News briefs... Armadillo aims
for tests of its full X PRIZE vehicle: Hydrotest,
Big vehicle work, Engine work - Armadillo Aerospace - Dec.27.03...
... Taylor Dinerman looks at
the implications of the SS1: Scaled
Composites' SpaceShipOne: stunt plane or new road to the stars?
- The Space Review - Dec.29.03 ...
... Need a lot more than a
launch every week or so to support a healthy rocket industry according
to Jeff Foust: A
year-end reality check - The Space Review - Dec.29.03
Happy Holidays to Everybody!! Postings
will be infrequent over the next week or so. I'll be in Knoxville,
Tennessee visiting relatives and friends.
The Rocket Company saga continues...
I've posted two
new chapters for your holiday reading.
Mars news... For quick listing
of news sites for the latest on the Mars missions, see this list
in the Living Space section. You may also want to use
News briefs... The reports
given at the October COMSTAC (Commercial Space Transportation Advisory
Committee) meeting (agenda)
are now on
line (mostly ppt files)...
... ESA has big plans (or a
big wish list) for future vehicle and spacecraft development and
Charts Plan For Europe On Mars By 2033 - SpaceDaily - Dec.22.03
- Aurora Programme - More about Aurora (link via reader Michael
... The shuttle's return to
flight will be a big story in late 2004: Shuttles
Will Return to Flight Upgraded With Added Technology - Space.com
SS1 brief... The test
data report has been posted for last week's rocket powered supersonic
flight. Repairs from the landing mishap will take "approximately
three weeks to complete."
News briefs... Len Cormier's
site is getting a makeover. He also shows a new and unusual X PRIZE
vehicle concept. ...
... Aviation Week reports in
the latest issue that the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the OSP
project has been indefinitely postponed instead of just temporarily
as earlier indicated. It will have to wait for the completion of
the White House review of policy on human spaceflight....
... Taylor Dinerman says the
OSP "may very nearly be dead." (Space)
history accelerates by Taylor Dinerman - The Space Review - Dec.22.03
- "Not only is there no
simple justification for the OSP, but now that it has been labeled
as being nothing more than an 'American Soyuz,' its $13 to $18 billion
dollar price tag is seen by people in Congress as a joke"...
... It wasn't all just NASA
and the major aerospace conglomerates getting heard in Washington
last week: Jeff
Greason's speech at the AvWeek "Century of Flight" celebration at
the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, Washington D.C. - XCOR Aerospace
The incremental advantage... Rocket
Man compares ELV testing to the step by step approach allowed
by RLVs: Incremental
Testing - Rocket Man Blog - Dec.21.03
SS1 brief... Business Week
reports on the SS1 flight: Free
Enterprise on the Final Frontier - Business Week - Dec.22.03
More SS1 supersonic flight info is
provided in the latest issue of Aviation
Week. Some of the highlights include:
- Data gathered during the rocket firing and afterwards showed
"no showstoppers like flutter at high speeds".
- Some slight roll oscillations between Mach 0.9 and 1.0 faded
away with higher speeds. They might not try to fix this since
"it could be a fun feature to let you know you're going through
the speed of sound" according to Burt.
- The light load for this mission resulted in what should be the
"wildest ride" in the whole program. Only a third of
the nitrous oxide and half of the solid fuel for a 100km altitude
flight were loaded. Since the nitrous oxide pressure drops as
it is used, the thrust will drop as well and so the acceleration
in an operational flight will decrease as the fuel is used up.
In this flight the light load at the start resulted in a maximum
acceleration about 30% higher than for a flight with a complete
- Also, in this flight the nitrous oxide was shut off abruptly,
resulting in a 1.5g eyes-out deceleration. In an operational flight
the acceleration will die off much more gradually.
- The pilot said that in the approach to the runway there were
roll oscillations "that felt close to wing stall started
when he tried to flare the glider" and this led to the hard
- Repairs from the landing accident will take 2 to 4 weeks.
- The total cost for the project will be around $25M.
News briefs... John Carmack
reports on the powered landing alternative to parachutes in his
latest update: Drum
pump, Powered landing, Engine work - Armadillo Aerospace - Dec.20.03
... Decision time for NASA: In
2004, NASA must pick shuttle successor - Florida Today - Dec.20.03
More SpaceShipOne flight photos
are now posted at the SpaceShipOne web site. They come from a video
but I've not seen a link to an on line video file.
News brief... The da
Vinci project is profiled in this National Geographic article:
Combo: First Private Spaceship? - National Geographic - Dec.16.03
SS1 & HARC connection... Tim
Pickens of HARC assisted Scaled Composites with the design of the
SpaceShipOne propulsion system: HARC
Has a Hand in SpaceShipOne's Supersonic Success - Tim Pickens,
HARC's X PRIZE Team Leader, hand picked by Burt Rutan for SpaceShipOne
Project - HARC - Dec.19.03
Composite tanks & RLVs... NASA
and Northrop report on progress with composite LH2 tank development:
Grumman, NASA Successfully Test Composite Hydrogen Fuel Tank for
Reusable Launch Vehicles: Tests Boosts Confidence in Using Composite
Tanks for Reusable Launch Vehicles - Northrop - Dec.19.03. More
links on composite LH2 and LOX tanks can be found in the RLV
I've been communicating with John Garvey of Garvey
Space who was a leader in the university/industry team that
recently launched a rocket with an aerospike
nozzle. He has been involved in many interesting rocketry
projects over the years, including the DC-X
and with composite tank development.
Composite LH2 tanks have been an easier challenge and one was even
flown on the DC-XA. Building composite tanks for LOX has been much
tougher but in June of 2000 Garvey Space worked in collaboration
with Microcosm to launch one
on a rocket, the first time anyone had done so. (This launch occured
over a year before NASA and Lockheed Martin said they were the first
to develop a LOX thank.) I asked John about the history of this
project and he responded as follows [I added some links to his remarks]:
"The composite tank flown on Kimbo
IV was actually provided by Microcosm. It was a sub-scale
unit used for life-cycle testing which we knew about because we
kept in touch with ex-McDonnell Douglas types Jim Berry and Steve
Bartlett. When the tank successfully completed this testing, they
loaned it to us for the flight test / demonstration. So - the
proprietary technology belongs to Microcosm, and was funded (I
am pretty sure) by AFRL....
