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RLV News
Space Transport Developments & Commentary
January 2005
Index Feedback

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


RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicles) News offers brief articles and comments concerning developments in the area of space transport, which includes vehicles for earth launch to orbit, suborbital spaceflight, and in-space vehicles. It also provides lots of links to news articles, announcements by commercial rocket developers, NASA events, etc.

The RLV Countdown: Part 1 and Part 2 sections provide information and
links for various reusable space transportation systems around the world.

RLV Table compares a selection of space transport vehicles.

RLV History looks at earlier vehicles and designs.

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

The Space Log contains news about
amateur space activities, space businesses, etc.

RLV News Archive Directory

January 31, 2005

10:55 am: News briefs ... Lockheed Martin CEV team sends out some press releases: Lockheed Martin's Crew Exploration Vehicle Team Includes Top Industry Innovators - Lockheed Martin - Jan.31.05 * Orbital Joins Lockheed Martin-Led Crew Exploration Vehicle Team: Company to Play a Key Role on Industry "All-Star" Team - Orbital - Jan.31.05 ...

... Testing versus simulation is a difficult issue for the Shuttle RtF: NASA warned over shuttle safety modelling - New Scientist - Jan.31.05.

2:10 am: Exploration news ... From Craig Covault's description, it seems the CEV procurement is a battle only among the big guys: NASA Sets Crew Exploration Vehicle Procurement Guidelines - Aviation Week - Jan.30.05 ...

... He also says, "NASA is trying to reduce risk and increase cost efficiency and contractor accountability through the way it will procure the new manned space flight systems." This request for proposals "cites about 35 broad management-related topics in addition to about 40 diverse engineering areas, each involving dozens of advanced technologies just for the CEV." Not sure what all this means but it doesn't sound like NASA is just setting goals and lettting private companies provide the means to achieve those goals in whatever cost-effective, timely manner they see fit. ...

... A lot of companies want to jump on the CEV money train before it leaves the station. According to AvWeek, the AIAA 1st Space Exploration Conference: Continuing the Voyage of Discovery, which is taking place today and tomorrow, has been very popular: "AIAA officials said they originally planned the event for about 600 participants, but 1,500 have tried to register, filling display space and conference facilities to the maximum." You can watch the presentations via webcast. (Link from NASAWatch.)

January 30, 2005

2:35 am: News brief... Elon Musk and SpaceX are profiled in

January 29, 2005

12:25 pm: News briefs... Some of the shuttle modifications requested by the Columbia accident review board will still be in development during the next flight: Group: 6 of 15 shuttle fixes done - Florida Today - Jan.28.05 * Majority of CAIB recommendations still unmet - spacetoday.net - Jan.28.05 ...

... Correction: Luke Colby pointed out that in the entry below I had left out the link to his feedback comments and also that the link to the Boston University aerospike item in the rocketry archive was not working correctly. He also wants to make it clear that he is not "calling for massive antigravity funding and dinner with the little grey men from Roswell!" He just wants to point out that the field of gravity research is an active one with many credible scientists involved.

1:15 am: Lunar Transportation Systems is a venture formed by Walter Kistler and Bob Citron to develop a "new Earth-Moon transportation system." The system uses four vehicles, which share many structural features. A propellent tank transfer scheme for in-space refueling allows for the Lunar Lander "to carry payloads from LEO to the lunar surface and return payloads from the Moon to the Earth".

Check out all the imagery and videos of their system on the website. Here is their announcement:

A New Private Commercial Space Venture for Lunar Exploration

BELLEVUE, WA, January 28, 2005—Walter Kistler and Bob Citron formed Lunar Transportation Systems, Inc. (LTS) early last year in response to the President’s new Vision for Space Exploration. LTS’s goal is to raise major financing from the private sector to develop, build, ground test, flight test, and operate a new Earth-Moon transportation system. Initially, the government would be an important customer, and eventually, LTS would serve new lunar commercial markets.

The two entrepreneurs have a long history of stimulating new space market activities using private investment. Kistler founded Kistler Instruments AG and was the first investor in SPACEHAB, and co-founded Kistler Aerospace Corporation with Bob Citron, who also founded SPACEHAB.

LTS goals also fit nicely with the new White House Space Transportation Policy, which recognizes the need for commercial systems, particularly for launch and exploration. The new policy echoes the President’s vision and encourages the government to facilitate commercial space activities.

