that XCOR's license application
has been deemed "sufficiently complete". This means the FAA now
has a maximum of 180 days to either issue a license or report
to Congress why they did not.
Notice the change in terminology from "substantially complete"
to "sufficiently complete". Also, I do not yet have an on-line
reference for her statement. It came to me from Jeff Greason;
he and Randall Clague are currently in Washington DC, and were
surprised at the speediness of the announcement.
This is great news. What a lot of progress has been made in the
past year or so in hardware development, financing, and regulation
of suborbital RLVs. The building of the foundation of routine space
transportation is almost complete.
Simberg also got the news. You can post comments
[Oct.31.03: Actually, Dan points out that Smith's statements
implied only that XCOR's license will be "soon", no time
info was given about the other two applications....
... Jeff Foust also heard Smith's remarks: The
clock is ticking for XCOR - spacetoday weblog - Oct.31.03.]
Scaled Composites has
posted a photo
of their Ford based wind tunnel and also a photo showing mods to
Choosing a spaceport for the X
PRIZE Cup ... Plans for a follow-on program to the X
PRIZE seem to be moving along. This announcement - X
P R I Z E Foundation Narrows the Search for Host of Annual International
Space Races - X PRIZE - Oct.27.03 - discusses the selection
of a spaceport where X PRIZE Cup races among rocket teams will take
The X PRIZE Foundation is getting ready to choose the semifinalists
in the bid to host the first annual X PRIZE Cup. Four US States,
California, Florida, Oklahoma and New Mexico will compete for
the venue and the chance to host the first air show for the private
space community. Earlier this year, the X PRIZE Foundation released
a Request for Proposal (RFP) to all Spaceports in order to select
a strategic partner and hosting venue for the X PRIZE CUP...more
A X PRIZE education project
by the Canadian da
Vinci project has been announced: The
Saskatchewan Science Center and da Vinci Project announce a major
new partnership. - The da Vinci Project - Oct.28.03
More RLV regulation info has
been posted at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation site. The
Guidelines - Commercial Space Transportation - FAA / AST now
includes this report Guide
to RLV Safety Validation and Verification Planning Version 1.0 (pdf).
I watched C-SPAN
on cable TV tonight and saw the part of yesterday's Senate
Hearing on the "Future of NASA" in which Zubrin and Tumlinson
made their presentations and then got into discussions with Senator
McCain and Senator Brownback. They really got in a lot of good points.
Great to see the alt.spacers finally slipping past the gates and
getting the attention of those who can really make a difference
in the NASA program.
If you have a chance to catch the streamed version of the hearing
at the C-SPAN site
(link suggested to me by Fred Becker), I strongly encourage you
to do so. (Note that the C-SPAN videos only seem to hang around
for a month or so.)
[Nov.2.03 - Link to C-SPAN
video of the hearing. Note that the entry will shift over time
to one of the "next pages" until if finally disappears.
C-SPAN seems to keep videos of hearings for a few months at most.]
Rand Simberg reviews the hearing in his weekly column: Congressional
Space Hearings: Signs of Intelligent Life? - FOXNews.com/ Transterrestrial
Musings - Oct.29.03.
Defining suborbital ... This
message was distributed today by Michelle Murray of the Commercial
Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration:
AST would like to update you of the status of the suborbital
The FAA Administrator sent a letter to Congressional leaders
reflecting the Agency consensus
The definitions were published in a Federal Register Notice
on 10/20/03 and corrected on 10/27/03
The complete notice is attached below, and is available on
AST's website http://ast.faa.gov/
The Definitions are as follows:
Suborbital Rocket: A rocket propelled vehicle intended for flight
on a suborbital trajectory whose thrust is greater than its lift
for the majority of the powered portion of its flight.
Suborbital Trajectory: The intentional flight path of a launch
vehicle, reentry vehicle, or any portion thereof whose vacuum
instantaneous impact point does not leave the surface of the earth.
Rocket Guy update... Leonard
David reports on Brian Walker
and his plans for a manned rocket launcher: Brian
'Rocket Guy' Walker Sets the Record Straight by Leonard David -
Space.com - Oct.20.03.
Half-sized Test Rocket, which will fly to an altitude of 15k
ft (4.6km), is nearly completed. Over the years his goal has shifted
from a one time stunt to developing rocket vehicles as platforms
for skydivers. I mentioned back in September
that other rocket companies are pursuing this idea. (Some, like
Arrow, are thinking of jumps from very high altitudes.) Walker,
who has done skydiving himself, believes the costs of a reusble
H2O2 powered rocket could be competitive with planes and certainly
offer a very exciting experience.
Hearing: "Future of NASA"
Video at CSPAN
Rand Simberg reviews
FAA suborbital regs posting...