That flight test was another good example of how we like to work
with partners (generally small companies) in a win-win situation.
Jim Wertz made the decision to do it and that was all it took
for Berry and the others to work with us.
I/we decided to team with Microcosm because we realized early
on that finishing development of our own tank(s) on our own funds
was going to take a while longer. And - contrary to the NASA
press release that you referenced - there were already numerous
teams out there (besides Microcosm, there were my colleagues at
Boeing/McDonnell Douglas, the Rockwell North American folks, as
well as apparently Gary Hudson) that had already built and demonstrated
such composite LOX tanks on the ground. All we wanted to do was
put one in flight.
There is a long story as to why we got started in the first place.
It goes back to DC-XA and the composite LH2 tank, on which I spent
a lot of time helping to install the internal insulation (among
other things, I learned that if technicians are willing to let
an engineer do hands-on work, it probably is not going to be fun).
I basically proposed what became the Kimbo IV to management, but
they were focused on getting X-33, which would in turn would have
funded development of much larger LOX tanks. Myself and several
others started building the Kimbo I out at White Sands, using
spare parts that came from junk yards over in Almogordo.
... After K-IV, we submitted an SBIR Phase I proposal to Marshall
to develop and fly the already half-built Kimbo V in five months
with an improved composite tank from Microcosm and another designed
with inputs from the Boeing/McDonnell Douglas composite tank team.
It was not selected, apparently because the Marshall folks concluded
that the K-V was not the right scale of vehicle. So - we flew
it anyway with our standard converted fire extinguisher tanks
and achieved our first successful recovery.
Armadillo status... Besides
his regular updates at Armadillo Aerospace, John Carmack has posted
various comments about the status of the project (some of these
links come via Kaido Kert):
SS1 briefs... From the ERPS
Forum, read one eyewitness
account of an interesting day at the Mojave Airport....
private rocket ship goes supersonic - New Scientist - Dec.18.03
News briefs... The Pad
Abort Demonstration (PAD) progress announced: Engine,
Parachute Tests Pave Way For Launch Escape System - NASA - Dec.18.03
News briefs... Space
Transport displayed the "The Rubicon", the company's Suborbital
Tourism Vehicle, yesterday in Port Angeles, Washington: Spacecraft
Display - Space Transport - Dec.17.03 ...
... The Australian groups working
on hypersonic projects, such as the University of Queensland's Hyshot
project, are teaming together: Racing
to supersonic speeds - Australian IT -Dec.17.03
Scaled Composites posts some
of Burt, Paul Allen, and Brian Binnie. Also, they offer some bigger
versions of the ignition image shown below....
... Even the Washington Posts'
Kathy Sawyer notes this non-governmental project: Private
Rocket Plane Breaks Sound Barrier - Washingtonpost.com - Dec.18.03.
Haven't seen anything yet at the NY Times.
SS1 photos are posted on Alan
Radecki's web site, including a sequence showing the landing
mishap. Sure glad it didn't flip. In this
shot it has a wounded bird look. (Burt's designs are so wonderfully
animate.) Or just real tired after its splendid feat.
SS1 flight aftermath... The
full implications of this event will take some time to develop.
Here are some miscellaneous items:
- Paul Allen, the billionaire Microsoft co-founder, did in fact
turn out to be the SS1 investor as had been suspected: Paul
G. Allen Confirmed as Long-Rumored Sponsor of SpaceShipOne - Business
Wire - Dec.17.03
- The press
release, or info derived from it, has been posted at Space.com
and other sites but I've not seen much new info yet. I would expect
more to come out today. I hope more pictures and perhaps a video
will be released soon.
- I saw the announcement on some of the bottom screen scrollers
at CNN and Fox News television channels but no live reports as
of late last night.
Fired in Flight!
Breaks the Sound Barrier
Scaled Composites Press Release
Today, a significant milestone was achieved by Scaled Composites:
The first manned supersonic flight by an aircraft developed by
a small company's private, non-government effort.
In 1947, fifty-six years ago, history's first supersonic flight
was flown by Chuck Yeager in the Bell X-1 rocket under a U.S.
Government research program. Since then, many supersonic aircraft
have been developed for research, military and, in the case of
the recently retired Concorde, commercial applications. All these
efforts were developed by large aerospace prime companies, using
extensive government resources.
Our flight this morning by SpaceShipOne demonstrated that supersonic
flight is now the domain of a small company doing privately-funded
research, without government help. The flight also represents
an important milestone in our efforts to demonstrate that truly
low-cost space access is feasible.
Our White Knight turbojet launch aircraft, flown by Test Pilot
Peter Siebold, carried research rocket plane SpaceShipOne to 48,000
feet altitude, near the desert town of California City. At 8:15
a.m. PDT, Cory Bird, the White Knight Flight Engineer, pulled
a handle to release SpaceShipOne. SpaceShipOne Test Pilot, Brian
Binnie then flew the ship to a stable, 0.55 mach gliding flight
condition, started a pull-up, and fired its hybrid rocket motor.
Nine seconds later, SpaceShipOne broke the sound barrier and continued
its steep powered ascent. The climb was very aggressive, accelerating
forward at more than 3-g while pulling upward at more than 2.5-g.
At motor shutdown, 15 seconds after ignition, SpaceShipOne was
climbing at a 60-degree angle and flying near 1.2 Mach (930 mph).
Brian then continued the maneuver to a vertical climb, achieving
zero speed at an altitude of 68,000 feet. He then configured the
ship in its high-drag "feathered" shape to simulate the condition
it will experience when it enters the atmosphere after a space
flight. At apogee, SpaceShipOne was in near-weightless conditions,
emulating the characteristics it will later encounter during the
planned space flights in which it will be at zero-g for more than
three minutes. After descending in feathered flight for about
a minute, Brian reconfigured the ship to its conventional glider
shape and flew a 12-minute glide to landing at Scaled's home airport
of Mojave. The landing was not without incident as the left landing
gear retracted at touchdown causing the ship to veer to the left
and leave the runway with its left wing down. Damage from the
landing incident was minor and will easily be repaired. There
were no injuries.