“Our new LTS lunar architecture enables NASA to meet the near-term strategic objectives spearheaded by President Bush in the Vision for Space Exploration a year ago, as well as recommendations presented by the Aldridge Commission on how to implement that Vision,” said Bob Citron, CEO of LTS. “We are thrilled to see the new White House Space Transportation Policy further support commercial activities, just like what we are proposing.”

Walter Kistler, who conceived the LTS Earth-Moon transportation system, said, “The Vision for Space Exploration calls for a greater role of the private sector in space exploration. Bob Citron and I firmly believe that entrepreneurial companies can bring new perspectives to the Vision, building opportunities for a strong future for space exploration.”

Lunar Transportation Systems, Inc. has launched a website to introduce its innovative concept to create the equivalent of a two-way highway to the Moon as part of NASA’s new space exploration plans. The website, www.lunartransportationsystems.com, contains a lot of detail about their plans, including descriptions and artwork of LTS spacecraft, lunar architecture, mission profiles, trade studies in progress, as well as photo and video galleries.

This is the second new private organization, Transformational Space being the first, to offer a complete CEV Earth/Lunar system that needs only the currently available launchers. No new heavy lifter is required.

I'm wondering, though, how LTS can get in the game since the first set of NASA study contracts was already awarded last September.

1:15 am: News brief... X PRIZE Space Race News has posted more updates on rocket development projects. These include Bristol Spaceplanes, HARC Liberator / Orion Propulsion, and Micro Space.

January 28, 2005

3:50 pm: News briefs... Following up on my comments yesterday about Dennis Tito, Rand Simberg suggests that Tito may have business problems that are distracting him from space investments: Not Quite Full Disclosure - Transterrestrial Musings - Jan.28.05. The CNN article, though, is from September 2003 so maybe the problems were not too serious. ...

... Bob Zimmerman, on the other hand, suggests Tito may have the same doubts about the new commercial space act as Bob has expressed. My impression, however, has been that Tito supported the bill. ...

... I hope NASA listens to Dennis Wingo: Rocket design up in air, says Marshall chief - Huntsville Times - Jan.28.05 ...

... The Shuttle Return-to-Flight program is making progress: Shuttle's return-to-flight panel issues third report - Florida Today - Jan.27.05. The Return to Flight Task Group does independent assessments of the RtF progress. You can monitor RtF progress at NASA - Return to Flight. ...

... In response to this RLV News item, Luke Colby a graduate student in space systems at Georgia Tech and a rocket developer, offers this feedback about the possibility someday of gravity control propulsion. [Update Jan.29.05: I originally left out the link to Luke's feedback comments and the rocketry link didn't go to the correct item.]

January 27, 2005

5:40 pm: News briefs... . In this week's column, Robert Zimmerman suggests that the greatest advances in human spaceflight in the next decade or so might happen with Russian launchers and spacecraft rather than American: Space Watch: the Russians are Coming - UPI - Jan.20.05 ...

... This is rather disappointing. Despite the passage of the commercial space act, Dennis Tito indicates that "[w]hile he is happy to promote space travel, he said he currently has no financial interest in the development of tourism in space.": Dennis Tito's Space Adventure - Pacfic Palisades Post - Jan.27.05.(Link via spacetoday.net) This comes despite his testimony to a Congressional committee in the summer of 2003 that he was “ready to make an investment in a suborbital vehicle”. He declared that the "only big problem that stands before myself and others who want to do this is the regulatory risk.”

9:30 am: News briefs... Florida officials worry they may lose the suborbital space tourism business to other states: State fears losing grip on space - Florida Today - Jan.26.05 Note that Virgin Galactic has had expressions of interest from thousands of people but not deposits. Space Adventures has said they have about 100 deposits (as soon as a suitable vehicle becomes available) but Virgin Galactic has not yet begun taking deposits. ...

... The ISS partners expect that the ISS construction and support will be provided by a "met by a mix of support vehicles" :ISS partners reaffirm assembly plans - spacetoday.net - Jan.27.05. They promise to take advantage of "the capabilities from potential future commercial providers": Joint Statement by International Space Station Heads of Agency - NASA - Jan.26.05 ...