The FAA-AST office
this file - Notice
and request for comments - Commercial Space Transportation Suborbital
Rocket Launch - October 2003 (64KB pdf) - that holds a copy
of their notice in the Federal Register. The notice begins with:
...The FAA is issuing this Notice to clarify the applicability
of FAA licensing requirements to suborbital rocket launches, in
general, and suborbital RLVs, in particular so that a vehicle
operator can determine, in advance of consultation with the FAA,
whether it must obtain a launch license. Some suborbital RLVs
currently under development use traditional aviation technology
and components, including wings, for lift and glide capability,
as well as rocket propulsion for thrust to maintain their trajectory.
These vehicles may be termed ‘‘hybrid’’ in nature, because a single
vehicle system uses aviation and aerospace technology during different
portions of flight. This Notice advises an operator of a hybrid
suborbital RLV that a proposed mission may require other FAA flight
authorization, specifically an experimental airworthiness certificate
(EAC), as a condition of a launch license, to operate in the National
Airspace System (NAS)....
Second RVT-9 flight... The
Japan Space Agency has a brief
report stating that the second hop of the RVT-9 took place yesterday.
It consisted of a 17 sec flight to 30 m and back down. The first
flight in this series occurred on Oct.25th.
Suborbital Action Day took
place yesterday on Capitol Hill. Four teams of volunteers and members
of the Suborbital
Institute briefed staffers of about 30 House members and Senators
on the status of the suborbital industry and its legislative priorities.
These priorities include full staffing of the Space
Commercialization Office in the Commerce Department and passage
3245 - The Commercial Space Act of 2003.
A luncheon overflowed with more staffers who heard statements about
the promise of suborbital spaceflight from Pat Bahn (TGV
Rockets), Randall Clague (XCOR),
Ed Wright (X Rocket),
and others involved in suborbital companies and space activism.
I participated in the morning briefings and the luncheon and I
was quite encouraged by the positive responses from the staffers.
Unlike a similar campaign last
February, this time there were some staffers who were
quite familiar with suborbital spaceflight already.
More briefings will continue through Tuesday.
News brief ... Alan Boyle
at MSNBC comments on the growing competition in both governmental
and private spaceflight: Places
for the space race - Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log - Oct.27.03
Latest SS1 test flight...
According to the Scaled Composites test
flights page, the SpaceShipOne
was dropped from the White Knight on Oct.17th at 46,200 feet. The
goal of the test was to check on "the effects of horizontal
tail modifications at both forward and mid-range CG locations (obtained
by dumping water from an aft ballast tank between test points)."
The previous flight
on September 23 saw "un-commanded nose rise" and the pilot
had difficulty in recovering control.
The new configuration seems to have fixed the problem:
"No vehicle pitch up tendency was noted as the main wing
now stalls first. Real time video of the tufted tails fed back
down to mission control helped considerably in assessing the performance
of these aerodynamic improvements. More aggressive maneuvering
in the feather made it evident that the pilot could readily point
the vehicle's nose where desired and all rocket motor functionality
tests were satisfactory."
The fixes were first tested with ground
tests that included "full-scale 'wind tunnel' tests of
the SS1 boom-tail using a modified Ford-250 pickup truck to provide
the necessary flow field." (Maybe this technique should be
called "testing with the Bubba tunnel.")
Sounds like the SS1 project is back on track (or the road).
News brief ... The Robust
Scramjet program continues in the Air Force: U.S.
Air Force Moves Ahead With Studies On Air-Breathing Engines - Space
News - Oct.27.03
The Japanese RVT-9 in flight on Oct. 25, 2003
A flight of the Japanese RVT
took place yesterday. I cannot currently find a page in English
about the event at JAXA
page shows a photo
of the LH2/LOX powered vehicle during the flight. This translator
indicates that the flight lasted just 17 seconds and consisted of
lifting to about 10m, hovering, and then landing. More flights will
Apparently, for each set of tests, whether in flight or on the
ground, the vehicle number is incremented. In 2001 the vehicle was
label RVT-6 in these photos,
whereas this report
on static engine tests back in April shows the label RVT-8 on the
vehicle. Now it is labeled RVT-9. Other RVT
News brief... This week's Armadillo
update reports on further progress with the mixed propellant engines:
improvements, Mixture ratios - Armadillo Aerospace - Oct.25.03
News briefs... Rand Simberg
reports on the recent House Science Committtee hearing
on human spaceflight: The
Usual Suspects - FOXNews.com - Oct.24.03...
