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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
February 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

February 28, 2004

The Rocket Company next installment looks at some wild lunar schemes that become plausible if LEO launch costs fall to $200 per pound: Chapter 19: Mooncars, Monks, and Monasteries: Part 1 .

News briefs... Big boosters for Moon/Mars missions under study: Analysis: NASA studies new booster By Frank Sietzen - UPI - Feb.27.04 (via Project Constellation)...

... Conference on Space Elevators: The Space Elevator: 3rd Annual International Conference - June 28-30, 2004, Washington, D.C. ...

... NASA funded study of space elevators is available on line.

February 27, 2004

News briefs... Jeff Foust comments on the Russian Kliper: Russian Spacecraft Plans - Technology Review - Feb.27.04 ...

... Jeff also notes that the Aerospace Industries Association is promoting the development of the CEV by 2010 instead of the current goal of 2014: AIA Unveils 5-Year R&D Plan - Feb.25.04. However, the AIA is also requesting a $4 billion a year increase in the NASA budget, which seems unrealistic. More info at AIA 5-ear R&D Plan for American Aerospace

February 26, 2004

News briefs... Getting the shuttle back in orbit looks to take awhile: Long road ahead: Before the next shuttle launch, NASA must solve both technical and credibility problems - Florida Today - Feb.25.04 ...

... Rand Simberg looks at some of the political issues involved in the delay: Safe Enough? - Transterrestrial Musings - Feb.25.04

February 25, 2004

RLV papers... Robert Goehlich, who is teaching a course on space tourism at Keio University in Japan, has posted several RLV related papers on his website: including these two recent ones:

News briefs... The Final Environmental Assessment for the East Kern Airport District Launch Site Operator License for the Mojave Airport has now been posted at the FAA-AST site. It includes a description of the two horizontal takeoff and landing systems that would be covered under the license...

... Gary Hudson notes that the Kliper system is similar in approach to the system proposed by HMX for the Alternate Access program.

Yet more Kistler news in this article Aerospace Notebook: Reusable rocket still the goal: NASA wants what Kistler hopes to build - Seattle PI - Feb.25.04 (via spacetoday.net)

Yet more Kliper news... Here is an artist's rendeition of the Kliper - www.1tv.ru (via NASAWatch.com) and an AP/MSNBC article: Russians to build bigger, better spaceship: Upgraded Soyuz craft could send six people into orbit - MSNBC - Feb.17.04

Of course, I don't expect that the Russian companies will get the money actually to build this vehicle. Nevertheless, I'm sure the engineering is sound and it will be interesting to compare the Kliper design to those that will be proposed for the earth to LEO part of NASA's Project Constellation.

February 24, 2004

Kliper ship... Mark Wade provides more details about the proposed Russian Kliper (called Clipper in the press articles) replacement for the Soyuz and adds a drawing of how he thinks it will look. (Link via T. L. James.)

More about Kistler & Chapter 11... This article Kistler rocket gets NASA lift: Deal may fuel Chapter 11 exit - Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) - Feb.23.04 (via spacetoday.net) provides additional info on the efforts by Kistler to emerge from bankruptcy.

As the article states, it is surprising that they still need so much money (~ $500M) to get the vehicle flying considering that the firm says the vehicle is 75% finished. Can't see that it would take more than a few tens of millions to get the Woomera site up and running so most of the money must be needed for the vehicle itself.

Kistler wasn't very popular among the other launch vehicle startups of the 90's because it sucked up so much of the limited capital available for space projects yet still didn't get anything off the ground. It appears to me that Kistler went with a standard aerospace industry procurement approach, e.g. contracting with companies like Northrop for major components, rather than building very much itself or pursuing alternative low cost solutions. Elon Musk indicated in the interview here that the Falcon I would have been two or three times more expensive to launch if he had contracted out its development to the major aerospace companies.

News brief... Looks like it's a nice time to be a talented rocket scientist: SpaceX - Rocket Man Blog - Feb.23.04

February 23, 2004

Kistler Aerospace needs $500 million to complete the K-1, according to a story in the latest issue of Space News. The firm told the bankruptcy court that since 1993 they have spent a total of $550M. The company is asking the court and its creditors to give it extra time to raise the money so that it can resume construction of the K-1 and fulfill the recently upgraded contract with NASA. (See articles below on Feb.3, Feb.4, Feb.10).