... X PRIZE Space Race News has posted an item on the status of Micro-Space, a former X PRIZE competitor: Micro Space News Update - Space Race News! - Jan.27.05

January 26, 2005

4:45 pm: News briefs... The Space Exploration 2005 meeting on April 3-6 in Albuquerque, New Mexico is sponsored by the Space Engineering and Science Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The goal is for people from diverse backgrounds "to exchange ideas and collaborate on the development of technology in the area of space exploration."...

... Sponsored by the Lindbergh Foundation , the "Legends of the Sky" hangar party on Friday, May 20 will be held at the Golden Wings Museum on the grounds of the Anoka County Airport in Blaine, Minnesota. The event will feature Burt Rutan...

... Tough to find a shortcut around up and down: Antigravity has feet of clay - Space agency report is a downer for gravity-control researchers. - news @ nature.com - Jan.26.05 ...

... HS reader Matthew Morris responds to the comments from Dave Ketchledge about what type of crew module design is best to launch on a Falcon V. [I can't support a genuine comments forum but I'll occasionally post feedback items of interest.]

1:20 am: News briefs ... Space Adventures will soon have lots of opportunities to send paying customers to the ISS: Space Race 2: Seats open for Soyuz flights By Irene Mona Klotz - UPI/Washington Times - Jan.25.05. Eric Anderson says "he has several clients waiting for flights." ...

... The cosmonauts, though, would rather not be bothered: ISS Crew To Find Tourists Nuisance, Warns Russian Space Veteran- RIA Novosti - Jan.25.05 (Link via spacetoday.net) ...

... The X-43 inspires a musical composition called Waverider: Art, engineering join for Space Week celebration - The Tullahoma News - Jan.25.05 ...

... More shuttle prep: Shuttle given tools for inspection: Robot arm vital step toward return to flight - Florida Today - Jan.24.05

January 25, 2005

10:10 am: News briefs... JP Aerospace has posted an update at Space Race News on its recent activities and plans for the future. Joining SpaceX, JPA says it will compete for America's Space Prize. See ATO - Airship To Orbit - April.2004 (pdf) for an introduction to the technique the organization plans to pursue...

... Though America's Space Prize has been placing full page ads in various aerospace publications, it remains relatively low key. For example, there is no web site yet where you can find information and news about the project (and buy an America's Space Prize T-shirt). I've heard that after some number of competitors sign up for the contest, the project will become more visible...

... Two majors cooperate on a CEV proposal: Northrop Grumman, Boeing Finalize Space Exploration Teaming Agreement - Northrop Grumman - Jan.24.05.

January 24, 2005

1:25 pm: Armadillo update... John Carmack has been too busy with Id Software projects and other tasks lately to post regular Armadillo updates but the work continues. The forum at Space Race News got this Quick Update - Official Armadillo Q&A thread - Jan.24.05, which reports on a recent attempt to launch a prototype.

1:25 pm: Orion hopes... Sam Dinkin examines the pros and cons of nuclear bomb propulsion in Revisiting Project Orion - The Space Review - Jan.24.05. The Orion scheme would be the ultimate space transport but the political opposition seems insurmountable, at least for a ground launched system.

A purely space based system might survive the onslaught of anti-nuke forces but the huge amount of mass required makes this an unlikely near term option. Perhaps it will be feasible when a low cost cargo train to orbit becomes available via a space elevator or laser propulsion.

A test of pulse propulsion via external explosions is shown in this cool video posted with the article: The Road Not Taken (Yet) by Glenn Harlan Reynolds - TCS - Sept.11.02. Note that Reynolds, a lawyer, says that the Orion vehicle should pass the Outer Space Treaty since a "nuclear 'bomb' used for space travel, arguably, isn't a 'weapon' " just as the converted missiles used to launch astronauts in the early 1960s were not weapons.

A more politically viable system would be something like Mini-Mag Orion, under study by Andrews Space & Tech with a NASA SBIR grant. This system would use micro-pulse fusion propulsion. The only problem is that, unlike nuclear fission bombs, micro-pulse fusion has yet to be demonstrated on earth. (See also Mini-MagOrion: A Pulsed Nuclear Rocket for Crewed Solar System Exploration by Ralph Ewig, Dana Andrews - AIAA JPC - July 2003 pdf and Pulsed Power - Sandia National Lab)

More Orion links.

