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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
January 2004
Index Feedback

SS1
Scaled Composites photos
SpaceShipOne on first rocket powered flight Dec.17th, 2003.

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

See the Advanced Rocketery Section for entries on
advanced amateur & student rocketry, experimental rocketry,
& innovations by small rocket companies.

In addtion, the Space Log contains news about
amateur space activities, space businesses, etc.

RLV News Archive Directory

January 31, 2004

NASA budgets for startups according to Space.com: NASA Seeks $16.2 Billion; Cuts Shuttle, Station, Next Generation Launch Tech Programs - Space.com - Jan.30.04.

"The space station budget request also includes $10 million in new funding for 'a flight demonstration initiative to pursue launch services with emerging launch systems.' Industry and government sources said that money is earmarked for start-up firms such as Kistler Aerospace and Space Exploration Technologies."

Gosh, 10 whole million. Hope they do better than that.

News brief... NASA may swallow its pride and do the sensible thing: Shuttle's role as taxi may end: If Soyuz ferries crews, orbiter astronauts could finish up ISS - Florida Today - Jan.29.04

More Rocket Company... Learn about space suit choices, air supply, and low cost space toilets: Chapter 15: Webb Suit, Hard Suit, Space Suit

Japan space upgrade... Japan is reviewing its space program and may go for a manned system: Manned space mission on agenda - Daily Yomiuri - Jan.31.04 . Note the item at the bottom about " cone-shaped rockets that can take off and land vertically", referring to the RVT project. Hope this results in some money for Prof. Inatani.

News briefs... The CEV program has been named Project Constellation: Flight of the Constellation - MSNBC - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log - Jan.30.04 ...

... Mojave area getting an aerospace college: City helps launch aerospace school - AV Press - Jan.30.04 (via a HS reader from Mojave)

January 30, 2004

Another X PRIZE team... The Seattle based Space Transport Corp. officially became an X PRIZE Team this week. They plan to compete with their Rubicon vehicle. They are currently working on some high altitude sounding rocket projects:

"TC's Spartan, an '"amateur-category' three-stage rocket, was successfully flown to 72 km in November of 2003. A follow-up flight is in the works and to be completed before the end of February, this time with a camera aboard to show the world the view from high altitude."

News briefs... Boeing's RS-88 engine passed some recent tests: Boeing Successfully Tests New Engine for NASA Program - Boeing - Jan.29.04 - RS-88 (via spacetoday.net). It will be used for Lockheed Martin's Pad Abort Demonstration (PAD) vehicle, scheduled for launch in late 2005."...

... Some interesting info about nanotube developments with respect to space elevators:
Space Elevator - ScienCentral - Jan.29.04 (via spacetoday.net).

January 29, 2004

WSJ on space tourism... Todays edition of the Wall Street Journal has an excellent article on space tourism. Unfortunately, the Travel's Final Frontier Government Begins to Outline Rules on Space Tourism, With Trips as Soon as 2007 - WSJ - Jan.29.04 requires a subscription. (Tip about the article via John Kavanagh)

The article emphases the development of regulations for carrying passengers the suborbital vehicles. Says that the FAA plans

"... to require training programs for crew members, and firms will have to disclose the safety history of various spacecraft. Flights over international waters and foreign territory may be banned, at least in the early stages."

XCOR, Scaled Composites and Armadillo are highlighted.

"At the forefront of the space-travel groundbreakers is Jeff Greason, president of Xcor Aerospace, the first private rocket firm expected to get a green light for a series of experimental flights. Mr. Greason, who is still trying to raise $8 million to $10 million to back his project, says he may conduct more than 50 tests before accepting passengers, and expects to start test-flying this summer. With so many people itching to go, Mr. Greason argues, some are ready to accept a higher level of risk to slip the earth's gravitational bonds. 'Let passengers decide what's safe enough.'"

Nice to see these kinds of articles nowadays that treat space tourism and suborbital programs in serious, matter-of-fact tones.

Hearing alternate views on space... Greg Klerkx's new book, Lost in Space: The Fall of NASA and the Dream of a New Space Age (Amazon commission link) is receiving considerable attention. In this Newsweek interview - How to Fix NASA: A critic with a new book says the space agency needs an overhaul - MSNBC - Jan.28.04 - he makes some interesting points about the new space initiative, NASA, and the startup space companies:

"...Can NASA do this? Do they have the technical expertise? Do they have the organizational system in place? If you consider the shuttle and space-station programs, it doesnít look good. Both have been consistently mismanaged. And from what Iím reading about how NASA is beginning to shape the new initiative, it looks like the same players and the same way of doing business..."