... A quiet space
investor is studying propulsion: What
Jeff Bezos is reading - spacetoday.net weblog - Oct.23.03
Support for space bill... The
NSS and several other
companies and organizations (and Dennis Tito) released this PR in
support of the Commercial
Space Act. They emphasize the bill's importance to the development
of a suborbital spaceflight industry: Space
Coalition Urges Swift Passage of Commercial Space Act of 2003 (HR
3245) - SpaceRef - Oct.23.03
Suborbital Action ... If you
would like to participate in Suborbital
Action Day this Monday on Capitol Hill, contact
the organizers at the Suborbital
News briefs... Utilizing private
launcher development: China's
space challenge By Edward Hudgins - The Washington Times: Commentary
- Oct.23.03 (via Curmudgeons
... More about Elon Musk and
his private launcher company SpaceX: Sky
is No Limit for Rocket Man Elon Musk - allAfrica.com - Oct.22.03
News briefs ... Interesting
thermal protection material in development: Ultra-High-Temperature
Ceramics To Withstand 2000 Degrees Celsius - ScienceDaily - Oct.21.03
... This long interview with
Burt Rutan apparently took place pre-SS1 rollout but he still has
some interesting things to say about space exploration and launch
vehicle development: Burt
Rutan Interview - Masters of Technology at Scientific American.
(Via an ERPS
Aircraft vs suborbital rocket compromise...
Randall Clague of XCOR
has posted the message
below on the sci.space.policy newsgroup. He says that AVR
(the aviation part of the FAA) and AST
(the rocket launch regulators at the FAA) have reached a compromise
on how to classify suborbital vehicles, such as Scaled Composites'
"The AST/AVR turf war is over. Patti Grace Smith and Nick
Sabitini have jointly published a Notice in the Federal Register,
FR 59977, that divides up the pie very evenly. Launch vehicles
are AST, airplanes are AVR, and hybrid vehicles - those which
share characteristics of launch vehicles and aircraft - are both.
The dividing line is clear and unambiguous, is the same as what
AST pre-announced at Space Access in April, and is trajectory
dependent." [My emphasis]
"What this means is that the same vehicle can be an experimental
aircraft on Monday, a launch vehicle on Tuesday, and an experimental
aircraft again on Wednesday. Which it is depends on how you fly
it. If you fly it so it meets the definition of a suborbital rocket,
it's a launch vehicle, and you need a launch license. If you fly
it so it doesn't meet the definition, it's an experimental aircraft,
and you need a pink slip. "
"This is good news for pretty much everyone. Flight test
paperwork is a whole lot easier, but when we need to start charging
for flights, we can - we just have to get a launch license. This
is WAAAY easier than the equivalent route for airplanes, which
is type certification. AST and AVR did a really good job on this
Starchaser engine tests ... The
X PRIZE project has carried out a series of tests this month of
its Churchill Mk 2 LOX/Kerosene engine. On October 15th the engine
ran for 53 secs. Earlier
tests on October 7th and 13th were for 16secs each and reached
up to 2.5 tonnes of thrust. The success of these tests allows them
to begin construction of the Mk 3 engine with 15 tonne thrust.
News briefs ... Contract for
the SS1 propulsion finalized: SpaceDev
Finalizes Contract for Human Space Flight Propulsion Monday: Agreement
Establishes Exclusive Relationship for Supply of Propulsion System
for SpaceShipOne - Spacedev PR - Oct.20.03 ...
...Nice review of the X-43A
& C program: U.S.
Breathes Life into Hypersonic Rocket Endeavor - Space Com - Oct.20.03
... Prospace on Shenzhou launch:
should spur U.S. by Marc Shlather of Prospace - Florida Today -
... Though I'm sure the complete Shenzhou-5 capsule will go to
a museum, it sounds as if at least some parts of the Shenzhou capsule
are reusable : China
Studies Returned Space Capsule - Space.com - Oct.19.03
Armadillo engine progress... The
latest update from John Carmack reports that a test engine with
the mixed methanol/hydrogen peroxide (50%) propellant achieved a
burn time exceeding that needed for an X PRIZE flight: Self-Preheating,
125 second burn time (!!!) - Armadillo - Oct.18.03. With four
units of this version of the engine they can do low altitude testing
of the big vehicle. A larger (12") version will be needed for
the high altitude flights.
News brief ... Alan Boyle at
MSNBC hears from Charles Lurio about the Commercial Space Act: Space
policy postings - Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log - Oct.17.03
Summaries of the Congressional
hearing on human spaceflight last
SpaceX update... The latest
news on the SpaceX
Falcon development just came out. Highlights include:
announcement - as noted yesterday, the payload
on the first Falcon launch will be a the Navy TacSat-1. The funding
came, however, from the Office of Force Transformation. According
"Falcon was one of only a few technologies that the Defense
Department felt was sufficiently important to receive funding
outside of the normal federal budgetary cycle, which is quite
an honor. It is decisions like this that really help move the
space program forward."
- DC unveiling - the Falcon
will be brought to Washington DC in December for an official unveiling
as part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Wright
Brothers' first flight.
- Propulsion tests looked
at "erosion rates of [the first stage engine] Merlin’s composite
ablative chamber & nozzle under various film cooling scenarios.
Erosion rates so far are within the predicted range." Some
seal problems seen in previous tests were fixed.
- Avionics - most of the rocket
control electonics have been condensed into a FPGA (Field Programmable
Gate Array) chip on a small board.