1:25 pm: Europe's Space Prize? Yet another space-related essay in the Wall Street Journal - Space: The Private Frontier by Jacob Funk Kirkegaard - WSJ.com - Jan.24.05. Unfortunately, like the others, it requires a subscription. The main theme is that Europe should follow the lead of the US and do more to encourage private, entrepreneurial approaches to space development. The author suggests that Europe fund its own version of America's Space Prize since the rules for that contest require participating organizations to be based in the US. He also urges the development of a regulatory framework for commercial human spaceflight like that in the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act.

2:25 am: News briefs ... The Rocket Company by Patrick J. G. Stiennon and David M. Hoerr, with illustrations by Doug Birkholz, tells the story of the development of a two-stage orbital space transport system. Though fictional, the book provides an excellent introduction to the technical aspects and challenges of designing a cost-effective, fully-reusable rocketship. The book was provided here in serialized form over several months and became a popular part of HobbySpace.

There is good news and bad news to report about the book.

The good news is that the book has been accepted for publication in print by a reputable publisher. (I'll post information on where it can be purchased as soon as I'm told.) The printed version will contain revised and updated material, a new chapter, and over 30 illustrations.

The bad news is that the publisher has, not surprisingly, asked that the text be taken off line. I've now done this for everything except Chapter 1 and Chapter 4 , which I'm allowed to post here as samples.

My congratulations to Patrick, David, and Doug on the publication of the book. I want to thank them for kindly letting me post it here. I believe their work will have a significant influence on space transport design by one or more companies in the not so distant future.

1:15 am: News briefs ... The Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act may have passed but there remain other issues of interest to the suborbital launch industry such as ITAR reform. So another Suborbital Action Days event on Capitol Hill is in the works: Suborbital Institute lobbying - Space Politics - Jan.23.05 ...

... This would take place just before the FAA Commercial Space Transportation Conference, the agenda of which is now posted. ...

... NASA Watch reports that Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) will be giving up the chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX). Though Hutchison is a strong NASA supporter, I find this a bit disappointing since my impression is that Brownback is more aware of the alt.space companies ...

... HS visitor Dave Ketchledge offers some feedback on the suggestion of launching an upgraded Gemini on top of a Falcon V.

January 23, 2005

2:15 pm: News briefs ... The latest from Starchaser on their engine development - Thruster Performance Levels Achieved - starchaser.co.uk - Jan.05 - and the establishment of an office in New Mexico - US Visit Successful - starchaser.co.uk - Jan.05 (Via Space Race News) ...

... Another article about Virgin Galactic: Space riders ready to go - Sunday Times - Jan.23.05 (Link via spacetoday.net)

January 22, 2005

11:15 am: SpaceX vs. the Majors ... The Wall Street Journal article (subscription only) mentioned back on Dec. 28th that dealt with a conflict between SpaceX and Northrop over pintle injector technology and conflicts of interest is available for free here: Can defense contractors police their rivals? - Military & Aerospace Electronics Magazine - Dec.28.04 (Distributed by AP).

Note that SpaceX and Boeing also had a conflict over the Falcon when Boeing insisted that SpaceX re-qualify a range safety device rather than use a Boeing report written for the Air Force. (See RLV News April 24, 2004).

11:15 am: CEV definitions... Someone at sci.space.policy noted that the Crew Exploration Vehicle Solicitation Documents (mentioned below) includes a glossary (doc file) that defines the acronyms used by NASA and is actually quite informative.

For example, the CEV is defined as follows:

Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) - The CEV provides crew habitation and Earth re-entry capability for all Exploration Spirals. In Spirals 2 and 3, the CEV has been functionally defined as the vehicle in which the exploration crew will be transported to the lunar vicinity and subsequently returned to the Earth surface. The CEV will also have the capability to perform automated and/or autonomous operations (loiter), from LSAM separation from the CEV for descent to the lunar surface, until the end of the lunar surface mission.

"Spiral" is NASA's term for a stage in the development of the CEV system starting from earth-to-orbit crew delivery and then gaining the capability to send people to land on the Moon and eventually Mars.

Exploration Spiral 1 (Crew Transportation System Earth Orbit Mission) - Encompasses the capabilities necessary to insert humans into Earth orbit and return them safely to Earth, employing a post-Space Shuttle flight system. A programmatic constraint has been imposed on Spiral 1: "NASA shall conduct the initial test flight for the Crew Exploration Vehicle before the end of the decade in order to provide an operational capability to support human exploration missions no later than 2014". The flight elements of the Exploration Spiral 1 Crew Transportation System are the Crew Exploration Vehicle and Crew Launch Vehicle. Robotic Precursor Missions that are scheduled to launch prior to the Earth orbit demonstration of the Spiral 1 CTS are considered Exploration Spiral 1 missions.