"...If there is one large philosophical flaw in the Bush plan, it is that by revisiting the kind of vision and the kind of process that drove Apollo, you can revitalize NASA and revive interest in human space flight. As long as people are only spectators, they will lose interest very quickly...."

"..Backing out of the space shuttle and the space station may be the best thing that comes out of this plan. The space shuttle is absolutely a dangerous, unreliable and costly vehicle. If I had control of that project, I would make sure it never flew again..."

"[The X PRIZE flights] will definitely pique public interest. Appetite would follow only if companies quickly use the winner as a template for vehicles that start launching more people for reasonable cost, and with reasonable assurances of safety. Obviously, any fatal catastrophe wouldn't help the cause, but as long as companies providing such services were clearly seen as paying close attention to safety, even fatal accidents could be overcome as they were in the early days of aviation."

January 28, 2004

News briefs ... Senate hearing on the space initiative: Tumlinson to Testify on Bush Space Policy at Senate Hearing - Space Frontier Foundation - Jan.26.04....

... Shuttle derived vehicles under discussion: NASA: Shuttle may be reborn as rocket - Florida Today - Jan.27.04 ...

... Going for a fall launch window: NASA Says It Is Progressing on Fall Shuttle Launching - NY Times - Jan.28.04 * Next shuttle flight needs lots of work - Washington Times - Jan.28.04

January 27, 2004

The Hyper-X captive carry test took place yesterday afternoon at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base in Mojave: Second X-43 Takes a Ride Under the B-52 - DRFC - Jan.26.04. (Link via reader C. Wilkinson)

News briefs ... Peter Diamandis, Jeff Greason (XCOR), and Brian Feeny (da Vinci) are interviewed in this audio report: Space Tourism Race Heats Up - NPR - Jan.26.04. It's mostly positive, though the reporter seems unclear on the concept of suborbital vs. orbital spaceflight. ...

... The shuttle program shortcomings explored in this article: Has the Shuttle Become NASA's '76 Dart? - NY Times - Jan.26.04 ...

... More on the upcoming Hyper-X tests: Tullahoma-built X-43A to make maiden flight - The Tullahoma (Tennessee) News - Jan.26.04

January 26, 2004

Full size protype X PRIZE  vehicle
Courtesy Armadillo Aerospace

Armadillo prepares prototype... In the latest update from John Carmack - Vehicle hot firing - Armadillo Aerospace - Jan.25.04 - he reports that they have now assembled the full sized prototype vehicle that will carry out hover and low altitude flight tests. They did a brief set of engine tests over the weekend:

"...It was late, and there are several little glitches we need to address, so we called it a night. We will be repeating this next week when we can go through the entire process several time. Once we have everything working perfectly, we will head out for the captive hover test."

Suborbital science ... I've had a report in preparation on the back burner for several months that looks at the applications of manned suborbital RLVs in science. As they have since the start of the space age, sounding rockets are used in many areas of science such as astronomy, magnetosphere studies, solar observations, microgravity, atmospheric studies, tests and calibration of instruments intended for spacecraft. It seems obvious that vehicles that could be used much more frequently and for much lower costs that expendable rockets would be a boon for scientific applications.

Unfortunately, I've had a big problem getting responses back from scientists that I've contacted to ask if such vehicles could benefit their work. One exception was Dan Durda of the Southwest Research Institute who was extremely enthusiastic about such vehicles and how they could be used for his projects, particularly the search for asteroids whose orbits lie inside that of Mercury (call Vulcanoids.) For this work the observations need to be made above the atmosphere so that they can look for the objects in the UV spectrum. This article - Elusive Vulcanoids: Search Reaches New Heights - Space.com - Jan.26.04 - describes a recent sounding rocket flight carrying a Vulcanoid search experiment. It also reports on how he and SwRI director Alan Stern are very interested in suborbital RLVs for future work.

(See also SwRI(r) Suborbital Science Payload Gets the Goods on Mercury, Searches for Vulcanoids - SwRI - Jan.23.04 for more about the Vulcanoid search.)

Note that while Burt Rutan has indicated that he has no intention of commercializing the SS1, he said that following the X PRIZE missions he would like to carry out a series of high altitude flights to prove that such routine operations are feasible. Since there will be no passengers on board, it would seem like a good opportunity for some scientists to try to convince him to take along their experiments in place of 200kg or so of ballast.

News brief ... Aviation Week reports on the effects of the new space initiative on vehicle development at NASA: NASA Shifts Gears for New Space Initiative - Aviation Week - Jan.25.04

January 25, 2004

News briefs ... Additional info on the selection of sites for the X PRIZE Cup in this press release: X PRIZE foundation selects florida and new mexico as finalists for host of annual international space races - X PRIZE - Jan.21.04 ...