That contract will result in up to $227M for the company but it will not get a penny until it is out of Chapter 11 and back to building the vehicle. Most of the money, in fact, will only be paid when several flights are successful. NASA is particularly interested in using the K-1 for returning cargo from the station in addition to its orbital delivery capability.

The company trying to arrange the financing is very optimistic and claims that the capital markets are in the best shape they have been in for several years. Some creditors seem willing to listen to Kistler's plan for generating a return on their investment while others have essentially given up on the company.

I think what will be of particular importance will be the actions of the vendor creditors. There are several companies that built parts for the K-1 but never got paid. If these companies, which are in the aerospace business, don't show confidence in the firm, it will be unlikely that non-aerospace investors will be enthusiastic to lend to it.

News briefs... John Carmack reports on continuing engine development : Flameholders - Armadillo Aerospace - Feb.22.04 ...

... Florida Today looks at the potential for SpaceX and other companies to make a business with small, low cost rockets: Small rockets hold big potential - FLorida Today - Feb.23.04 ...

Tech fiction ... Jeff Foust finds interesting engineering but not so much drama in The Rocket Company - The Space Review: Review - Feb.23.04. I'll note that the book is patterned after books like The Soul of a New Machine that delve fairly deeply into the technical aspects of a particular engineering project along with portrayals of the people and organization involved. The Rocket Company is in sort of a new Technical Fact & Fiction category that places factual discussion of a technical subject within a fictional plot. Since getting a rocket built and launched depends as much on money as engineering, I think this book succeeds at presenting a believable scenario where the funding to get such a RLV built might just happen.

Other reviews will be coming in. When the book is done, Patrick can respond here to their comments then if he wishes.

February 22, 2004

News briefs... The Commercial Space Launch Amendment Act of 2004 (H.R. 3752) may pass the House in March: House vote on HR 3752 expected next month - Space Politics - Feb.21.04 ...

... SpaceWorks Engineering has done some RLV design studies for NASA such as the Xcalibur 3rd Gen RLV and Air-Launch-To-Orbit (ALTO) Concept...

... Here is the The Marshall Institute - Evaluating the New Space Policy: A Panel Discussion where Jeff Foust reported on the comments from DARPA about experiments on the SS1...

... Another [only slightly different] brief report on the Clipper: Russia Develops Principally New Shuttle-Type Spaceship - RIA Novosti - Feb.22.04.

February 21, 2004

DARPA commissioning SpaceShipOne... Jeff Foust reports that DARPA is working with Burt Rutan to fly some experiments on the SS1. Initially they would do some telemetry trials and then fly some miniature synthetic aperture radar (SAR) instruments. The projects would support development of a lunar smallsat project.

Sounds to me, though, like they are also thinking of investigating suborbital vehicles as reconaissance platforms. This is something Pat Bahn at TGV Rockets has long promoted.

Back in January I suggested that the SS1 would be a good platform for science experiments. Now that DARPA is giving credibility to this idea, maybe the science community will wake up to the possibilities. I've had only limited success in getting responses from a sampling of scientists to my questions about whether suborbital platforms could benefit their work.

The Rocket Company builds a mockup and goes for a designer crew compartment. The latest installment also looks at the pilot and passenger survival system, carrying cargo, smallsats for solar system exploration, and a nanosat that would inspect the exterior of the second stage while in orbit: Chapter 18: Pilots, Payloads, and Passengers

News briefs... The proposed Russian 6 passenger vehicle gets a name: Soyuz to Give Way to Clipper by 2010 - Ria Novosti - Feb.20.04 (via NASA Watch)...

...NASA begins to understand the external tank insulation problem: External tank modifications more complex than expected - Spaceflight Now - Feb.20.04 ...

... There's also a tail rudder problem: Repairs and Need for Rescue Craft Pushed Back Shuttle Timetable - NY Times - Feb.21.04

February 20, 2004

Internships at Blue Origin are availble for undergraduates for June-August 2004:

Students will study and participate in real engineering design projects related to the development and construction of a manned launch vehicle. Interns will work directly with program staff, contributing to project goals in fields of aerodynamics, rocket propulsion, flight controls, human safety and systems engineering.

Undergraduates focusing on careers in science and technology are invited to apply for this 10-week summer program that will start in early June and end in August. Specific program dates are flexible and adjustments will be made to fit the academic schedules of selected interns.