"..with the addition of ram and a boot rom, this one little
board will perform all avionics and vehicle control functions,
apart from the ring laser gyroscopes, GPS and radios, which is
really amazing. The Saturn V Moon rocket had substantially less
capability and the avionics were the size of a house"
- First stage tank fabrication
has overcome various challenges, especially those dealing with
the "double-walled, liquid oxygen feed tunnel that goes from
the common bulkhead to the turbo-pump inlet through the center
of the kerosene tank." This involves "multiple sets
of aluminum bellows to take out the differential expansion caused
by liquid oxygen at -300F on the one hand and room temperature
kerosene at 70F on the other."
- Booster recovery - contractor
chosen to recover the first stage after it splashes down 600 miles
off the Baja California coast.
Political space action ...
XCOR and several other space companies and activist organizations
announce their support for the Commercial Space Act. Space
Coalition Urges Swift Passage of Commercial Space Act of 2003 (HR
3245) - XCOR - Oct.14.03:
WASHINGTON, DC - October 14, 2003 - A coalition of space policy
organizations and aerospace companies today urged the Congress
to pass the Commercial
Space Act of 2003 (HR 3245) in an expeditious manner. This
bill, introduced in the House by a bipartisan group, will clarify
and streamline a muddled and uncertain regulatory regime faced
by the emerging American suborbital space flight industry.
"The suborbital launch industry offers tremendous promise," said
Brian Chase, Executive Director of the National Space Society.
"The tourism component alone could be worth billions of dollars
per year, and has the real potential to jump-start our stagnant
aerospace sector. The United States has the opportunity to be
the leader in this exciting market, but without steps like this
legislation we may see it move to other countries."
The bill, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Ralph
Hall (D-TX) and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), directs the Secretary
of Transportation to set up an enabling regulatory regime for
commercial human space flight, separate from that under which
the FAA governs commercial aviation.
Most important, the bill confirms the FAA's Office of Commercial
Space Transportation (AST) as the sole authority to license suborbital
launch vehicles, and provides clear guidance that its primary
mission is to aid this new industry with reasonable regulation
that will help develop suborbital vehicles and companies. This
will end the confusion within FAA about which bureau has jurisdiction
over these vehicles.
"The most effective way to make suborbital flight safe is to
allow innovative ideas," said XCOR Aerospace CEO Jeff Greason.
"By resolving regulatory uncertainty, this bill creates an environment
that will attract investment to an industry that has the potential
to produce quality, high-paying jobs."
"This legislation protects the safety of the general public while
allowing entrepreneurs and adventure travelers to pursue their
dream of participating in human spaceflight," said James Muncy
of PoliSpace, a space policy consultant working for several suborbital
The coalition is made up of major space policy organizations,
aerospace companies and consultants. They are joined by Mr. Dennis
Tito, the first private citizen to pay his own way into space.
Their joint aim is to assist the suborbital industry in its development
and to assure American leadership in this important emerging industry.
If you believe the
Commercial Space Act can help to create a suborbital space industry,
then contact your representatives and ask them to support this bill.
And come to Capitol Hill on October 27th to participate in Suborbital
The suborbital RVT-3 (Reusable Vehicle Test)
will begin flights later this month.
Test flights soon for Japan's RVT ...
The flight of the Shenzhou got me to thinking about what
Japan's response will be and then I remembered to check in at the
site to see if there was any news about the RVT.
(I've been checking occasionally since I knew the third generation
vehicle was supposed to fly sometime this year.) Sure enough they
had a "front" page story: Reusable
Vehicle Test at Noshiro Testing Center - ISAS/JAXA - Oct.15.03.
The RVT is smaller than the DC-X
but the approach of the program is similar: incremental development
of a fully reusable vertical-takeoff-and-landing LH2/LOX rocket.
Each version will extend not just the performance envelope but,
more importantly, the knowledge base on the robustness of various
systems and materials under the stress and strain of repeated flight
According to the story, the RVT-3 will test the:
- "design and verification of propulsion systems for repeated
flight and its turnaround";
- "automatic vertical landing by engine throttling";
- "composite cryogenic tank for light weight materials."
I'm very happy for the Chinese and their tremendous accomplishment
but I actually find this little can-do vehicle much more
interesting with regards to the development of practical spaceflight.
I just hope the Japanese government will also come to see it that
way and give this program sufficient funding to fulfill its potential.
It's certainly more useful than a crash program to put a Japanese
fighter pilot into orbit.