... More about the upcoming Hyper-X flight: NASA's Second Hyper-X Ready for Captive Carry Test - Space.com - Jan.23.04 ...

... The kind of science work that a suborbital RLV might do (but a lot more often and more cheaply): Suborbital mission looks at Mercury, seeks Vulcanoids - Spaceflight Now - Jan.23.04

January 24, 2004

The Rocket Company... Flying the simulator and reviewing the intricacies of GNC in Chapter 14: Guidance, Navigation, and Control.

January 23, 2004

Boeing's Crew Exploration... Boeing has posted artwork showing its "Crew Exploration System", which it would like to see become NASA's Crew Exploration Vehicle system. See the photos with captions listed at Photo Releases and these thumbnails. (My thanks to reader Nathan Rogers for these links.)

News briefs ... The lack of shuttle rides to the ISS will have big impact on the plans of the ISS partners: Shuttle clouds station's future - BBC - Jan.22.04

January 22, 2004

SpaceX update... The latest status report arrived this afternoon (posting on the SpaceX web site will come in a few days.) Jonathan Goff generously provided the following summary of the highlights:

  • General Stuff:
    • The Falcon I unveiling and Falcon V announcement were discussed
    • Both Falcon I and Falcon V prices are based on a worst-case assumption
      that the 1st stage can't be reused after flight, but if they are reusable, Musk
      mentioned the prices of both would be slightly decreased.
    • He also mentioned that due to the fact that most of the hardware for the
      Falcon V is already completed, their goal of a flight mid 2005 is fairly likely to happen.
    • Elon mentioned that the Falcon V is *not* the Heavy lift vehicle they
      intend to develop eventually, but is merely their Medium lift offering, meant
      to compete with Delta II, and with the low end Atlas V and Delta IV launches. They are planning on developing an even bigger first stage engine, and using the Merlin and Kestrel engines as upper stage systems.
    • Elon also mentioned that the ~9250lb payload estimate for the Falcon V is
      a deliberate underestimate like they did on the Falcon I. My personal feeling
      is that the improvement likely won't be as big as it was with Falcon I as they
      have more data to base that estimate on, but we'll see.
    • Also, Elon stated the goal of getting Falcon V prices below $1000/lb
      within the a few years of operations.
  • Propulsion
    • Two of the main turbopump life-issues are now ironed out
    • There is still work being done on the LOX impeller, but they are
      working on two possible solutions
    • They're shooting for a hold-down test sometime in late February
    • They're hiring experienced turbomachinery engineers, with a $2500
      finders fee for anyone that can find someone qualified.
    • They're trying to hire enough propulsion engineers to have two
      propulsion teams working at the same time, instead of just one.
    • They're going to test a modified Merlin engine to see if they can up
      the efficiency a bit more.
  • Structures
    • One of their subcontractors had some work that didn't meet SpaceX QC
      requirements, so they are having it cut out and replaced, but structure should be ready for hold-down test in February.
    • Their vertical test facility has been plumbed and wired, with significant renovations now completed.
  • Avionics
    • Several components were finished in December
  • Recovery
    • They have 7 different methods they'll be using to track where the 1st stage lands
    • The recovery system is now built and ready--it fits in the interstage section and includes a 75' diameter parachute.
    • If recovery is succesful and the economic works out to justify it, customers should see a modest decrease in flight prices sometime down the road.

Armadillo tests... In a posting at sci.space.policy, John Carmack lays out the group's general approach and plans for this year. Engine tests and then flight tests expected soon:

"We are probably going to be hot-firing all the engines on the vehicle this weekend. If that goes well, then weather permitting, we will do a captive hover test next week, followed by a free flight at constant velocity, followed by accelerating flights, followed by launch-license-limit propellant loads. If everything went perfectly, that would be March, but things never do go perfectly."

X PRIZE Cup hosts... Will we be singing Witnesses' Waltz at Cape Canaveral or White Sands as we watch the X PRIZE rockets fly? Florida, New Mexico square off to host X Prize Cup - Florida Today - Jan.22.04

News briefs ... Mitchell Clapp posted a link on sci.space.policy to a paper he wrote several years on ago on the advantages of kerosene/LOX propulsion over LH2/LOX: "A LO2/Kerosene SSTO Rocket Design" by Mitchell Burnside Clapp - Google - Feb.2.97 ...

... An article from December about the da Vinci X PRIZE project: Rocket-Balloon Combo- First Private Spaceship? - Nat. Geographic News - Dec.16.04 ...