The other spirals (see the glossary for the long version):

  • Spiral 2 or "Extended-Duration Lunar Campaign" refers to a system capable of a 4-14 day mission on the Moon between 2015 and 2020.
  • Spiral 3 or "Long-Duration Lunar Campaign" will provide for 14-98 day lunar missions.
  • Sprial 4 will allow for a crewed mission to fly to Mars but not land.
  • Spiral 5 will put people on Mars.

The CEV module carries the crew (or cargo) but can be launched (at least in most schemes) by different launchers, which may or may not be reusable. The CEVLS refers to the whole launch system:

Crew Exploration Vehicle Launch Segment (CEVLS) - The CEVLS consists of a Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV), a Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), and all the dedicated ground support infrastructure necessary to launch the CEV to Earth orbit.

CTV refers to the CEVLS system for reaching LEO plus those elements needed to send the crew on to the Moon and Mars:

Crew Transportation System (CTS) - The CTS encompasses the flight elements needed to deliver a human crew from Earth to a mission destination, and return the crew safely to Earth. In Spiral 1, the CTS includes the CEV and CLV. For Spirals 2 and 3, the CTS includes the CEV, CLV, plus other elements to be defined at a later date such as EDS [Earth Departure Stage] and the LSAM [Lunar Surface Access Module]. The CTS must interact with the Ground Support System (GSS) during all Spirals; current architectures require delivery of the EDS and LSAM through use of the CDS to rendezvous orbits.

Though Spiral 1 drags on till 2014, there will be some flight tests before then: "Phase 1 - Demonstration of a flight test in 2008 that minimizes risk for the CEV to be delivered in 2014."

1:55 am: News brief... Via Space Race News comes reports on recent near space projects and tests by JP Aerospace.

January 21, 2005

8:45 pm: News brief... In this Cosmic Log entry - The next space millionaire - Cosmic Log/MSNBC - Jan.21.05 - Alan Boyle provides the video to "The new space race" shown today on CNBC. It briefly surveys some of the millionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and John Carmack who are pursuing serious space business projects. ...

... I don't understand how these things work but the part about "Cost-Plus-Award-Fee (CPAF) contracts" sure sounds like something that would put your typical Big Aerospace manager into a state of delirious lust and desire: NASA Letter to Potential Offerors to Review The Draft Crew Exploration Vehicle solicitation - NASA/Spaceref - Jan.21.05. * Crew Exploration Vehicle Solicitation Documents.

2:30 pm: News brief... I've been told that the Closing Bell program on CNBC will air a segment today at 4 pm ET on the "new commercial Space Race". (Via. J. Roche.)

12:35 pm: News brief... With the delay in the Falcon I launch, I guess this news was to be expected: Falcon V launch delayed - Space Race News! - Jan.20.05.

1:55 am: News briefs... SpaceX is seeking to lease Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral for launching Falcon rockets starting in the 2007 time frame: Cape launch site could host new commercial rocket fleet - SpaceFlight Now - Jan. 20.05...

... And this companion article reviews Elon Musk's plans for SpaceX: SpaceX starting small as it dreams of grand plans - Spaceflight Now - Jan.20.05....

... Meanwhile, here's more about another private space program: Bezos to build space venture on ranch near Van Horn - The Desert-Mountain Times - Jan.20.05. (Link via spacetoday.net)

January 20, 2005

1:15 pm: News briefs... In this week's column, Robert Zimmerman examines the serious problems in the arrangement between the US and Russia over access to the ISS: Space Watch: Cooperation's failure at ISS - UPI - Jan.20.05...

... The Washington Post profiles Guillermo Soehnlein and the International Association of Space Entrepreneurs, which he founded: A Launching Pad for Space Entrepreneurs - Washington Post - Jan.20.05.

1:55 am: News briefs... Seems like we should first get our money's worth out of the current generation of heavy lifters before we start building an even bigger launcher, which many space advocates claim is needed for the VSE missions: Difficult times for heavy-lift rockets - New Scientist - Jan.19.05 ...

... Here's a review of the new book Rocket Science (Amazon) by Alfred J. Zaehringer, who was interviewed on the Space Show earlier this month: Book Review: Rocket Science - Universe Today - Jan.19.05 ...