PS: Note that the ISAS has
been folded, along with NASDA,
into the new giant JAXA
super-duper space agency. The ISAS, though much smaller, has been
much more effective and productive pound for pound than NASDA. In
gov-think, it therefore follows that combining the two into one
big agency will make for a wonderful synergetic combination. I doubt
it. Projects like the RVT will probably be suffocated and snuffed
out the way the DC-X and the DC-X approach to RLV development were
when taken over by NASA. Breaking up NASDA into small pieces that
each emulated ISAS would have been anathema to the bureaucratic
mindset but probably would have resulted in a tsunami of spaceflight
News briefs ... First reported
by Space News back in September,
SpaceX today confirmed
officially that the Navy's TacSat-1 spacecraft will ride on the
first Falcon launch: SpaceX
Announces Defense Department Launch Customer - SpaceX PR/SpaceRef
- Oct.16.03. ...
...Rand Simberg condenses his
of the Commercial
Space Act in this week's Fox column: Permission
To Fly - FOXNews.com - Oct.15.03. ...
... No alt.spacers in this
lineup. The usual suspects will give their usual testimony for and
against human spaceflight: House
Science Committee Hearing Charter: "The Future of Human Space Flight"
- SpaceRef - Oct.15.03
The China card... It will be
interesting to see if the Chinese manned spaceflight development
does or does not make a big impact on US space policy. The fact
that everyone knows that everyone will try to use it to push their
particular agenda will tend to dilute the impact.
NASA, of course, will use the Shenzhou launch to push for more
funding for its programs, especially for the OSP. I hope, though,
that it inspires new approachs such as that proposed by the SFF
Says Chinese Launch Heralds New Space Race - Space Frontier Foundation
- Oct.15 - or at least the one advocated by Greg Easterbrook
who proposes to cancel the shuttle and use the money saved to develop
a new vehicle: Commander
Bond, the Chi-Com Spacecraft is about to Launch - Greg Easterbrook's
blog - Oct.14.03.
Alternate cancellation... This
week's Space News includes a report on the new approach NASA has
taken with the Alternate Access to Station program (see an earlier
entry.) The article says that NASA's plans "remain
a mystery" but recent instructions given to the contractors
indicate a major change in the direction of the program.
Initially the program aimed to "generate ideas for making
the occasional one-way delivery" of supplies to the ISS. Now
NASA wants the capability to move large amounts of cargo in both
directions. This will require a vehicle that goes "way beyond
the capabilities of the Russian, European and Japanese supply ships."
As previously noted, it looks like they want an unpiloted vehicle
to compliment the OSP and thus replace all of the shuttle's capabilities.
The article, however, also quotes unnamed "industry sources"
who say that the program "is being set up to fail". The
extra $4M for this study, which came after several Congresspersons
complained about NASA's decision to cancel the program, will just
result in finding that such a vehicle cannot be built simultaneously
with the OSP within the time and funding available.
See these links
and the interview
with Gary Hudson for additional background to the AAS
News brief ... Space
Frontier Foundation lauds the Commercial
Space Act: Foundation
Lauds Rohrabacher Bill on Commercial Space; Astronaut Says Private
Spacecraft May Beat Shuttle to Space - Space Frontier Foundation
Orbital joins Lockheed-Martin & Northrop
... Orbital Sciences follows Northrop into the Lockheed
OSP collaboration: Lockheed
Martin's Orbital Space Plane Team Now Includes Orbital Sciences
Corporation: Three aerospace innovators Lockheed Martin, Northrop
Grumman and Orbital Sciences Combine strengths to design and build
NASA's Orbital Space Plane - Orbital - Oct.14.03
New X PRIZE competitor... Jeff
Foust reports on the annnouncement during last weekend's Space
Frontier Society conference of a new suborbital launcher project:
the Liberator - The Space Review - Oct.13.03. The project participants
include Greg Allison of HARC
Space and Tim Pickens of Orion
Propulsion. The system will use a considerable amount of equipment
already developed for an unmanned orbital proejct - Space America
- that went defunct following the collapse of the launch market
from the Iridium/Globalstar/Teledesic failures.
Allison has also been active in the Huntsville
Alabama L5 Society (HAL5) High Altitude Lift-Off (HALO) Program
and Pickens helped with the SpaceShipOne
propulsion design. You can hear an interview
with Pickens on the Space Show from Sept.30th and an interview
with Greg Allison from July 29th.
DARPA quick launchers... Jeff
Foust also reviews the FALCON
project that seeks a system to launch small payloads on short notice:
Responsive Spacelift: A solution seeking a problem? - The Space
Review - Oct.13.03
Space legislation ... The Space
Exploration Act of 2003 gets a dedicated site to promote it:
Exploration Act of 2003: Petition Congress to Support Human Exploration
of Space! (link via Martian
Soil) ... T
... Rand Simberg updates his
of the Commercial
Space Act after discussions during the Space
Frontier Society conference.
RocketMan examines the Ascender... The
Rocket Man Blog reviews
the Ascender X PRIZE design from Bristol
Spaceplanes. Previous reviews included Len Cormier's SabreRocket
and John Carmack's Black
I also recommend The Space Show interview
with David Ashford, Managing Director of Bristol Spaceplanes.