... Hyper-X will do a captive carry test in preparation for its powered flight on Feb. 21, 2004: Captive Carry Test Prepares NASA For Next Hyper-X - NASA - Jan.21.04

NASA's budget gets bigger, the OSP ends, X-37 will do drop tests, the Shuttle ends in 2010, CEV begins who knows when: Bush Wants Bigger NASA Budget, Official Says - NY Times - Jan.22.04 * NASA details new space goals to staff - MSNBC - Jan.21.04

January 21, 2004

News briefs ... The Shuttle Return to Flight Task Group has issued an Interim Report - Return to Flight Task Group - Jan.20.04 and says there's plenty more work to do: Advisory Group Says NASA Isn't Ready to Resume Shuttle Flights - NY Times - Jan.21.04. ...

... Meanwhile, engines tests continue: Shuttle Engines Reach for Million Second Milestone - Space.com - Jan.21.04

January 20, 2004

Interview with Yoshifumi Inatani - leader of the Japanese RVT (Reusable Vehicle Testing) Project, which has successfully flown a prototype LH2/LOX powered RLV in a series of low altitude flights. Now in its third configuration, the RVT vehicle has tested technologies and operational techniques that practical suborbital and orbital RLVs will need.

January 19, 2004

Armadillo tests ... John Carmack reports on significant progress with their engine development: Big thrust gains - Armadillo Aerospace - Jan.18.04. He says: "This combination is more than what we needed for flying the vehicle, so we started building a full ship-set of engines in this style. With any kind of luck, we will be hot-firing the complete vehicle next week."

Fuel depot economics... Tom Hill proposes orbiting water-to-fuel depots as a way to reduce the cost of deep space missions and also to encourage development of cheaper launch systems that supply the depots: Let's add a wrinkle...by Tom Hill - The Space Review - Jan.19.04 * Orbiting Supply Depots by Tom Hill - AIAA paper.

News brief... The selection of a CEV design promises to be contentious: A spaceship is much easier to propose than to produce - USATODAY.com - Jan.18.04

Rocket Company Chapter 13 looks at design reviews, prototyping, and the landing system.

News brief ... Time gives a blurb about private space travel: Space Biz: So you want to be an astronaut? - TIME Magazine - Jan.18.04

January 18, 2004

News briefs ... Congressman Dave Weldon (R-Fla.) pushes for Apollo capsule approach to CEV: Congressman Wants Capsule-Shaped Replacement for Shuttle - Space.com - Jan.16.04 ...

... Old rocket engine stand from the Apollo era at Edwards renovated: Huge Rocket Component Test Stand Completed (2A) - CSA - Jan.14.04

January 16, 2004

News briefs... Agreeing to give up the shuttle was traumatic for NASA. For more about the development of the new space initiative and how cutting the shuttle was a key component, read: Beyond the Moon: Inside Bush's space plan (part 2 of 3) by Frank Sietzen Jr. and Keith L. Cowing - SpaceRef - Jan.16.04....

... Constance Adams suggests NASA could benefit from the X PRIZE and other private projects - It Doesn't Take a Rocket Scientist by Constance Adams - Popular Science - Feb.04 issue (More discussion of the article in the Space Log) ...

... Meanwhile, it sounds like no other company needs to bother applying for the CEV work: OSP Contractors To Begin Working On CEV Requirements, NASA Says - Aviation Week - Jan.16.04. ...

... Jeff Greason of XCOR speculates about the CEV design in this sci.space.policy posting....

... Marshall wonders about its role in the new space program: Huntsville space plane program to change course: No information yet as to effect on local jobs, officials say - Huntsville Times - Jan.15.04 (via spacetoday.net)...

... Still don't have a real web log setup with a comments section (maybe somethine this year.) In the meantime, I'll post a selection of feedback comments here. (If you send me a message and don't want it posted or not have your name included, let me know.)

January 15, 2004

Military & commercial villians ... Here I've been blaming NASA for its numerous launch vehicle development failures such as the X-33, X-34, X-38, etc. According to Kathy Sawyer - Visions of Liftoff, Grounded in Political Reality By Kathy Sawyer - Washington Post - Jan.15.04 - the real problem is just that NASA hung around with the wrong crowds:

"...development of such a vehicle [CEV] might be taken out of NASA hands and given to the military or done in partnership with the commercial sector -- a course that has led to multiple costly failures in the past with such experimental projects as the National Aerospace Plane and the X-33."

Rand Simberg points out that this assertion is not true. The companies involved in the X-33 and X-34 were just contractors working for NASA. The agency wasn't helping the companies develop commercial systems. Even if it were true, there could be many other reasons those programs failed.