The milestone of private supersonic flight was not an easy task.
It involved the development of a new propulsion system, the first
rocket motor developed for manned space flights in several decades.
The new hybrid motor was developed in-house at Scaled with first
firings in November 2002. The motor uses an ablative nozzle supplied
by AAE and operating components supplied by SpaceDev. FunTech
teamed with Scaled to develop a new Inertial Navigation flight
director. The first flight of the White Knight launch aircraft
was in August 2002 and SpaceShipOne began its glide tests in August
Scaled does not pre-announce the specific flight test plans for
its manned space program, however completed accomplishments are
updated as they happen at our website:
The website also provides downloadable photos and technical descriptions
of the rocket motor system and motor test hardware.
Scaled Composites, LLC, is an aerospace research company located
on the Mojave Airport:
1624 Flight Line, Mojave California 93501
Voice (661) 824-4541
Fax (661) 824-4174
An incredible sight, exclaims
Jim Benson: SpaceDev
Powers SpaceShipOne to Break Sound Barrier Flight on Historic 100th
Anniversary of Wright Bros. - SpaceDev - Dec.17.03
News briefs... The delay of
the orbital version of the X-37 has been confirmed: X-37
Drop Test Set For November But Orbital Variant Put On Hold - Aviation
Week - Dec.17.03 ...
... Via the ERPS
forum I remembered this article at Space Future from 2002 that
gave an interesting commentary from the head of the Japanese RVT
The Little Spacecraft That Could - Space Future Journal - May.15.02
... Rand's on a Wrighteous
- Transterrestrial Musings - Dec.17.03 * Up
and Back Down - National Review Online - Dec.17.03. ...
... RocketMan explains that
one must be careful when comparing fuel loads for planes and rockets:
Lack Of An Oxidizer - Rocket Man Blog - Dec.17.03 ...
... Florida Today seems to
notice finally that some rocketry advancements can occur outside
of NASA: Seeking
the Wright mix: Aviation blueprints map out flying cars, space trips
- Florida Today - Dec.16.03
Canadian Arrow Space Center (astronaut.ca)
website has been updated. They aim to attract customers
to a 14
day training program at their facility near London Ontario and
a ride on their Canadian
Arrow vehicle once regular flights begin. The site includes
a lot of nice graphics including images of various aspects of the
You can now arrange for a bus
tour of their facility.
Spacedev rocket development
Latest... Poway Firm Powers 1st Private Manned Space Flight ...
which may or may not occur tomorrow - sandiego.com - Dec.16.03
Gryphon in action... Andrews
Space releases an animation of their two stage RLV design :
Space Releases Animation of the Gryphon Space Transportation Architecture
- Andrews PR/PrimeZone - Dec.16.03 (via spacetoday.net)
The Wright way to air & space involves
careful step-by-step testing and incremental development according
"Scientists" by Rand Simberg - TCS: Tech Central Station - Dec.17.03
I've heard a rumor that Mojave
Airport has issued a statement that there will be some special test
flight activity on Wednesday morning...
X PRIZE update... The X
PRIZE has released the 2003
Team Updates (1.3MB pdf) that focuses on the progress and status
of 13 of the competitors - those that have released information
on significant hardware development.
A sample of items of interest:
Composites reports that "the next six to nine months
will involve a number of rocket powered flights of SpaceShipOne,
with each flight involving a longer and longer burn of the hybrid
engine. The first flight may be limited to a short 15- second
burn, with later flights demonstrating the full 60+ second burn
time bringing SpaceShipOne from 50,000 feet eventually to an altitude
of 328,000 feet (62 miles...space!)."
Aerospace has developed "totally new propulsion system
that uses a bi-modal, mono-propellant fuel consisting of 50% w/w
hydrogen peroxide / water and methanol. The new fuel is more potent
than the 90% peroxide, one tenth the cost and is readily available.
Engine testing is ongoing and the full scale 12" engine is in
Then "after completion of the engine test program, Armadillo
will be testing a full scale boilerplate X PRIZE vehicle with
a captive hover test at their 100-acre test facility, followed
by some low altitude hover tests to 3,000 ft. With these tests
completed, it's their intent to do some additional low altitude
launches within the "amateur" classification". They hope
to do X PRIZE flights by end of 2004 if launch approval red tape
can be overcome.
Astronautics has nearly completed a "sub-scale technology
test bed vehicle. This LOX/RP-1 technology demonstrator vehicle
implements several key technologies and innovations incorporated
in the American Eagle I booster design. The test bed vehicle is
capable of carrying a 40 pound flight instrumentation payload
on board to an altitude of 120 km. The test bed vehicle is fully
recovered and reusable. At nearly 99% completion, the technology
demonstrator's purpose is to proof the Spirit of Liberty concept
and design prior to manned launch."
Launch Services (Jim Akkerman) "experienced a significant
set of challenges arising from an engine test: during a static
firing of its test vehicle/engine combination, a LOX feed line
was heated by the exhaust to the point of rupture, and a fire
ensued. There was damage to the control wires, storage tanks and
the shell of the vehicle. Team Advent has used this experience
as an opportunity to redesign its shell to a new tube wall structure
(like the Atlas), and is in the process of building a new test
stand for its engine. Its developmental-stage all-aluminum “orbiter”—also
its X PRIZE test vehicle—is ready for further testing; the launch/service
version will be made of titanium."
- The ARCA
"test vehicle is a 1:1.25 scale version of the X PRIZE vehicle,
named 'Demonstrator-2.' The vehicle was rolled out for public
display on 27 September 2003. Demonstrator- 2 is a composite vehicle
with an engine capable of either a single or hybrid fuel....Launch
of Demonstrator-2, scheduled for 15 March 2004, will accelerate
the test vehicle to 68 km, and it will "coast" to an apogee of
Arrow successfully tested its 57,000lb thrust engine and that
will continue tests of "the engine to prepare it for actual
flight onboard the first Canadian Arrow spacecraft that is scheduled
for launch next year. When successful, the Arrow will make Canada
the fourth nation to put humans into space."