He has been in aerospace since the early 1960s and offers many insights
into the challenges facing private space development. For example,
I liked his comment that ELVs are to spaceflight today as balloons
were to airflight before the Wright Brothers came along.
News briefs ... A good article
about Armadillo, X PRIZE, XCOR, etc at Armadillo
Aerospace in $10 million rocket race - MSNBC - Oct.11.03 (via
Mike Massee) ...
... The next meeting of COMSTAC
(Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee) will include
a "Suborbital Definitions Presentation/Discussion" and
a report from Michael Kelly (Kelly
Space) on the RLV Working Group in the day long event: COMSTAC
Meeting - Oct.30.03 - Commercial Space Transportation - FAA / AST
newsletter from the California
Space Authority is now available: CSA:
SpotBeam California - October 10, 2003 (The CSA supports various
space & rocketry related initiatives in the state).
Elon Musk on "Entrepreneurial Thought"
and space ... Elon Musk of SpaceX
gave a talk
at Stanford on Wednesday in which he discussed SpaceX and briefly
mentions some of his long range plans. (Haven't watch the talk that
Jeff Bezos gave last week as part of this lecture
series but I expect we would have heard already if he revealed
anything about Blue Origin.)
Commercial Space Act discussions...
Rand Simberg examines the Commercial Space Act of 2003: Interesting
New Legislation - Transterrestrial Musings - Oct.9.03...
Find also more discussion
of the act at sci.space.policy.
News brief ... Keith Cowing
updates and corrects his article mentioned here earlier:
Changes The Focus Of Future ISS Cargo Delivery Plans - SpaceRef
- Oct.9.03 ...
... X PRIZE publicity in Scotland:
be first with star ship Private Enterprise? - Scotsman.com News
- Oct.10.03 (via Spacetoday.net)
Suborbital Action Day... Ed
Wright posted this announcement at sci.space.policy:
On October 27, the Suborbital
Institute will hold its third Suborbital Action Day on Capitol
Hill. Executives of suborbital spaceflight companies and interested
members of the public will meet with House and Senate offices
to discuss upcoming legislation and regulatory issues affecting
commercial suborbital spaceflight.
In past visits to the Hill, the Suborbital Institute has been
successful in influencing Congress to revitalize the Office of
Space Commercialization and add language on suborbital vehicles
to Senate Resolution 1260. This time, the Suborbital Institute
will be following up on those successes while adding a new agenda
item: support for the recently introduced HR 3245, the Commercial
Space Act of 2003. HR 3245 contains many positive items, in
the view of Suborbital Institute, and will help enable the development
of a commercial human spaceflight industry in the United States.
If you want to speak to lawmakers about the development of commercial
human spaceflight and help promote the opportunity for ordinary
Americans to fly in space, here is your chance to do so. We invite
interested parties to get in touch as soon as possible, so that
we may add you to our scheduling. We are making appointments with
Congressional offices right now, so please do not delay. Email
with your name, contact information, and a brief bio. We will
get in touch to provide you with more information.
News briefs ... Comments from
Hudson and Rand
Simberg on the Commercial
Space Act and the role of FAA-AST
in suborbital regulation....
... Leonard David reports on
the recent SS1 test: X-Prize
Update: SpaceShipOne's Third Drop Test - Space.com - Oct.9.03
.... The Canadian da
Vinci X PRIZE project has done well at attracting sponsors
and now lands another big one: Sun
Microsystems of Canada and da Vinci Project Team up to Take on the
Final Frontier - da Vinci Project - Oct.1.03. ...
R. Woodcock and others proposed various space transportation
schemes at the recent International Astronautical Congress in Bremen:
man pitches reusable spacecraft that 'flies like an airplane': Retired
engineer says vehicle could replace shuttle - Huntsville News -
Oct.8.03 (via Spacetoday.net)
Hypersonics ... NASA awards
Selects Allied Team To Provide Hypersonic Vehicles - NASA - Oct.9.03.
The company Allied
Aerospace offers more info about its hypersonics program on
its web site. Besides the X-Vehicles
projects, it also pursues development of Hypersonic
Missile Demonstrators and has flown Sramjet
Projectiles in ground tests. This Movie
of First Successful Scramjet [Projectile] Flight looks like
a sequence from the old Flash Gordon serial.
Space legislation update...
Space Act and three other space related bills got approved today
in a House subcommittee: House
Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Approves Four Bills - SpaceRef
- Oct.8.03. This is just the first hurdle of many but looks
good so far.
NASA wants assured not alternate access...
Keith Cowing reports in NASA
Changes The Focus Of Future ISS Cargo Delivery Plans - SpaceRef
- Oct.7.03 that NASA told the four Alternate Access contractors
and LockMart) that it wants to move the program in the direction
of "Assured Access". This apparently means that by 2011
they want something that can replace the entire shuttle cargo bay
rather than a more modestly sized ISS cargo delivery system.