... NASA decides it's better to focus on two shuttles rather than three: Workers shift to Discovery, Atlantis: Endeavour employees will labor on shuttles first in line to fly - Florida Today - Jan.18.05 ...

... The Air Force gets serious about major near space operations: Air Force may spread wings in near space - CNN.com - Jan.19.05 (Link via Ken Schweitzer.)

January 19, 2005

1:55 am: News briefs... Eric Anderson of Space Adventures answers questions about space tourism: Space Tourism: The Next Steps - SpaceDaily - Jan.19.05 ...

... Alan Boyle reports that plans for the first X PRIZE Cup event will be decided in the next week or so: Off to the space races! - Cosmic Log/MSNBC - Jan.18.05 ...

... This is an important year for the VSE to get going: NASA's future tied to strong showing now, supporters say - Orlando Sentinel - Jan.17.05....

... I hope that "new ways of looking at human spaceflight" will happen at NASA: Time for decisions: NASA should think outside the box as it develops its moon-Mars plan - Florida Today - Jan.18.05.

January 18, 2005

8:20 pm: News briefs... Irene Mona Klotz reports on Jeff Bezos and his rocket plans: Space Race 2: Bezos And Life Beyond Amazon - UPI/SpaceDaily - Jan.18.05 ...

... I was pointed to this thread for a suggestion on how the Falcon V could launch a crew: Gemini: We can rebuild it, we have the technology - Space.com Forum - Oct.18.04.

10:35 am Successful SpaceX engine test took place last Friday in Texas: Race for Next Space Prize Ignites - Wired - Jan.18.05. (Link via HS reader K. Luojus). This was apparently the first time the Merlin first stage engine fired without problems for the full 160 seconds required if the Falcon I is to get its payload to orbit.

Sure hope this gets them back on track for launching the Falcon I, and in turn the Falcon V. Elon says he will use the latter to take on America's Space Prize:

Musk told Wired News that he intends to win America's Space Prize, and that he can do it by the Jan. 10, 2010, deadline (that's when Bigelow wants to open his commercial space station for business). The space prize is right in line with Musk's business plan. "We hope to be the company that takes people back and forth from Earth to either the International Space Station or to Bigelow's space station, or to applications we don't know about today," said Musk. Ultimately, though, his ambitions extend beyond even orbit. "I think it's very important that we become a spacefaring civilization, and that we eventually become multiplanetary."

... So it looks like the US will have a manned spaceship in the 2010-2014 gap between the end of the Shuttle program and the start of CEV operations regardless of what happens at NASA: NASA seeks spaceship proposals Two teams to be chosen - LA Daily News - Jan.18.05. (Link via spacetoday.net)

2:35 am: News briefs... On the SpaceShow this evening at 7:00-8:15 pm (Pacific Time), David Livingston will interview James Nugyen, President of Odyssey Space Lines. Nugyen is "a space entrepreneur with over 16 years of business experience." (The imagery and video look a lot like that from the old Space Cruiser proposal from Vela Technology.) More info in the newsletter ...

... NASA engineers struggle to fully understand and quantify the impact threat to the Shuttle wing's leading edges: STS-114 Shuttle Report | NASA struggles to define shuttle impact damage threat - Spaceflight Now - Jan.17.05 ...

... The NY Times reports on Bezo's Texas space base plans: Add to Your Shopping Cart: A Trip to the Edge of Space - NY Times - Jan.18.05.

January 17, 2005

1:35 pm: News briefs... The building blocks for Boeing's Space Exploration System are laid out in this Media Gallery. (Link via N. Rogers)...

... Taylor Dinerman analyses the new SpaceX/SSTL connection: SpaceX buys into SSTL - The Space Review - Jan.17.05. ...

... Sam Dinkin discusses the possibilities of systems that might someday provide "space-based and lunar-based catapult launches": Night on the lunar railroad - The Space Review - Jan.17.05. ...

... More about the launch of the X PRIZE Cup as early as this year: X Prize Cup may start in Sept. - Las Cruces Sun-News - Jan.13.05.

2:35 am: News briefs... "Space tourism is less than three years away", according to Richard Branson: Virgin boss unveils space trips - BBC - Jan.16.05...

... Space Transport gets its X PRIZE entry launched by Estes ...