Besides, the X-38 did not involve either commercial companies or the military and NASA still managed to screw it up. Even if technically it was doing OK, after spending several hundred million dollars and then just dropping the program, this certainly shows some serious management shortcomings.

I would also add that even if Pegasus and EELV aren't the most ideal launch systems, the military did manage to get them launched. In addition, the military did an excellent job with the DC-X. It was NASA that failed to keep the program going when it took it over.

Sawyer failed to see the Falcon I when it was parked on Independence Avenue. Not surprising she manages to avoid seeing all the other positive developments in the commercial space industry.

Suborbital downunder... Alan Boyle reports that Eric Anderson of Space Adventures is looking at sites in Australia to build a spaceport for suborbital tourist rides. He is particularly interested in basing the Russian C-21 (Cosmopolis XXI) Aerospace System there. An Australian site would avoid various legal and technology transfer problems that would occur in the US. "A decision on where to build the private space facility would come 'definitely this year,' he told MSNBC.com."

January 14, 2004

Composite tank making without an autoclave (see yesterday's item) is discussed futher in this article RLV Work For NASA Has Application To Moon/Mars Mission, NG Says - Aviation Week - Jan.14.04

News brief... Possible postponement of shuttle return to flight: Shuttle missions may wait until 2005: Shuttles await required inspection device before returning to flight - Florida Today - Jan.13.04

Yet another hypersonic program from the Pentagon. I have not previously heard of the Endothermically Fueled Scramjet Engine Flight Demonstrator (EFSEFD) project, also known as the Scramjet Engine Demonstrator - WaveRider (SED-WR) project,: Air Force Selects Pratt & Whitney and Boeing Team For the Scramjet Flight Demonstrator Program - Pratt & Whitney - Jan.13.04 (via spacetoday.net). The hypersonics section does have links to the HyTech project and some waverider info.

News briefs... Pioneer Rocketplane finally updated their homepage but other than adding the recent news release, I don't see any other new info yet....

... Exactly when the shuttles goes to pasture isn't clear: Bush Policy to Retire Shuttle Begs Additional Details - Space.com - Jan.13.04 ...

... Came across this interesting article Space Launch Vehicle Reliability by I-Shih Chang - Crosslink - Winter 2001 issue via the SpaceX Falcon overview.

January 13, 2004

Composite tank advance... Lightweight composite fuel tanks are often cited as very advantageous for RLVs, and will probably be required for single stage to orbit designs. However, there is the problem of finding a big enough autoclave in which to fit large tanks. However, Northrop has now made progress with a composite making system that does not required an autoclave: Northrop Grumman Delivers Composite Fuel Tank Half to NASA: Non-autoclave manufacturing process proven viable for making large, reusable fuel tanks - Northrop Grumman - Jan.12.04 (via spacetoday.net)

The latest Rocket Company installment is entitled "Gasoline, Alchol, Kerosene, or Liquid Methane" and, not surprisingly, it discusses propellant choices for the company's two stage RLV.

January 12, 2004

News briefs... The latest update from Armadillo reports on inital tests of the large engines that will be needed for high altitude operations: 2500 lbf, Pressure ratios - Armadillo Aerospace - Jan.11.04. Includes a video (11MB) showing the preparations for the test and then the firings. ...

... RocketMan argues that by first concentrating on lowering launch costs, the missions in the new space policy become far more affordable: Putting The Cart Before The Horse - Rocket Man Blog - Jan.11.04...

... I missed this earlier announcement from the Israel IL Technologies X PRIZE team: IL Aerospace Technologies Revises its Vehicle Configutratoin for X PRIZE Attempt - X P R I Z E - Dec.31.04. Still a rockoon system but they will go with a different kind of balloon and they will use a solid rocket motor instead of a hybrid since the former is now available and the hybrid isn't.

More Falcon V details are now posted on the SpaceX web site. See the Falcon Overview, which includes a comparison of the Falcon V with the Falcon I (due to launch in April.) The Falcon V would be the first launch vehicle since the Saturn V with the capability to lose power from an engine during launch and still get to orbit.

They also posted this formal announcement of the Falcon V last week: Announcing the Falcon V Launch Vehicle from SpaceX - SpaceX - Jan.7.04

News briefs... The shuttle's days are numbered: Bush plan may spell shuttle's end: Sheer cost might make continuance of fleet unaffordable - Huntsville Times - Jan.10.04...