Why they need such a large amount of space isn't clear. Apparently,
there are various missions under discussion with the White House
but nothing in writing. It looks increasingly likely that NASA is
becoming reconciled to the fact that the shuttle will stop flying
in a few years and so they want something to replace all its capabilities.
Since the OSP will provide the transportation for people, they now
want a large lifter to make up for the loss of the shuttle's cargo
Unfortunately, this means the loss of the original goal of the
Alt. Access program, which, as I understood it, was to exploit the
ability of private firms, especially the small startups, to develop
low cost alternatives to the shuttle for delivering supplies to
the ISS. A big lifter that flies a couple of times a year will mean
yet another ten billion dollar vehicle that costs at least a couple
of hundred million dollars per mission.
Opening space for supply siders...
With regard to the proposed Zero
Gravity, Zero Tax Act of 2003, a clever RLV News reader invented
this new slogan for space activists: No taxation without gravitation!
Save Rocketry Now campaign...
see the Space
SS1 updates... The latest issue
of Aviation Week contains an article about the recent drop test
"hiccups" of the SpaceShipOne.
Some of the items of note include:
- The pitchup problem occurred at 85kts, 15kts above the stall
speed in the previous test.
- The 20 degree pitchup could not be corrected "despite full
nose down elevator and nose down trim". Only by "rolling
to the left with the rudder", causing the "nose to slice
toward the ground", did the pilot Michael Melvill regain
- Even with the ballast added during this flight, which moved
the center of gravity aft, the operational configuration with
fully loaded propellants would double the weight, making "pitchup
and recovery much more dangerous".
- Scaled doesn't yet know if the fix will be big or small.
- The landing also caused a surprise. Forward doors had been added
to the rear legs since the last flight and their drag turned out
to be about twice what was expected. So when he extended the gear
the SS1 "sank like a rock". He came in about a 1000ft
short of the original aim point.
- The goal of a 100km flight by the end of the year will be tough
to meet if the fix takes a while. They had planned "big jumps
in performance" from one test flight to the next. Now they
may have to move in smaller increments.
....The SpaceShipOne photos
page has some new entries.
Spaceshow rocket guest...
Show today at 7 PM - 8 PM Pacific Time, features Dr. Al Differ,
an active partner with JP
Aerospace where he serves as the Director of Analysis. JP
Aerospace is a privately held company with a large volunteer force
with the objective of revolutionizing space access and making
it affordable to everyone. Dr. Differ also serves on the Board
of Directors for the Space
Frontier Foundation and as Project Manager for their Frontier
Files Online project. In addition, Dr. Differ runs an independent
project under Interworld
Transport with the purpose of creating a detailed solar sail
simulation application for use by enthusiasts, scientists, and
technology developers in studying designs and flights of real
solar sails in the inner solar system. Dr Differ's. degree is
from the Department of Physics at the University of California
Available on line via www.live365.com
News brief ...
Brian Walker, aka RocketGuy,
will appear on the TechTV InventThis program: Brian
Walker - TechTV - Oct.6.03
Space action inside the Beltway...
reports that the Alternate Access to Space contractors will meet
with NASA tomorrow. They recently got an extra $4M split among them.
He also mentions that the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics
will act soon on a couple of space bills include the Zero
Gravity, Zero Tax Act of 2003, which would provide tax incentives
for commercial space activities.
Finally, he has heard that there is a study within NASA on the
ramifications of ending the shuttle program three years from now,
just as soon as the ISS construction is finished.
Space legislation ... A reader
pointed me to the Commercial
Space Act of 2003 [H.R.3245] introduced in the House of Representatives
on October 2nd by Rep.Dana Rohrabacher. It authorizes funding for
the FAA's Office of the
Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation
and for the Office
of Space Commerce.
It also changes the Commercial
Space Launch Activities Act. It lists various modifications
of the provisions but unfortunately I can't find any set pages showing
the text after the changes. But several items that stand out include:
- A definition for suborbital spaceflight:
- (17) suborbital rocket means a rocket-propelled vehicle
intended for flight on a suborbital trajectory whose thrust
is greater than its lift for the majority of the powered portion
of its flight.
- (18) suborbital trajectory' means the intentional flight
path of a launch vehicle, reentry vehicle, or any portion
thereof, whose vacuum instantaneous impact point does not
leave the surface of the Earth.'
- The term 'spaceflight participant" is added and intended
to mean an informed passenger who is not just a paying customer
but someone who "has received training and met medical or
other standards specified in the license;" and who has been
"informed of the safety record of the launch or reentry vehicle
- The Secretary of Transporation is instructed "to create
a streamlined, cost-effective, and enabling regulatory framework
for the United States commercial human spaceflight industry."
- It orders a "study on the liability risk-sharing regime"
for commercial space transportation.
I believe this House bill could be reconciled with the Senate
bill introduced by Sen. John McCain back in June.