The job listing also seems a bit longer than the last time I looked.

SLEPing till 2010... Spaceref has posted links to several presentations made at the Shuttle Launch Extension Program (SLEP) summit this week: NASA Updates Space Shuttle Return to Flight Plans - SpaceRef - Feb.19.04. For example, see the Crew Survivability (pdf). See also Changing Priorities on Road to Shuttle Return to Flight - Space.com - Feb.20.04

News briefs... The latest X PRIZE newsletter is now available for February (pdf) ...

... OSP workers get a reprieve: NASA plane jobs may stay in place: Contract extended 90 days to ease project's transition - Huntsville Times - Feb.19.04

Shuttle delay ... The next shuttle flight won't happen before March 2005:

February 19, 2004

Rocket entrepreneurs on business show... The Nightly Business Report on public TV has a series this week on "Space: The Next Step". Last night's episode, called "Entrepreneurs & Astronauts", included a piece on Environmental Aerosciences (eAc) and a brief interview with eAc chief Korey Kline.

He made the important point that various technologies have developed to the level that startups "can now take that technology and manipulate that technology and actually make products from it. It`s no longer superscience in a NASA laboratory."

The report also nicely summarized the X PRIZE contest and the promise of suborbital space tourism. It also listed space projects funded by "deep-pocketed technology mavens" but erred in saying that Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin were in the competition.

As the token critic, John Pike contributed this sound bite -

"These are not engineering problems which can be improved with time. But the basic efficiency of rocket technology was fully realized four decades ago. They`re going up against the physics of spaceflight that the efficiency of rocket engines, the mass fraction of the boosters, simply cannot be improved as a way of making spaceflight less expensive."

- which is, in the words of Wolfgang Pauli, "so bad it's not even wrong." I don't know of any startup rocket company currently trying to push ISP beyond standard levels or to build a SSTO. The emphasis is completely on robustness, reusability, and cheap operations so that over many flights the investment can be amortized and that economies of scale kick in - i.e. each additional flight gets cheaper and cheaper. The challenge for these companies has nothing to do with physics but everything to do with markets - they must find one that can supply enough demand to generate a high enough flight rate to bring down costs. The one that looks very promising is space tourism.

See this article for more about how the suborbital projects can benefit development of low cost orbital vehicles.

BTW: Physics certainly doesn't preclude the development of a SSTO. There is plenty of work to make them practical but the vehicle development over the next few years will do just that.

News brief... OSP bites the space dust: Space plane cancellation made official: 300 Huntsville jobs involved in project to replace shuttles - Huntsville Times - Feb.18.04

February 18, 2004

2004 FAA/AST space trans review is now available. The 2004 U.S. Commercial Space Transportation Developments and Concepts: Vehicles, Technologies, and Spaceports reports on the status and prospects for US ELVs, RLVs (including several X PRIZE vehicles), hypersonic projects, and spaceports.

News briefs... Nice that we've reached a point where we see newspaper editorials discussing the different approaches to regulating manned RLVs: Commercial space flights - The Washington Times - Feb.17.04 ...

... Crew escape pod for the shuttle not feasible by the end of the program in 2010: Shuttle crew escape system not practical, NASA says - Florida Today - Feb.18.04 * NASA rules out astronaut ejection system - HoustonChronicle.com - Feb.18.04...

... President Bush should have built his space initiative around the new generation of space companies such as XCOR Aerospace, Scaled Composites, and SpaceX instead of NASA according to this essay: Our Future in Space, by Frederick Giarrusso - The Independent Institute - Feb.17.04 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... RocketMan Blog points out that the various proposals for building "a launch vehicle by cobbling together components from other vehicles" are often unrealistic and seriously flawed: "Off The Shelf" To Orbit Doesn't Exist - Rocket Man Blog - Feb.17.04 ...

... Shuttle launch slipping: NASA Planning to Move Next Shuttle Mission to 2005 - SpaceRef - Feb.17.04 ...

... Contract modification with extreme prejudice: Design, Development, and Delivery of an Orbital Space Plane: Modification to a Previous NASA Presolicitation Notice - SpaceRef - Feb.17.04

February 17, 2004

News briefs... The Russian Aerospace Agency and RKK Energia propose a new manned spacecraft:Russia says it will build new manned spacecraft: Upgrade to Soyuz will be able to carry 6 cosmonauts - Florida Today - Feb.17.04 ...