... NASA says it is "wired for success": The Vision for Space Exploration: A Progress Report - NASA/SpaceRef - Jan.14.05 ...

... We will find out whether it is truly rewired or just repackaged when the agency picks "two industry teams this summer to build prototypes of the Crew Exploration Vehicle": NASA: Space plans to firm up - Florida Today - Jan.14.05. Will NASA choose two of the usual suspects or will it choose at least one new organization that can actually produce a vehicle that's practical and cost effective? Stay tuned...

January 14, 2005

1:05 pm: News briefs... More about Blue Origin : Amazon CEO chooses nowhere for space program - The Register - Jan.14.05. (I'm sure West Texans love headlines like that.) Amazon CEO gives us peek into space plans - The Seattle Times - Jan.14.05. ...

... The Van Horn report believes the project wll "move a little faster than they're letting on." I'm also guessing that the "six or seven years" time frame for tourist flights is an exaggeration to reduce press focus and attention on the project. ...

... Peter Diamandis talks about the X PRIZE teams staying in the suborbital spaceflight game: Other X Prize Teams Pressing On Toward Flight, Diamandis Says - Aviation Week - Jan.14.05.

12:45 am: More dot.com spacers... The X PRIZE Foundation has announced that Larry Page, co-founder and president of Google and a billionaire after the company recently went public, will become a trustee of the foundation. Also, SpaceX chief Elon Musk joined along with Jack Bader of St. Louis based NetEffects.com.

Blue Origin to Fly Up from Texas

12:10 am: Blue Origin launches in West Texas... Jeff Bezos has revealed that Blue Origin will build a suborbital spaceflight facility at his huge ranch in West Texas. Alan Boyle gives details in Amazon founder unveils space center plans: Bezos’ Blue Origin venture - MSNBC - Jan.13.05 (plus an entry at Cosmic Log).

Earlier in the week, Bezos had given the news to a local Texas paper: Blue Origin picks Culberson County for space site - Van Horn [Texas] Advocate, Newspaper - Jan.05.(Space Race News reprint.)

The company will operate a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle (VTVL) from the site. Negotiations have begun with FAA/AST for a spaceport license. Vehicle development, however, looks to be stretched out since the article says, "Flight operations could begin in as soon as six or seven years."

Note that both TGV Rockets and Armadillo Aerospace could be flying VTVL vehicles to 100Km in two to three years. The air launched SpaceShipTwo is expected to begin operations by 2008.

(Link to the story via Ken Schweitzer.)

January 13, 2005

3:15 pm: News briefs... Robert Zimmerman reviews what might happen in the coming year with regard to various space programs and projects: Space Watch: The outlook for 2005 - UPI - Jan.13.05 ...

... Space Race News reprints a couple of items related to the X PRIZE Cup and New Mexico. The governor appoints a new director of space commercialization and this brief item from a TV station confuses the X PRIZE and Cup formats. It does give the somewhat surprising news that the first Cup event might happen as early as this September. I wasn't expecting it before 2006.

2:15 am: News brief... Brazilian spaceport offered for space tourism operations: Brazil gears up for commercial spaceport - UPI/Washington Times - Jan.13.05

2:15 am: Eclipsing old aerospace... I recently commented in the Space Log section about the development of the Eclipse Very Light Jet and how that company's struggles compared to those of the alt.space firms that want to prove that space hardware can be built far cheaper than it usually is.

The article Cheap Jet Update - Forbes - Jan.10.05 underscores this theme. The author highlights the "hyperconservative" nature of the business jet industry, which is reluctant to upgrade its technology and manufacturing methods because it doesn't believe a market will appear if lower prices are offered.

"Thus bizjets remain inefficiently manufactured; costs and prices remain high; and the pool of buyers stays small. We have here a classic case of self-fulfilling prophecy."

This reminds me of stories I heard about the DC-X team that tried to convince MacDonald Douglas management to pursue RLV development on its own. The managers just couldn't believe that a market would appear that would demand enough flights of a low cost, low margin reusable vehicle to make up for the lost revenue from no longer launching their high cost, high profit ELVs.

Eclipse already has 1400 orders and the company says it will break even at just 500 because of advanced manufacturing techniques like friction-stir wielding. If the Eclipse succeeds in making money, perhaps it will shake up not just the bizjet industry but all of aerospace.