- The da
Vinci Project says that "Early in 2004 da Vinci Project
hopes to receive its license to launch from the Canadian Government
and begin a sequence of test flights culminating in an series
of flights to win the X PRIZE."
will continue progressing toward full scale launches while keeping
safety first. Hardware design and testing will continue into 2004
with a launch of the Liberator Escape Tower and Capsule in the
1st half of 2004. HARC is planning for a summer launch of the
'Little Joe' version of the Liberator to an altitude of approximately
40 kilometers. The first full scale launch is planned for late
summer and will be followed by another launch in the fall. The
two X PRIZE competition flights will take place in late 2004,
and there are already astronaut candidates pitching in to help
move the Team toward that goal."
De Leon's group reports that in "2004 we will concentrate
in launch test of at least two half scale vehicles and in launch
reports that its "Thunderstar and its new engines now in
production, Starchaser plans to fly in 2004. The team has also
announced that it will make its propulsion system available for
sale to other X PRIZE contestants on a commercial basis."
An X PRIZE press release notes
the Wright Brothers flight anniversary and believes that the X PRIZE
teams are "carrying on the tradition of passionate aviation
experimentation to clear a path to space for the rest of us." -
PRIZE Inspiring the Next 100 Years of Flight: Three New Teams Join
$10M Competition -- Total Now 27 Teams from Seven Nations - X PRIZE
Suborbital to orbital follow-up...
Some miscellaneous items about the suborbital
Becker suggests that these two articles are good supplements:
- Speaking of Rand, he placed an entry
at Transterrestrial about the article and some readers' comments
have been posted.
- Pat Bahn clarified
his suggestion about suborbitals and skyhooks.
special program this Wednesday,
December 17th will celebrate the anniversary of the Wright Brothers
first powered flight with an interview with Rick Tumlinson of the
Foundation. The program airs live from 7-8:15PM Pacific Time
via web streaming on live365.com.
Suborbital to orbital? My
article - Suborbital
spaceflight: a road to orbit or a dead end? - The Space Review -
Dec.15.03 - came out this morning.
For the article I solicited input from Pat Bahn (TGV-Rockets),
Len Cormier (Tour2Space),
Dan DeLong (XCOR),
Spencer, and Mark Oakley (RocketMan
Blog). To reduce the length of the article, I paraphrased some
parts of their statements. The full texts of their responses are
In the article I forgot to include references for the statements
from Alan Bond and John Pike. You can find them in Galaxy
quest - The Independent - Aug.5.03 and The
Right Stuff - Wired - June.03 (page
Armadillo news ... John Carmack
has posted his latest update: Engine
development, preparing for flight - Armadillo Aerospace - Dec.13.03.
In commemoration of 100 Years of Powered Flight, Armadillo offers
video in which Widget plays Zelig to the great events
in early aviation. It also shows those Armadillo young men with
their magnificent flying machines.
News brief... The Economist
thinks that we might fly on Hypersoar
someday - : High
times - The Economist - Dec.15.03.
Aviation Week posting... The
November 24th issue of Aviation Week included a brief entry in the
Washington Outlook section that reported, "A fully reusable
two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle is currently beyond reach, says
Pentagon space czar Peter B. Teets."
Teets statement really annoyed me so I sent the following message
to the AW&ST letters section and it was actually included in
this week's issue along with an image of the Kistler
It is a relief to hear that "Pentagon space czar" Peter Teets
has declared that fully reusable two-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) vehicles
are currently beyond reach. (AWST Nov.24,2003.) He can now finally
enlighten us as to the fatal flaws in the Kistler Aerospace K-1
This fully reusable TSTO vehicle was 75% complete about three
years ago when its funding fell short as Kistler's target market
of Iridium, Globalstar, and Teledesic replacement satellites vanished.
It has been a big mystery as to why the AF or NASA did not step
in and fund the completion of this vehicle, which would require
less money than the cost of a single shuttle flight. The company
claims that it could fly 5700kgs every two weeks to low earth
orbit for about $17M per mission or $3000 per kg, substantially
below current prices. I'm sure George Mueller, head of Kistler
and a former top engineer of the Apollo program, would like to
be informed by Mr. Teets as to why the K-1 is not currently feasible.
I don't claim the K-1 is the greatest conceivable RLV design. I'm
not qualified to judge. I just believe that when someone in public
office makes a grand proclaimation like this, he or she should back
it up with publicly available analysis and documentation, especially
when a contrary example in the private sector lies right in front
of that person.
X-37 delayed... The latest
Aviation Week also reports that the X-37
orbital vehicle will be delayed and "de-emphasized" in
favor of the OSP: NASA
Delays X-37 Orbital Vehicle - Aviation Week - Dec.14.03. The
X-37 program now will focus on drop tests and advanced technology
development such as "lithium ion batteries, carbon-carbon and
carbon silicon carbide hot structures". The program also suffered
significant cost growth due to problems with the wing structures
on the Approach and Landing Test Vehicle (ALTV) that required a
(Note that in my interview
with Gary Hudson last June he predicted: "Of course,
it is only a matter of time before MSFC kills X-37 altogether.")
As a side remark, the article also says that the OSP is "beginning
to look less like a reusable plane than a throwaway capsule and
has serious long-term funding issues of its own." First time
that I've heard that the capsule might not be reusable.
Space.com also reports on the delay: NASA
Puts X-37 Space Flight on Hold - Space News - Dec.15.03
Space Access Society update...
Henry Vanderbilt issued Space Access Update #101 yesterday (not
yet posted at the SAS
site) that focused on The Future of NASA Manned Space: Constrained
There has been a lot of breathless speculation on what the current
Administration review of national space policy might lead to,
much of it centered on what if anything the President might choose
to talk about on the upcoming 100th birthday of powered flight,
December 17th 2003. We have no inside scoops, but we do have a
few thoughts on the matter.