... The Shuttle Service Life Extension Program Summit in Galveston is happening this week: Experts to pinpoint shuttle upgrades: Local workers face uncertain future - Florida Today - Feb.17.04

February 16, 2004

X-43 test flight has been delayed:

The February 21st reflight of NASA's X-43A hypersonic research vehicle appears to have been delayed for at least a week due to a booster software issue. Designed to demonstrate air-breathing engine technology at speeds above Mach 5, the unmanned X-43A is now scheduled to fly no earlier than February 28th.

On launch day, observers may be able to spot the contrails from the F-18 chase planes and the B-52 bomber carrying the X-43A/Pegasus booster combination as they fly from Edwards AFB to the launch point offshore. The contrails from the chase planes and mother ship may also be visible as they return to Edwards.

There's a good chance that favorably placed observers will also see the smoke trail from the Pegasus booster as it pushes the X-43A to its operating altitude of 95,000 feet. In addition, suitably equipped radio enthusiasts across a wide area should be able to hear radio communications from the F-18s and the B-52.

The X-43's first flight occurred in June of 2001. The release from the B-52 was normal, but the flight was terminated by ground controllers when the Pegasus booster/X-43A went out of control shortly after booster ignition.

News brief... John Carmack's latest update tells of work in various areas of hardware development: 63" Bulkhead, Custom boards, Engine work - Armadillo Aerospace - Feb.15.04

February 14, 2004

The Rocket Company's latest installment looks at the tradeoffs between landing the first stage with rockets or jets: Chapter 17: Rockets, Jets, and Soft Landings

News briefs... GAO comments on shuttle upgrades: Space Shuttle: Further Improvements Needed in NASA's Modernization Efforts. GAO-04-203 - SpaceRef - Feb.13.04 ...

... Titan did its job but at shuttle level costs: Titan's time nears end: Satellite rockets proved costlier than first billed - Florida Today - Feb.13.04

February 13, 2004

News brief... Shuttle launches not till in 2005? Tests Likely to Delay Next Shuttle Launch Foam Insulation, Sensor Not Certified - Washington Post - Feb.13.04

Beltway spacers go alt... Guess we will soon see a mini-stampede of space policy gurus into the RLV regulation fracas. Most either ignored or disparaged the startup suborbital launch companies for years but now that they look viable the gurus know just what they need: Outer space tourism: Not an extreme sport - The Hill - Feb.11.04 (via spacetoday.net)

February 12, 2004

Fighting gravity & paperwork... Not sure if an OSHA for RLVs is really needed this early in the development of the suborbital industry: FAA Commercial Space Office Developing Crew Safety Guidelines For RLVs - Aviation Week - Feb.12.04.

News briefs... NASA continues with X-37 technology development: NASA Awards Goodrich Contract to Provide High Temperature Composite Technology on Reusable Launch Vehicle Demonstrator - Goodrich - Feb.11.04 ...

... Eric Meier of Space Transport says that in addition to the tests of the engines intended for their large vehicle (see yesterday's item), they still plan to carry out a high altitude flight for their 3-stage sounding rocket. "Our goal on the upcoming flight is to reach 50 km and recover a camera that has recorded digital still photos from apogee. Sending it as high as 100 km presents recovery challenges that we would rather not face at this time."

February 11, 2004

STC engine blowout... Space Transport, a new X PRIZE team, recently began tests of their new 12-inch engines that will be used on the STV (Suborbital Tourist Vehicle). On Feb. 3 the engine "over-pressurized resulting in a bulkhead blowout." However, they say they've seen this problem with smaller engines and believe they can overcome it and continue tests by the end of the month. (This item via J. Rusi).

Well, at least they spelled XCOR correctly... According to a person at XCOR, the article Decision Near on Licensing for Private Space Flights - NY Times - Feb.10.04 - misstated why XCOR did not enter the X PRIZE contest. "It's not in our business plan, not because we have 'some small government contracts'". Note also that USA Today has the XERUS heading to the moon (see picture caption; actually, I count at least 3 errors in that one little sentence.)

News briefs... An extensive profile of Burt Rutan that includes a discussion of the SS1 project: Rocket Man - csmonitor.com - Feb.11.04 (via spacetoday.net)....