News briefs ... The Romanian
X PRIZE ARCA team
held an event
on September 27th to celebrate the rollout of its Demonstrator2,
a 1:2.5 scale version of their Orizont
X PRIZE vehicle. They also displayed the launch-complex
for the demonstrator....
... The latest Armadillo Aerospace
reports on continued experiments with the mixed monopropellant propulsion
system particularly with regard to preheating the catalyst.
Support your local X PRIZE team...
To make articles relevant to their readers, newspaper reporters
like to find some local connection when writing on most any topic.
As this article shows - For
this space race, the X factor is money - The Seattle Times - Oct.5.03
(Link via spacetoday.net)
- finding a local X PRIZE team really helps when talking about the
rocket competition. In this case the Canyon
Space Team brings in a connection to the Seattle area. California
newspaper articles talk about the SS1 and other projects there.
Similarly, Canadian and British newspaper articles often discuss
the contest in terms of their "local" teams.
This kind of vicarous identification with a favorite team could
really boost public involvement. Even if the contest is won early,
there will be increasing support and interest in seeing a local
team get its vehicle flying since the concept will have been proven.
$12B just for CRV... According
to Keith Cowing at NASA
Watch, "Dennis Smith has been making the rounds on Capitol
Hill. He is telling staff that the cost of getting to a CRV (crew
return) capability for the OSP - by 2008 - will cost between $11-12
billion. The cost to get the OSP to have a CTV (crew transport)
capability atop an EELV is still not known - at least Smith has
not been able to prove those numbers to Congress."
LEO competition ... Perhaps
the SpaceX entry
into the launcher game is starting to have an impact. The SpaceX
Falcon will put 1400lbs( ~635kg) into LEO for about $6M (see interview
with Elon Musk). Yesterday there came news
that Orbital Sciences
will provide a ride for a [Navy] payload on its Minotaur
rocket to LEO for $11M. As Jeff
Foust points out, this is considerably less than the previous
estimates for a Minotaur of around $19M.
As noted earlier,the
[Navy] will be the first customer for the Falcon. I'm sure the AF
let Orbital know this during their negotiations for a launch. [Correction:
I've been told that the TacSat-1 payload comes from the Navy not
the Air Force as originally reported and it is "funded directly
by the Secretary of Defense' Office of Force Transformation."
Still, the AF probably told Orbital about the low price the Navy
According to Astronautix,
the Minotaur payload capability to LEO is similar to the Falcon's
News briefs... Russian air
launch system plans: Russians
Set to Develop HOTOL-Style Space System - RIA Novosti - Oct.3.03....
... I can see why some rocket
builders such as Scaled Composites like to keep a low profile during
development. This article - Space:
Tourism's next frontier - Minneapolis Star Tribune - Oct.3.03
- for example, uses the recent SS1 drop test problems as proof of
the inherent danger in spaceflight. [In fact, one of the main benefits
of the suborbitals is that they will prove that rocket and space
flight can be done safely and routinely, though there will obviously
be problems during early development.]
TGV jobs ... TGV
Rockets has expanded hiring of engineers for its Noman, Oklahoma
facility. See their contact
info page if you are interested.
The company is also supporting graduate student research at the
School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University
of Oklahoma. See this doc
Escape systems ... Andrew Case
pointed out this article Get
Out Now! - Popular Science - Oct.03 issue, which discusses Shuttle
ejection seat & pod schemes. He also notes the section on
the same page about the challenges of escaping from submarines trapped
in deep waters and the Exosuit designed by Phil Nuytten of Vancouver.
His company, Nuytco
Research, happens to be a sponsor
of the X PRIZE da Vinci project and according to this Space.com
article the company is building a $250k spacesuit for the project.
Andrew thinks there is "probably going to be a serious market
for escape systems for suborbital vehicles in the next few years.
Nuytco is well placed to take advantage of it."
1 , 2003
White Knight/SS1 test flight reports...
The SpaceShipOne flight
tests page now has entries for the recent SS1 drop test and
for some flights without a drop test.
Corrections... Regarding my
original comments below
about the MSNBC/AP
X PRIZE article, Randall Clague of XCOR
notes that the Mojave Spaceport application is for a license to
launch horizontal takeoff and landing vehicles, not just air launched.
(XCOR, for example, plans to launch the XERUS from there.) Also,
I didn't make it clear that Armadillo,
which flies vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles, would not use
Mojave regardless of whether its spaceport application was approved.
Finally, Armadillo has not had any interaction with FAA-AVR, which
is suppose to regulate only airplanes. According to Randall, even
if AVR wanted to regulate all suborbital space traffic, they would
have trouble extending their reach beyond winged vehicles. The Black
Armadillo is a "vehicle that doesn't use wings, and doesn't
so much fly in the NAS [National Airspace System] as through it
- it's a manned sounding rocket, and they would have a real hard
time claiming otherwise."
to September 2003