Our standard disclaimer on this: NASA is not a monolith; it's
a whole collection of organizations of wildly varying size, missions,
and competence. Some parts of NASA are both competent and efficient,
many are at least marginally functional, and some are massively
dysfunctional bureaucratic quagmires. There are lots of good people
in NASA, some fortunate enough to be able to quietly go about
producing value for the country, some mired up to their eyeballs
in the aforementioned quagmires. Unless we specify otherwise,
from here on we'll use "NASA" as shorthand for by far the largest
single part of the agency, the Shuttle/Station manned spaceflight
First, however, consider that December 17th is the centennial
of the *airplane*, that the first "A" in NASA stands for "aeronautics",
and that the agency's problems are not confined to its space operations.
It occurs to us that come the 17th, the President might have something
to say on aeronautics. Just a guess, of course.
As far as NASA manned space goes, keep in mind two things: One,
money is tight. The country's coming out of a recession, there's
a war on, and the deficit is getting politically sensitive. Whatever
new directions national space policy might be aimed, overall civil
space spending is very unlikely to increase radically. That would
take a national consensus that simply doesn't exist.
Two, NASA is a mess. Read the CAIB Report and weep. Neither the
Congress nor the White House trust NASA anymore - neither to succeed
on-time/on-budget (if at all) with any large new project, nor
to reform itself unsupervised. As far as ambitious new missions
are concerned, these various parties are (or ought to be) acutely
aware that the existing NASA structure is capable of soaking up
huge amounts of additional money for a very long time before any
new output at all appears. The few federal legislators talking
about funding big new NASA projects tend to have major NASA centers
back home. The chances of their colleagues going along with any
such major new NASA spending anytime soon are, we estimate, near
Given all this, why not retrench - wind down the existing NASA
manned space projects as quickly as possible, then start over
from scratch in a few years?
to full text
X PRIZE press... This article
shoot for the stars -- and $10 million: Private firms in a space
race are very close to claiming the X Prize. - Ottawa Citizen -
Dec.14.03 (via spacetoday.net)
- gives a nice status report on the competition. I found this quote
from John Carmack particularly interesting:
Mr. Carmack said his team will likely get its vehicle "hovering
in the air" by the end of December. "But full space flights would
still be, at a bare minimum, six months away."
Lunar launch options... Jonathan
Goff periodically updates his design study for a private lunar mission
Prometheus Downport Project: A Commercial Lunar Colonization Project.
With the introduction of the SpaceX Falcon
V launcher project, he has now examined how that vehicle, which
promises to reduce LEO costs to $1300 per lb ($2860/kg), can fit
into the project : Option
5: SpaceX Falcon V Launched EOR/LSS (EOR- Earth Orbit Rendezvous,
LSS - Lunar Surface Staging.)
Tether assist ... Keith Cowing
at NASA Watch
recently noticed an unusual "presolicitation notice" by
Presolicitation Notice: Analysis of the Launch of a large (15-16
metric tonne) Payload into an equatorial Low Earth Orbit (LEO) -
SpaceRef - Dec.12.03, which was then removed after a couple
of days. He followed up on the posting and found that it was part
of a study of a tether
assist system from Tethers
Unlimited that would "to throw a payload to a higher orbit
- or elsewhere in the solar system." The NASA team was investigating
whether Sea Launch could put such a system into orbit.
[Update Dec.15: Keith has now posted this page: Insight
into NASA Space Tether Experiment - SpaceRef - Dec.14.03]
You might also check out this paper at the TUI site - Hypersonic
Airplane Space Tether Orbital Launch (HASTOL) System by Bogar, Bangham,
Forward, Lewis - Tethers Unlimited - AIAA Conference 1999 -
which presents an outline of a concept for a tether to grab a payload
from a vehicle on a suborbital trajectory and boost the payload
RLV design tradeoffs...
7 of The
Rocket Company gives a nice review of the the major issues
involved in designing an orbital RLV.
X PRIZE news... Several news
items have been posted on the X
PRIZE home page. Most of the topics have been mentioned here
previously but these provide some extra details.
The da Vinci Special Media Update
will be held on Dec. 16th in Toronto: The
da Vinci Space Project Special Media Update - da Vinci Project -
Dec.12.03. The Canadian da
Vinci X Prize project will host the two day event at which
"Brian Feeney, Project founder and pilot of the Wild Fire
MK VI spacecraft, will be on hand all day to brief journalist
and conduct interviews. Meet the team that will make history in
During the 'Media Update Event' project team leaders will present
journalists with the summary of current state-of-the art and immediate
The projects real time flight simulator and mission guidance software
will be operational on 24 inch flat Sun Microsystem monitors.
Try your hand at controlling the Wild Fire Mk VI spacecraft on
a manual flight to space and reentry.
View never before seen pictures of the actual Wild Fire MK VI
spacecraft now under construction."
A parallel Technical Conference will
"...cover various research topics devoted to suborbital
space flight, various aspects of the da Vinci Project space mission.
These aspects include external aerodynamics, flight dynamics,
thermal analysis, space capsule design, landing attenuation systems,
balloon launch, tracking and recovery operations, and space education."
The technical presentations will be open to the public, no registration
XCOR rocket teacart... Here
is a image
(photo credit Ken Estes) of the 2000th
firing of an XCOR engine by an unknown
sci-fi fan. Note the small, narrow flame to the left
of center from the nitrous oxide/ethane engine. Who says rocket
engines can't be trusted?
Mojave spaceport hearing... Mojavians
support spaceport appliation at environmental assessment public
backs bid to create spaceport - Antelope Valley Press - Dec.12.03.
(via a HS reader.).
"Mojave Airport has two tenants who are seeking launch
vehicle licenses, XCOR Aerospace and Scaled Composites. Both companies
have been informed by the FAA that their applications are 'substantially
complete,' Witt said, putting them well on the road to licenses."
Maryland and Virginia may get one too: States
agreed to build Wallops spaceport - Ocean City (MD) Today - Dec.12.03
Aerospike engines offer a rich
lode for rocketry research. See the comments from John
Garvey in Advanced
Falcon progress... The latest
SpaceX update just
came out. (It will appear on the website in a few days. You can
sign up for the mailing list there.) Jonathan Goff sent me this
summary of highlights:
- Lots of progress on their mobile launcher/erector
- The plumbing for the engine was completed (and tooling to
make manufacturing easier was made)
- The Merlin engine has some upgrades that are going to be
tested soon, with the goal of reaching 96.5%+ efficiency.