... Alan Boyle talks with Eric Anderson of Space Adventures about prospects for space tourism: Space for sale - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log - Feb.10.04 - about Eric Anderson

February 10, 2004

The Space Access Society update arrived yesterday from Henry Vanderbilt: Space Access Update #102 2/9/04. He gives a "RLV News Roundup", reports on "The New White House NASA Policy: Initial Impressions", and discusses "HR 3752, 'The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004'".

A couple of highlights:

  • Pioneer Rocketplane has enough funding to build its suborbital Rocketplane XP with "$10m in assets with $30m in Oklahoma state tax credit investment support." (The recent press release about the tax credit didn't mention dollar figures.) They will build a "rewinged Lear 24 with a rocket motor added". Development time is 26 months.
  • Jeff Greason of XCOR will run "an informal workshop on his experiences with the FAA AST licensing process at Space Access'04".

Be sure to make your reservations for the conference Space Access'04: Thursday afternoon April 22nd through Saturday night April 24th, 2004, at the Ramada Hotel Downtown at the center of Phoenix, Arizona.

P.S. My thanks to Henry for recommending RLV News.

Suborbitals in the news... Apparently the AST office or the X PRIZE organization sent out a PR yesterday because this morning I've seen several newspaper sites with either an AP article or their own story about the X PRIZE and today's COMSTAC meeting.

See Commercial Space Transportation - FAA / AST - Feb.10-11.04 for the agenda of the meeting.

News briefs... George Mueller of Kistler Aerospace seems optimistic about raising the capital needed to emerge from Chapter 11 to take advantage of the expanded contract from NASA. This older article at Space.com doesn't include Mueller's comments but in the print version of this week's Space News he said that "Our chief financier, Bay Harbor, has told us they are able to raise the funding and are in the process of doing so." He also said that they would fulfill the NASA contract with five flights from their Woomera, Australia launch site.

News brief... While dense fuel (e.g. kerosene) engines have become popular in designs of RLVs, RocketMan blog says the advantages of LH2 should not be discounted: Don't Reflexively Dismiss Hydrogen - Rocket Man Blog - Feb.10.04

February 9, 2004

News briefs... John Carmack's latest update reports on delays in rocket hover tests due to problems with engine performance: Electronics work, Engine problems - Armadillo Aerospace - Feb.8.04...

... Boeing looks to a reusable vehicle for transport back and forth from the lunar surface to an space station in orbit around the Moon.: Many happy returns - e4engineering.com - Feb.9.04 (via Project Constellation)

February 8, 2004

News brief... Rocket Man continues a discussion about low cost launchers and the need for more robust, long lived engines: It's Never As Easy As It Sounds - Rocket Man Blog - Feb.7.04

SSTO - a vast right wing conspiracy? As recommended in this posting Book, Single Stage to Orbit - ERPS - Feb.7.04, the book Single Stage to Orbit: Politics, Space Technology, and the Quest for Reusable Rocketry by Andrew J. Butrica - John Hopkins Press sounds really interesting. However, the book's on line description includes items like "conservative space agenda" and other red flags that warn this may be your usual hackneyed political screed shoehorned into a discussion of a technical subject. I think I'll wait for some additional reviews before I shell out $45 for it.

February 7, 2004

The Rocket Company latest chapter deals with the challenges of making money in the aerospace industry: Chapter 16: Markets, Philosophy, Techniques, and Approaches

News brief... XCOR lauds the first step of H.R. 3752, The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 as it makes its way through Congress: Another step towards space: House Science Committee Passes Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004 - XCOR - Feb.6.04

February 6, 2004

CEV history & news... James Burk at NewMars.com offers this history of vehicle development that led up to the CEV program: A New Constellation And Its Legacy - New Mars - Feb.5.04. He has also begun a weblog - ProjectConstellation.us - devoted to the topic.

News briefs... RocketMan Blog allows Kelly Starks to present a long article on lowering launch costs: A Readers Rebuttal - Rocket Man Blog - Feb.5.04....

... Shuttle RTF costs growing: Shuttles top $400 million: NASA's return-to-flight tab jumps 44 percent; estimate should go up - Florida Today - Feb.6.04

February 5, 2004

News brief... A newsgroup posting provided the link to this site at Lockheed-Martin on their CEV concepts * Gallery....