... The formal OSP program looks dead but the momentum looks to continue for some sort of capsule to fly on an EELV: Back to the Future: NASA: Space-plane bidder puts winglets on vintage capsule design. - Popular Science - Feb.04 issue

January 10, 2004

Suborbital tourism is discussed among other things in this interesting Interview With Eric Anderson - Spacedaily - Jan.9.04:

  • I've not heard anything about the project since it was first announced but Anderson says "the team behind the Russian Cosmopolis sub-orbital vehicle has made a lot of progress."

  • He says that suborbital tourism will become available in "two to three years" and "[t]here should be at least one licensed tourist vehicle operating by late 2006."

Few details yet about the CEV... This article Space Plan Envisions Apollo As Model - washingtonpost.com - Jan.10.04 says it will "represent a 21st-century version of the venerable Apollo rocket and capsule." It also describes a NASA study of the Apollo capsule approach.

January 9, 2004

Pioneer-ing Oklahoma... I was just noticing the other day that the Pioneer Rocketplane website had been unchanged for almost two years and wondered if they were still alive. Now comes this press release (thanks to Joan Horvath who passed it along) from the the State of Oklahoma and Rocketplane Ltd (they apparently have dropped the Pioneer):

Space travel firm to locate in Oklahoma

Oklahoma State Senate Communications Division
State Capitol, Oklahoma City, OK 73105

January 9, 2004

Members of the public could soon have the opportunity to fly into space and back from the Oklahoma Spaceport in Burns Flat. Rocketplane Limited Inc. will soon begin work on development and operation of a reusable launch vehicle, Senate Aerospace and Technology Committee Chairman Gilmer Capps and company officials announced at the Oklahoma State Capitol Friday.

"Oklahoma is on the cutting edge in this new field of civil and commercial space transportation. Reusable launch vehicles will bring down the cost of the space travel experience and could eventually make Oklahoma a hub for commercial space activity," said Capps, D-Snyder. American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth have both paid the Russian space agency $20 million for a trip into space on a conventional expendable launch vehicle. Rocketplane Limited will offer suborbital trips to space for approximately $100,000, said George French, company president.

The Rocketplane XP launch vehicle will take off and land like an airplane, but it will also have a reusable rocket engine that will propel it from 30,000 feet to over 60 miles in altitude. Rocketplane Limited will take space travelers 60 miles above Earth where they can experience zero gravity for three to four minutes before returning to the landing strip at Burns Flat.

The reusable launch vehicles can also carry scientific experiments into space to perform research in zero gravity or to qualify experiments for use on the International Space Station. Additionally, the rocketplanes will provide a platform for observation of earth for agricultural and environmental purposes.

French said Rocketplane Limited chose Oklahoma because of spaceport infrastructure and Oklahoma's commitment to a space launch vehicle. The company was certified as a qualified space transportation vehicle by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, the Oklahoma Space Development Authority and the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Certification means investors in Rocketplane Limited will be eligible to receive state tax credits.

Capps, Rep. James Covey, D-Custer City and Rep. Jack Bonny, D-Burns Flat, were the authors of the legislation that created the tax credits. Under the statute, investors in the company can receive up to 59.9 percent tax credit on the value of their investment in Rocketplane Limited.

Capps also authored the legislation that created the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority, a seven-member board which oversees development and operations of the spaceport at Clinton-Sherman Industrial Airpark in Burns Flat.

Under the direction of Rocketplane Limited's officers and Board of Directors, including Gen. Merrill McPeak, Dr. James Stuart, Dr. William Byrd, Dr. Eric Rice, George French, Mitchell Burnside Clapp, David Urie and Charles Lauer, the company hopes to commence flights in September of 2006.

OSIDA Chairman Gen. Ken McGill said: "The leaders of Rocketplane Limited have exhibited tenacity, creativity and a belief in Oklahoma's role as an aerospace leader. At OSIDA, we feel confident that this company's presence at the Oklahoma Spaceport gives us a big advantage in meeting our goals of job creation in the aerospace industry."

"This is a great opportunity for Oklahoma to embark on a new business frontier which will continue to solidify Oklahoma's role as a leader in the aerospace industry as well as create new and exciting opportunities for all Oklahomans," said OSIDA Deputy Director Bill Khourie. Governor Brad Henry congratulated Rocketplane Limited officials and Capps on the announcement.

"This is exciting news for all of Oklahoma. This announcement is further proof of our state's dynamic and always-growing aviation and aerospace industry. There are many public officials who deserve thanks for this economic boost, particularly Sen. Gilmer Capps and Rep. Jack Bonny," Henry said.

An official ribbon cutting for Rocketplane Limited will be held at the Oklahoma Spaceport in Burns Flat at 10:30 a.m. Monday, Jan. 12.