- Work is also being done on the turbopump seals and bearings,
as well as some work on their GOX/RP igniter for their
- Some testing was just done on their telemetry system and
some of the electronics.
- Additional minor structural changes are being made.
- Elon emphasized that their emphasis with Falcon is reliability,
not price, and that all of his engineers each have a veto right
on the flight if they feel it isn't ready.
- Lastly the AF satellite launch date has slipped to (tentatively)
Suborbital reconaissance .. Japan
recently lost two spysats when their H-2A rocket failed during launch:
launch fails - Spaceflight Now - Nov.29.03. Monitoring of North
Korea was to be their primary job. It's a shame that the Japanese
did not have the high altitude version of the RVT
reusable suborbital vehicle ready for takeoff. It could offer similar
and possibly superior reconnaissance services.
As mentioned here several times, the third version of the RVT flew
some low altitude tests
in October. This vehicle included a composite LH2 tank and several
other improvements over the previous vehicles. The plan
is to build a high altitude version next. (I don't know if it is
funded or not.)
Such a vehicle could pop up from a base in southern Japan (map)
and at 100
to 200 km altitude could see well into North Korea and China.
To get a better look, it could even fly from a Japanese ship (since
it's VTOL it doesn't even need an aircraft carrier) near the Korean
coast. The high altitude RVT is fairly low cost to build and operate
and would provide up to two flights per day. Unlike satellites,
they can take a peek at any time so it would be more difficult to
hide activities and objects from their view.
Such a reconnaissance capability is a great asset for any country
and eventually this will become better appreciated. (I should note
that Pat Bahn of TGV
Rockets has long pushed the application of suborbitals for reconnaissance
and remote sensing.)
SpaceShipOne motor ground test... SpaceDev
says they carried out a SS1 motor test at "about one-half the
total capacity of the motor. The purpose of the test was to qualify
the exact configuration of the motor to be used for SpaceShipOne's
first powered test flight." SpaceDev
Tests Rocket Motor for Powered Spaceshipone Flight - Spacedev PR
- Dec.11.03 (via spacetoday.net)
News briefs... Rocket Man points
out that the OSP does not represent much progress: Back
To The Future - Rocket Man Blog - Dec.10.03...
... Check out the report and
photos about the recent launch (see earlier
item) of a student built rocket with an aerospike nozzle:
Second Liquid-propellant Aerospike Engine Flight Onboard P-4 - CSULB
... Starchaser posts a brief
news item about their Churchill Mk3 engines. (I didn't realize
that they still need to be build these engines for their Thunderstar
X PRIZE vehicle.) ...
Transport, which plans to enter the X PRIZE competition, says
they will try to launch their 3-stage
sounding rocket this week. They hope to reach 100km.
fires rocket record... XCOR recently passed a significant
milestone with the 2000th firing of its engines (See
previous item). Randall Clague of XCOR sent me this surprising
item yesterday about who actually ran that firing:
An interesting bit about our 2000th engine firing: looking over
our logs, we noticed that we did 18 runs at Loscon, the 30th LA
area science fiction convention. We sold 79 raffle tickets for
Toys for Tots, and 15 winners ran the teacart engine up on stage
after the masquerade contest. We don't know who it was, but the
person that ran the 2000th XCOR engine firing wasn't an XCOR employee;
he or she was a member of the public, and a science fiction fan.
You can find further information about the tea cart engine, which
runs on nitrous oxide oxidizer and ethane fuel, on the XCOR
Alt.space gets attention in
this space.com article: Alternate
Universe: Human Spaceflight Without NASA? - Space.com - Dec.9.03.
See comments at Transterrestrial
SpaceShipOne glide test flight
on December 4th included cold flowing of nitrous oxide through the
propulsion system according to the latest posting on the WK/SS1
Data page. This apparently looked like an engine
firing from the ground. See this photo
posted from the flight.
In addition, the "feather was extended after a 4G pull-up
to the vertical at 24,500 feet and rudder used to induce sideslip
and yaw rates while 'going-over-the-top'. The vehicle recovered
to a stable attitude and descent after only a single oscillation."
There are rumors of a flight scheduled for December 17th, the Wright
Brother's flight anniversary day, but we'll just have to wait and
see if that's when they do the first test firing of the rocket engine.
Second aerospike launch a success...
See item in Advanced
News briefs... Jeff Foust reports
on the SpaceX Falcon debut: The
Falcon and the showman - The Space Review - Dec.8.03 and posts
... New vehicles like the Falcon
need improved launch range facilities:
The necessity of launch range upgrades - The Space Review - Dec.8.03
RLV roadblocks ... Rocket
Man (Mark Oakley) lays out succinctly the major obstacles that
have thus far prevented development of fully reusable launch vehicles:
are the RLV’s? - Rocket Man Blog - Dec.7.03. (Mark mentions
my article about suborbital and orbital vehicle development. I submitted
it too late for this week's issue of Space Review and it was bumped
to next Monday.)
Smallsat market may be growing:
Applications Could Push Smallsats Over Launch-Cost Hurdle - Aviation
Week - Dec.7.03. I think we will also see more scientific smallsats
receiving funding from NASA and NOAA as launch costs come down further
with the help of SpaceX
Falcon and other innovative launchers.
If the smallsat market really does take off finally (this
has been predicted for a long time), it will have a big impact on
launcher development. As Mark says in his article,
launch demand needs to grow before orbital RLV builders can attract
investors. We might see a convergence of positive trends. Partially
reusable launchers like the Falcon can get the smallsat market accelerating
while in parallel we see fully reusable suborbitals developing the
space tourism market and also the technology and infrastructure
for fully reusable orbital launchers. A combination of strong smallsat
and space tourist markets would then encourage investment in orbital
News briefs ... Latest update
from John Carmack: Vehicle
work, Rocket Anchor, GPS, Engines - Armdillo Aerospace - Dec.7.03
... John also reports on progress
with peroxide supplies: Unstabilized
peroxide - ERPS Forum - Dec.7.03 ...