... NASA's revised shuttle return to flight plan: NASA’s Implementation Plan for Space Shuttle Return to Flight and Beyond, Vol.1, revision 1.2 - Jan.30.04 248 page pdf file 1.2

February 4, 2004

News briefs... NASA's grand plan for developing new vehicles: NASA Budget Lays Out CEV Spiral Development - Aviation Week - Feb.4.04 ...

... The House Science committee clears H.R. 3752, The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, which offers new rules and guidance for suborbital vehicle regulations and liability: Science Committee Clears Six Bills - Bills addressing transportation R&D, space tourism, among the legislation approved today - House Committee on Science - Feb.4.04 (via spacetoday.net)...

.... Rand discusses the NASA space prizes program: Eyes on the Prize - Transterrestrial Musings - Feb.4.04....

... More on the reallocation of money within NASA's vehicle programs: NASA Budget Details Shifting Of Funds To Exploration - Aviation Week - Feb.3.04

Kistler contract details are available in NASA Presolicitation Notice: Kistler K-1 Pre-Flight and Post-flight Data - SpaceRef - Feb.3.04. Highlights include:

NASA needs more LEO carrying capacity:

"However, during the period 2006-2010 there is more projected demand to return cargo from the ISS than can be supported by the Shuttle."

and

"...NASA has a requirement for data to demonstrate the ability of commercial launch systems to support ISS with up-and down-mass capability as soon as practical. To meet the schedule directed by the President for this new direction, NASA needs these data by the end of CY 2006...." [my emphasis]

However, the Kistler contract is to fulfill the previous one for SLI technology tests, not for delivery of cargo to the ISS. This technology will also benefit the new deep space missions needs:

"...the innovative new modular architectural approaches under consideration by NASA to accomplish exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit will require launch systems with autonomous rendezvous and proximity operations (ARPO) capability to enable the modules to stage and service themselves in low Earth orbit prior to embarking on deep space missions. NASA needs flight data demonstrating ARPO technology..."

Kistler still needs to raise private funding to come out of Chapter 11. This is perhaps why there has been no announcement from the company (though it tends to be stand-offish in general):

"...the K-1 launch system, which is expected to achieve a first flight within approximately 18 months of authority to proceed with the modified contract. The K-1 launch system will have a payload capability of approximately 7,000 pounds up-mass and 2,000 pounds down-mass to the ISS. Authority to proceed with work under this contract modification will be contingent on a successful conclusion of the contractor's Chapter 11 proceedings that results in Kistler having sufficient additional private funding to complete the K-1 development. NASA funding will not be provided for development of the K-1 launch system. Payment of NASA funding will be made only upon timely delivery and Government acceptance of the data required under the contract. This contract modification is for a continuation of data acquisition. The K-1 launch system design includes a number of embedded technologies that will directly benefit launch system development, including an integrated vehicle health management system, advanced checkout and control systems, and a fully autonomous guidance, navigation and control system...." [my emphasis]

Note that the contract is for delivery of data. This kind of data purchase approach to space development has been one advocated by space activists for many years. NASA should focus on the result and let private companies decide on the way to implement it:

"...NASA will exercise these options, and will add four additional ARPO experiments to the contract, thus acquiring data from a total of 5 flights of the K-1 launch system. The series of flights, including a progressively more complex series of ARPO experiments, will provide the data necessary to adequately demonstrate these new technologies. In addition, the series of ARPO experiments should be adequate to demonstrate the capability of a commercial provider to support the ISS with cargo re-supply and return services..."

NASA believes Kistler is the only company that currently can fulfill these missions

"No other commercially developed launch system with ARPO capability is known to exist or be planned for flight in the timeframe required. Because a significant portion of the Kistler launch vehicle has been fabricated and an inventory of flight engines has been acquired, Kistler Aerospace Corporation is the only known identifiable path to achieving these objectives as early as 2006..."

Though others will have a brief opportunity to argue they can do it as well:

"...Therefore, research shows that the data to be delivered by the modification is not available from any other source. Interested organizations may submit their capabilities and qualifications to perform the effort in writing to the identified point of contact not later than 4:30 p.m. local time on February 17, 2004. Such capabilities/qualifications will be evaluated solely for the purpose of determining whether or not to conduct this procurement on a competitive basis."