Oklahoma could be on its way to becoming a real player in the new commercial space industry. As I've mentioned, TGV Rockets has also recently established itself in Norman and is hiring engineers for its suborbital rocket project.

A new space policy will be unveiled soon by President Bush according to this article: Bush OKs new moon missions by Frank Sietzen & Keith Cowing - UPI/InterestAlert - Jan.8.04. Highlights include:

  • NASA will be given the goals of reaching the Moon by early in the next decade and then going on to Mars.

  • NASA would receive an increase in its budget of $800 million for 2005 and then get 5% increases per year for five years. That would result in a yearly budget of well over $20B.

  • The shuttle program will be shut down as soon as the ISS is completed. The article doesn't define whether this means the full ISS configuration with 6 crew members or the abbreviated version. I suspect the latter.

  • The OSP program will change to the "crew exploration vehicle" (CEV) program.

  • The CEV sounds like it is based on an Apollo capsule type system but it will have different configurations according to whether it is used for launching or for transportation in space such as going to the Moon or Mars. Test flights of a prototype will begin as early as 2007.

  • Ariane rockets and Soyuz capsules will be used for access to the ISS while waiting for completion of the CEV.

  • An external commission will monitor NASA's progress and implementation of these plans.

Sounds like a nice plan and it will be interesting to see what Congress does with it. If the economy continues to strengthen then it has a fighting chance.

I sure hope, though, that it also instructs NASA to support and take advantage of the capabilities of the new commercial space companies, especially for reaching and exploiting the LEO to GEO realm. If, for example, by 2006 we have reusable suborbitals flying weekly to +100km, SpaceX's Falcon V is flying and selling rides at a fraction of the cost per kg of other launchers, and Orbital Recovery has its space tug in operation, it will look prepostrous for NASA to continue to insist that such firms cannot produce viable launchers and spacecraft.

I also agree with Rand Simberg - To the Moon, Alice - Transterrestrial Musings - Jan.8.04 - that just setting destinations won't make the policy compelling or viable. Science alone cannot justify these budgets. President Bush must make the opening of space to human settlement as the ultimate goal.

P.S. Kudos to Frank and Keith for their work on this scoop. Check Keith's NASAWatch for updates.

January 8, 2004

News Brief ... The company Space Transport has posted a reprint of this article about their rocket projects: Rocketeers show public dream capsule to space - Peninsula Daily News - Peninsula Daily News, (Port Angeles, WA) - Dec.18.03 (147KB doc file)

January 7, 2004

News briefs... NASA fixing ET insulation problems: NASA To Deliver Redesigned Shuttle Fuel Tank In May - Aviation Week - Jan.6.04 ...

... Shuttle return to flight discussion: Space Shuttle Return to Flight under the microscope at Space at the Crossroads conference - Space Foundation - Jan.6.04 (via spacetoday.net)

January 6, 2004

Starcraft Boosters, a Buzz Aldrin led company, has posted slides (1.1MB pdf) from a presentation by Theodore Talay at the recent Next Century of Flight Space Imperatives Conference on Dec. 18th in Washington D.C. He describes their Aquila concept. The Aquila combines parts of the Shuttle and EELV (Atlas V and Delta 4) systems. The orbiter is replaced with a pod while with three EELV RS-68 engines are mounted beneath a modified ET. The solid rocket boosters are still included. The pod comes in different configurations depending on whether it is used for transport of crew or cargo.

January 5, 2004

The Blue Origin home page has changed a bit. A short paragraph describes their plans, which include the statement: "We are currently working to develop a crewed, suborbital launch system that emphasizes safety and low cost of operations."

Rocket Company latest addition: Chapter 11: Enthusiasm Bubbles, Ejections, and Topping Cycles reviews regulatory challenges, ejection seat systems for both stages of the vehicle, reentry protection for ejection from the orbital stage, engine selection (review of LH2/LOX engine designs), and overflight risk calculations

News brief ... Jeff Foust review of 2003 includes examination of developments in space transport including suborbitals: The lessons we (should have) learned in 2003 - The Space Review - Jan.5.04 ...

... More engine development at Armadillo: Engine work - Armadillo Aerospace - Jan.3.04

January 2, 2004

Hypersonics in India... Via a posting at Slashdot comes word of a hypersonic aircraft project in India: India aims to fly hypersonic plane - HindustanTimes.com - Jan.1.04 * India aims to fly hypersonic plane in 2007 - Redifff.com - Jan.1.04 * Hypersonic aircraft soon: Ground trials on the new engine will commence next year and the first actual flight may take off by 2007 - Deccan Herald - Dec.22.03

January 1, 2004

Happy New Year! Thanks for visiting RLV News during 2003. I hope you continue to visit this page regularly during the coming year. I'll try to keep up with the rapid-fire developments I expect will occur in 2004, especially by the numerous private RLV projects. (See my summary of 2003 progess in the Space Log section.)