... Starchaser posts some brief
Escape System (LES) - starchaser.co.uk - Dec.03 and Thunderstar/Starchaser
5 - starchaser.co.uk - Dec.03
XCOR engines keep going and going... XCOR
announces they have logged their 2,000th rocket engine firing."
2000th rocket engine firing - XCOR - Dec.4.03. They keep a running
tab of the firings and accumulated firing times at Engine
Projects. They note that in "all these 2,000 runs, XCOR
has yet to experience an engine explosion or hard start."
This reminds me of an article
last summer about the X PRIZE and other suborbital projects in which
Alan Bond (HOTOL,
made several uninformed statements against such efforts including:
...In other words, by sacrificing safety, Bond says. Take just
this single example of what needs to be done. Building just one
crucial component of a rocket engine - the combustion chamber
- would require about 400 test firings. "We are, after all, talking
about the release of energy equivalent to a small power station,
and the name of the game is test, test, test and test again. That
An XCOR-ian pointed out to me at the time that they will do far
more than 400 tests on an XERUS engine or any other engine they
News briefs... The recent DARPA
contract awards included several small companies among which
was AirLaunch LLC. I just found out that this is a new company formed
Hudson and Bevin McKinney. They haven't released any details
yet of their proposal but may do so by the summer....
... This is not the same as
System from Boeing. ...
Space Transportation Conference - 2004: Celebrating 20 Years!.
SpaceShipOne fired its engine in flight
yesterday according to Alan Radecki's Mojave
Airport blog: "SpaceShipOne flew again this morning [Dec.4.03],
this time firing its rocket engine for the first time (in horizonal
flight)." No news or photos on the SS1
Update: I've now heard it was not actually an engine firing
but a test of some sort. I hope we will hear details sooner rather
Japanese RLV song ... This
article - Research
on Reusable Vehicles - Dr. Yoshifumi Inatani - JAXA - Nov.03
- about the RVT
and the recent flight tests is literally music to my ears. It hits
all the right notes. (I previously linked
to the original version in Japanese and today a kind person from
JAXA sent me the link
to this English version.) Prof. Inatani makes so many statements
I like that I would end up copying the whole thing if I quoted them
all. But here is a sampling:
- "The experiments were very preliminary efforts to build
the kind of system that is required for reusable rocket vehicles....The
purpose of the experiments was to accumulate design and operational
lessons related to such things as takeoff and landing, and for
safe and easy repeated flights."
- "Our way of doing things, where every decision and action
are made in a flexible and timely manner, seems to have left a
fresh impression on observers from the other institutes within
the newly integrated agency."
- "To enhance the reliability and safety of reusable vehicles,
it is not enough just to lower the probability of malfunctions,
which is the traditional way of measuring the success of rockets.
It is essential to come up with a system that can continue to
function even when a failure occurs. This does not mean just preparing
a redundant system; it involves the entire system architecture
of the reusable vehicle. For example, we need measures to detect
the sign of trouble before a failure occurs, to maintain body
balance after one of the engines stops, and to secure controllability
aerodynamically and so on."
- "To be economically viable, passenger aircraft need to
shorten their turnaround time as much as possible, since planes
can never be profitable while they are on the ground. Rocket engineers
today, who launch rockets only a few times a year, never have
this kind of mindset."
- "We look forward to the day when the public will share
our ideas on the benefits and goals of reusable rockets, and when
we start to think about real measures to get to the stage where
the word "rocket" means "reusable rocket" without the need to
add that adjective." (my emphasis)
Perhaps with recent high profile launch failures and the embarassment
of seeing China launch a man into space while Japan cannot, this
small innovative program will get some recognition and support and
not get crushed by more bureaucratically powerful factions in the
Japanese space establishment. I bet this group could build their
100km altitude version quickly and at a relatively low cost.
More Falcon followup... Correction
from XCOR to Elon's statement that the Falcon V "will be the
first American rocket with true engine out safety in three decades."
Aleta Jackson notes that "EZ-Rocket has had that from the start."...
... Wired reports on the event
and the significance of the SpaceX vehicles: Fast,
Cheap Ride to Earth Orbit - Wired - Dec.5.03 - "...Musk
hopes to put a human in orbit within five years -- and says he won't
be the first passenger ...." ...
... Another article: Rocket
Rolls Out in Downtown D.C. - Discovery - Dec.5.03
... The Falcon V corresponds
roughly to the Delta
2 in payload capacity and also to the Ukranian Dnepr
rockets (derived from surplus R-36M2
or SS-18 ballistic missiles) such as the one that launched
the TransOrbital test spacecraft last year.
I Rocket from SpaceX Unveiled
in Washington D.C.
New Falcon V Project Announced
The Falcon V first stage booster will use five engines
and "will be the first American rocket with true engine out
safety in three decades. Depending upon the phase of flight, Falcon
V will be capable of losing any three of the five engines and
still complete its mission. Engine related problems are the overwhelming
cause of launch vehicle failures."