Kistler comments... Looks like I was one of the last to see the Space.com article: both RocketForge and Curmudgeons Corner saw it. T.L. James thinks it implies that we will soon see farm animals darting about the sky. I expect more comments to come in as the day proceeds.

As anyone who has followed this column for the past few years will remember, I have several times listed positive news articles about Kistler, such as reports that it had succeeded in raising enough capital to restart K-1 assembly, only to find that nothing came of them. This report is certainly the most promising since the project ground to halt in the aftermath of the Iridium/Globalstar failures (they were to provide Kistler's market for replacement satellites) but we still must wait to see if the company can raise the several hundred million needed to complete the K-1.

I've also advocated here many times that NASA and/or the AF fund the K-1. Of the private RLV projects in the late 1990s, it got the closest to flight. The K-1 is 75% finished according to the company and it just seems a tremendous waste not to get it flying. Even if it doesn't achieve the launch costs and flight rate that Kistler promises, a huge amount will still be learned and it will prove once and for all that fully reusable vehicles can reach orbit with practical sized payloads.

February 3, 2004

Kistler gets NASA contract!! Well I am truly flabbergasted. NASA is going to give Kistler a contract with real money: NASA Contract Could Jumpstart Rocket Start Up - Space.com - Feb.3.04. It will add up to $227.4 million and derives from the old SLI contract that Kistler got back in 2001.

The arrangement means that "$54.2 million of the contract is payable to Kistler before conducting its first launch. The remaining $173.2 million, Mathews said, is tied to the successful conduct of flight demonstrations."

Just this afternoon I responded to a reader about the Alternate Access program, Kistler and the SLI contract. Looks like NASA took another look at alternatives.

I hope enough of Kistler remains for it to get back up to speed. If they do, this will mean that by 2006 we could see a fully reusable 2-stage unmanned orbital RLV in business plus the the Falcon V refurbishable medium heavy launcher plus several manned suborbitals - all by private companies. The timetable is looking good.

Centennial Challenge... Reader J. Shields pointed out more info available on the "N Prize" via the NASA 2005 Budget page. Under the Centennial Challenge section of the file Human & Robotic Technology(pdf) the following description is given:

The Centennial Challenges program will establish a series of annual prizes for revolutionary, breakthrough accomplishments that advance solar system exploration and other NASA priorities. Some of the most difficult technical challenges in solar system exploration will require very novel solutions from non-traditional sources of innovation. By making awards based on actual achievements, instead of proposals, NASA will tap innovators in academia, industry and the public that do not normally work on NASA issues. Centennial Challenges will be modeled on past successes, including 19th century navigation prizes, early 20th century aviation prizes, and more recent prizes offered by the US government and private sector. Examples of potential Challenges include very low-cost robotic space missions; contests to demonstrate rover systems that are highly mobile, capable, and survivable; and fundamental advances in technical areas like lander navigation, spacecraft power systems, life detection sensors, and nano-materials.

OVERVIEW
The Centennial Challenges program will issue challenges on annual cycles in key solar system exploration and other NASA technical areas. Prize purses for each challenge will remain available until awarded or for the duration of that challenge. Challenges will be open to U.S. citizens who are not government employees or as otherwise detailed in the rules of the individual challenge.

The Centennial Challenges program plans to conduct annual workshops to solicit and examine ideas for specific challenge ideas. Initial challenges are expected to be issued in the areas of low-cost robotic space missions; highly mobile, capable, and survivable rover systems; and fundamental advances in key spacecraft technologies. The Centennial Challenges program will work closely with other Exploration Systems programs and with other NASA Enterprises to ensure that individual challenges align with NASA goals and possess an appropriate level of difficulty.

NASA expects the Centennial Challenges program to generate innovative solutions to solar system exploration and other NASA technical issues that would not be invented or demonstrated through standard NASA procurement processes. By issuing challenges without judging or proscribing their solution, NASA will attract diverse teams applying multiple, unconventional, low-cost approaches from non-traditional sources to NASA's engineering problems.