Here are some observations and speculations:

  • SpaceShipOne is definitely in the lead for the X PRIZE but even if it falters one of the other groups will win the X PRIZE before the Jan.1.05 deadline.

  • The large number of suborbital RLV projects working at an advanced level of engineering and professionalism is very encouraging. Most indicate that they plan to continue development regardless of whether someone else wins the X PRIZE or not.

    • Nevertheless, it would be a great contribution to the development of a robust private launch industry if someone like Paul Allen kicked in a couple of million bucks into a pot for a second prize if the SS1 wins early in the year.

  • A successful launch in April of the SpaceX Falcon I will be a tremendous boost to the credibility of commercial space development. It will be the first orbital launch vehicle developed from scratch with only private funds. (Sea Launch uses a booster derived from a government system.)

    • If the launch fails, it is significant that the project has the financial wherewithal to continue regardless. This differs from previous startup projects, such as with the AMROC, where weak financial underpinnings meant that an early failure killed the whole enterprise.

  • Perhaps Blue Origin, funded by Jeff Bezos of Amazon, will reveal its mystery vehicle this year. A competitive fellow like Mr. Bezos may feel compelled to respond to the progress made by projects funded by fellow high-tech moguls Paul Allen and Elon Musk.

  • I still feel comfortable with the predictions of the Commercial Space Development Timeline. If the above events occur this year, we could even be a little bit ahead of schedule.

News briefs... Joe Latrell of Beyond Earth Enterprises, a HobbySpace sponsor, notes the need for a place to buy parts for rocket projects: Wanted: 'Space Depot' For The Rocket Builders by Joe Latrell - SpaceDaily - Dec.30.03...

... Burt Rutan receives the "Antelope Valley Press 'Newsmaker of the Year' recognition... designer of the globe-girdling Voyager aircraft and the revolutionary SpaceShipOne, the first private venture spacecraft judged likely to reach the heavens"- The Valley Press article (unfortunately their links disappear after a short time.) Item via a regular RLV News reader in Mojave.

RLV tutorials... If you haven't been keeping up with the saga of the Rocket Company, you are missing a good course in how to build an RLV. Each of the chapters deals with some technical, business, or management aspect of such a project. For example, Chapter 9 gives an excellent introduction to the issues of thermal protection for a vehicle that must weigh as little as possible.

Here are brief summaries of the topics in each chapter so far:

Ch. 1Seven Billionaires and One Big Problem
A group of wealthy investors decide to tackle the challenge of drastically lowering the cost of access to space. The question of why launch costs remain so high is discussed.

Ch. 2Big Telescopes, Hot Rodders, and Librarians
The group puts together an engineering team. The skills and experience necessary for such a team are discussed. Extensive research into prior work is a key part of starting the project.

Ch. 3Gateses, Jobses, and the Laureates' Lemma
What lessons can be learned from technological revolutions such as with the personal computer that can help to open the space frontier?

Ch. 4Build Big, Build Many, or Use It Again
Comparison of lowering launch costs with a big dumb booster, with mass production of ELVs as done with Russian boosters, and with a fully reusable vehicle. Vehicles should be designed for minimum operating cost rather than minimum launch weight. Building RLVs and selling them to others is offered as the primary market, following the model of the airline industry.

Ch. 5Small Market, Small Payload, but not a Toy
They decide on the goals for the total vehicle price tag, payload size, and the operating cost per pound to LEO for their piloted vehicle.

Ch. 6Myths, Mistrust, and Trust
A review of engineering for large projects. Systems engineering, in particular, is found often to have caused more problems than it solved.

Ch. 7The Pitch
A detailed overview of the challenges of getting to orbit is given. The implications of the rocket equation, mass ratios, ISP, GLOW, and staging are presented. They decide to go with a two-stage rather than a single stage to orbit design. The first stage is powered with liquid methane/LOX and the second stage with LH2/LOX. The first stage will use powered landing while the orbital stage will use a parawing.

Ch. 8Mazes, Stops Cords, and Skunk Workers
Project management issues as the project transitions from design to construction.

Ch. 9Fuel Tanks, Heat Shields, and Fire Walls
Extensive discussion of thermal protection issues and how they effect the design of the vehicle structures.

Ch.10Balloon Tanks, Fracture Mechanics, and Friction Stir Welding
Why fuel tanks don't need to use composites, how to avoid cracks, and building a rocket tank like a balloon.


Continue to December 2003

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