"Not since the Apollo program's Saturn V, developed over
three decades ago, will there be this level of reliability available
in the United States. Extremely rare among rockets, Saturn V had
a flawless flight record, despite having an engine fail on two
separate missions. Without engine out safety, the Apollo Moon
program would have had two flight failures, possibly with tragic
"The Falcon V also significantly increases the capability
of the Falcon family, with a capacity of over 4 tons to low orbit
an a 10 foot (3.05 meter) diameter payload fairing. The vehicle
is also capable of launching missions to geostationary orbit and
the inner solar system, as well as carrying supplies to the International
Space Station with the addition of a lightweight automated transfer
"With firm contract pricing set at $12 million per flight
(2003 dollars), the $1300 cost per pound to orbit will represent
a new world record in the cost of access to space"
||Payload Falcon V
|200km circular, 28.5 deg
|700km circular, sun-synchronous
|GTO, 8 deg
The Falcon V, which like the Falcon I will be mostly reusable,
is scheduled for completion in 2005. Considering how fast
the Falcon I has been developed, this looks like a date to be taken
seriously. Even though the first Falcon launch will apparently slip
a month or so, the time from start of development to first launch
still looks to be less than two years. That's exceptional by modern
The even bigger news of the
evening was that Elon says that he reads RLV News regularly!! I
spoke with him very briefly and he was quite friendly and eager
to talk, though he had many others waiting for his attention. He
described the Falcon V with great enthusiasm and when I asked, whether
it would be "man-rated", he smiled and emphasized that
it's mostly just a matter of reliability, though g ratings matter
This was partly tongue in cheek on my part since I'm sure that
Elon would agree with Rand Simberg and others who say that man-rating
is an obsolete term. All vehicles should be built to the highest
degree to not fail, regardless of whether the payload includes people
or not. However, I think it's clear that Elon wants eventually to
move to crewed flight and the Falcon V will be a big step in that
[Update: Rand says
he qualifies the above as "All reusable vehicles should
be built to the highest degree to not fail..." That's reasonable,
although I think that the people who spent years, and sometimes
decades, building spacecraft that were destroyed in an ELV disaster
probably wish man-rating covered prevention of payload workers jumping
More info & (better) pictures
Falcon Launch Vehicle Unveiled in Washington D.C. - Keith Cowing/Spaceref
- Dec.04.03 and SpaceX
unveils Falcon, announces larger vehicle - Spacetoday.net - Dec.4.03
The Israeli X PRIZE team IL
Aerospace Technologies has recruited Professor Claude Oiknine,
one of Israel's top scientists and a pioneer of the "Shavit"
orbital launch vehicle to join its team: Israeli
X PRIZE Team Recruits Serious Brainpower and Secures New Sponsorship
- ILAT/X PRIZE - Nov.27.03
News briefs... We'll be going
tonight to the unveiling
at the Smithsonian of the Falcon rocket from SpaceX
Congratulates SpaceX on New Rocket Rollout, Hails Project as Providing
Advent of "Alternative" Space Firms - Space Frontier Foundation
- Dec.4.03 ...
... Another spaceport option:
and Maryland Combine Forces to Operate Commercial Space Flight Facility
at Wallops Island - Governor Warner - Dec.3.03 (via spacetoday.net)...
Corporation, which was recently awarded one of the DARPA Falcon
program contracts, has this brief page on Military
Space Plane project, which seems more related to the X-37/X-40
News briefs... Rand Simberg
comments on the fatal flaws of ELVs - The
Failed Paradigm That Won't Die - Transterrestrial Musings - Nov.30.03
- and and the need for a new approach ("quality requires a
quantity all its own"): A
Quality All Its Own - Transterrestrial Musings - Dec.3.03 ...
... Latest California Space
Authority newsletter: CSA:
SpotBeam California - December 2, 2003 ...
... Andrews Space PR on its
recent contracts: Andrews
Space Wins Two Awards from the DARPA and the Air Force - Andews
Space - Dec.2.03 (pdf) (via spacetoday.net)
Yet another X PRIZE team has
appeared on the scene. Space
Transport, founded by two ex-Aerojet employees, will enter its
(Suborbital Tourism Vehicle) into the contest. Forks
Firm Plans Rocket Launch - KIROTV.com - Dec.2.03
The STV uses a cluster of seven solid rocket motors – each "12
inches in diameter and approximately 8 feet long."
"Six of the engines are in a ring configuration around the
seventh central engine. The outer engines are fired in pairs and
the central engine is fired alone. Engines are fired in stages
with the central engine firing last, such that there are four
stages. The vehicle is almost completely reusable – the engines
are cleaned and repacked for the next flight."
The team launched its TSR
(Three-Stage-Rocket) on November 6th to 72
km. They expect to reach 100km in subsequent launches. They
plan to sell rides on the rockets for 1kg payloads.
(This item came via Tony Rusi.)
New Starchaser vehicle design... The
organization has unveiled
a new design for its X PRIZE vehicle. The Thunderstar
capsule will ride atop a Starchaser 5 booster. The earlier Thunderbird
system consisted of a capsule and "a first stage core stage
with four strap on boosters and second stage sustainer".
Due to a conservative design approach and success with their engines,
they found the Thunderbird to be "overpowered" and "capable
of propelling six people into space" rather than the three
needed to win the prize. So they decided earlier this year to focus
on the simpler Thunderstar/Starchaser 5 system for the X PRIZE.
No dates or timetables given on development or flight tests.
Space planes of the past...
has recently posted new info about several military space plane
projects of the 1950s and 1960s:
Still searching for space planes...
Taylor Dinerman looks at how the missile defense progams led the
US military to search for lower cost access access to space and
to build the DC-X. However, the military then failed to build on
the progress made by this project: Missile
defense, RLVs, and the future of American spacepower - The Space
Review - Dec.1.03
Inflatable reentry systems were
the topic of an article by James Oberg in the October/November
2003 issue of Air & Space Magazine. He first reviewed the
Re-Entry Glider project that actually carried out a partially
sucessful suborbital test in 1964. He then mentions the MOOSE
(Man Out Of Space Easiest originally and then Manned Orbital
Operations Safety Equipment) concept from GE for a one person emergency
The rest of the article discusses the joint Russian/German IRDT
(Inflatable Reentry Descent Technology) program, which has launched
three prototypes systems with mixed results. The first test in February
2000 made it from orbit and through the atmosphere OK but then a
second system for cushioning the impact failed to deploy. The other
two flights had problems detaching the modules from the boosters
and never deployed. Another test is scheduled for next spring. See
the RRSS - Return &
Rescue - Space Systems GmbH site for a description of the program.
Such reentry systems might offer an approach for first generation
orbital RLVs to use for low cost TPS.
News briefs... Garvey
Space and Cal
State Long Beach to launch another rocket with an aerospike
nozzle this weekend: Students
Prepare for the Second Liquid-propellant Aerospike Engine Flight
Onboard P-4 - CSULB - Dec.1.03 ...
... Brian Walker (aka RocketGuy)
on his projects and himself....
... All about the Air Force
hypersonic and rapid response launcher projects: In
Search of Spaceplanes: The Air Force has an urgent need for hypersonic,
long-range, transatmospheric vehicles. - Air Force Magazine - Dec.03
Continue to November 2003