Missing link ... Taylor Dinerman also notes the lack of emphasis on lower cost earth to LEO transport in the new space policy: Earth-to-orbit transport: the missing ingredient in Bush's space policy recipe by Taylor Dinerman- The Space Review - Feb.2.04

It's the launch costs stupid... Rocket Man reminds us that regardless of dramatic initiatives promising grand space schemes "none of these things will be possible until the cost of space access comes down." Let A Thousand Flowers Bloom - Rocket Man Blog - Feb.2.04

The N Prize... I missed this one. A HS reader (R. Rowland) pointed out to me that the 2005 NASA budget includes $20M for prizes. Under Exploratory System in Overview of NASA's FY 2005 Budget - Spaceref - Feb.2.04 it says:

"...and $20 million for an interesting new approach for funding ideas that will use up to $20 million in prizes along the lines that the X Prize and DARPA have been using."

I don't see this explicitly in the 2005 NASA Budget at OMB (pdf)) - it probably goes under the "Innovative Technology Transfer Partnerships" funding - but near the end it says:

"Funds for announced prizes otherwise authorized shall remain available, without fiscal year limitation, until the prize is claimed or the offer is withdrawn."

Interesting to think of what $20M prize could go for. Too small for orbital launchers, even unmanned. Probably also too small for an asteroid mission like SpaceDev's NEAP. Maybe a lunar mission.

News brief... How to keep them running 6 more years: 2004 NASA Shuttle Service Life Extension Summit. - Feb.16-18.04 - Galveston, Texas

February 2, 2004

NASA Budget ... Keith Cowing gives an Overview of NASA's FY 2005 Budget - Spaceref - Feb.2.04. (Data directly available from 2005 NASA Budget at OMB (pdf)) He took part in a briefing last week by NASA Comptroller Steve Isakowitz. Some hightlights include:

"The Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) will be developed under Project Constellation. More than just a super-sized version of the Orbital Space Plane (OSP), the CEV is envisioned as a collection of modular systems that will allow human missions to low Earth orbit, the Moon and beyond. While resembling some of the mission architecture embodied by the Apollo program this vehicle will truly be a 21st century spacecraft - not a recreation of something from a half a century earlier.

Initial flights of the CEV will probably be unmanned, with human rating coming later. ..."

...

"...During the time that the shuttle fleet is retired and a new American human spaceflight capability is developed, the U.S. will rely upon Russian Soyuz vehicles."

...

"...When asked if the Alternate Access program, which sought to develop alternatives to Shuttle cargo transportation would be continued, Isakowitz said that it would not, He did say that the ISS program would be looking at its cargo needs and that there was a possibility that some commercial solutions might be sought if the aforementioned systems cannot provide adequate coverage. To cover this there will be some funds to purchase ISS resupply in the Office of Space Flight's budget. Isakowitz made it clear that he did not expect NASA to be funding the development of any new systems as was the case with SLI's Alt Access program."

...

"Office of Space Flight: $1.9 billion for ISS - a 24% increase; $4.3 billion for Shuttle a 9% increase (includes Return to Flight Investments, and $10 million to demonstrate emerging launch system concepts...."

The latter $10M is apparently the token amount thrown in to respond to pressure to give support for the startup launch companies. Those companies don't need direct subsidies, but they do need contracts that will provide substantial funds if they supply launch services such as taking cargo to the station. Kistler, for example, needs to raise at least two or three hundred million dollars to finish the K1 so a $10M contract certainly won't do much to attract investors. Not surprisingly, the Wall Street Journal reports today that the Pentagon space budget will include an extra several hundred million dollars to support the Boeing and Lockheed EELV programs.

Note that it will take at least several months to enact the budget. If SpaceX succeeds in launching the Falcon I this spring, then advocates for the alternative launch industry will finally have some live ammunition with which to fight for greater participation in the new space initiative. Until there is hard, in-their-face proof, however, that the new companies can build and launch hardware, such advocacy will continue to be ignored.

News briefs... The company GASL doesn't get much press but it has been doing scramjet and other propulsion research for decades. It gets a profile in this article: Mars Dream Team A local lab tests engines that could power the next generation of space travel - ctnow.com - Feb.2.04 (via spacetoday.net)...

... Lots of work left to do to get the shuttles back in action by the fall: Clock ticks on next launch: End of September is a 'flexible' benchmark; safety is first, NASA says - Huntsville Times - Feb.1.04 ...

... Here's one artful way to support an X PRIZE team: Limited edition print entitled "daVinci I" by Laurie Besplug - Garden Gallery

February 1, 2004

News brief... Preparations continue for hover tests of the full sized Armadillo prototype according to the latest update from John Carmack: Vehicle work - Armadillo Aerospace - Jan.31.04


Continue to January 2004

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