P.S. This project also highlights a point made by Elon Musk in my interview with him and also by Burt Rutan in his presentation at the Space Frontier meeting - projects need to start off with sufficient "capital to reach the finish line". Unexpected setbacks are bound to occur and money will be needed to overcome them.

January 12, 2005

7:35 pm Shuttle tech - the sounds of the 70s ... The Wall Street Journal has an article (subscription required) about the bankruptcy of the last company in the world making high quality tape for reel-to-reel recorders. That's bad news for audiophiles who claim music on such tape "confers a warmth and richness to recordings" not found in digital files.

It also turns out to be bad news for NASA:

"The crunch reaches far beyond the recording industry. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration uses Quantegy tape on its space shuttles to record information ranging from pressure to temperature. This week NASA has been trying to buy 20 reels from Quantegy."

I don't think this is because sensor data on tape has greater warmth and richness but is just another sad sign of the obsolescence of shuttle technology.

2:55 pm: News brief... SpaceX plus Surrey Satellite pursue smallsat/low cost launcher synergy: Surrey Satellite Technology Limited sells stake to SpaceX: Deal unites firms with shared vision of affordable access to space - Univ. of Surrey - Jan.11.05. (via spacetoday.net).

1:35 pm: News briefs... Found via a news group posting, here's an article about the Falcon I launch delay: First TacSat launch delayed till March - GCN - Jan.4.05 ...

... Comments to the House of Representatives by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher about the "frontiers of imagination": ‘A Second Kind of Frontier’: The X Prize Triumph and the Future of Space Travel - The New Atlantis -Fall2004/Winter2005 issue (via spacetoday.net).

10:15 am: SS2 to CEV ... Buzz Aldrin and Taylor Dinerman, who has a regular column in the Space Review, have an opinion piece today in the Wall Street Journal: 2005: A Space Odyssey by - WSJ.com - Jan.11.05 (subscription required). They advocate that NASA take advantage of the development of space tourism vehicles for the CEV.

They point out that though there is a big hurdle to jump from suborbital operations to orbit, "Mr. Rutan, and Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, might, if they move one stage at a time, develop a craft that could actually reach orbit." They go on to say:

The embryonic space-tourism industry gives NASA new alternatives for spacecraft development. Future versions of SS1, or a Multipurpose Crew Module, could be the basis for a versatile yet low-cost NASA CEV. One version could carry six to eight astronauts from Earth into orbit. This could fulfill all personnel transport roles of the CEV and could even be used on the Moon itself, as the crew compartment of a manned Lunar rover. These vehicles would share the same pressurized shell, similar life-support systems, and a standardized docking mechanism and attachment points for attitude control and propulsion thrusters. Most important, they'd all be built on the same production line.

If it is to succeed, evolved versions of this craft will remain in production for 40 or 50 years. If NASA and industry can get the design right today, the payoff over the life of the program will be huge. On the other hand, any mistakes made in the early phase will lead to delays and increased costs that could cripple future exploration missions. Relatively small entrepreneurs might be able to do the work faster, and at less cost, than the aerospace giants, but they'd need a less bureaucratic contracting system than the one that exists today.

This is, of course, music to my ears. We can hope that NASA will be more amenable to taking advantage of privately developed hardware than it was in the 1980s when it actively discouraged suggestions that it use the Industrial Space Facility, a low cost space station developed by a company led by Max Faget.

2:35 am: News briefs ... Irene Mona Klotz reports on the new Space Transportation Policy: Space Race 2: The feds weigh in - UPI - Jan.11.05. Klotz, by the way, is also editor of the NSS Ad Astra magazine. ...

... Alan Boyle provides some miscellaneous space tourism news and he reports that the da Vinci WildFire won't fly until this spring at the earliest: Stay tuned on space tourism - Cosmic Log/MSNBC - Jan.11.05 ...

... I linked to a Wired article on Richard Branson back on Dec. 28th (I probably got the link from spacetoday.net) but a scan of various space blogs shows that the article wasn't noticed much till this week. Here it is again in case you missed it: Rocket Man: Richard Branson conquered the world. Now he wants to fly you to space. - Wired - Jan.05 issue.

January 11, 2005

2:15 am: News briefs ... Blue Origin is offering student internships for this summer: June - August 2005. I can't swear to it but it seems like the Jobs listing has also gotten longer since the last time I checked it ...

... I mentioned it in jest to someone recently but maybe it's not such a crazy idea if the Space Access Society organized a job fair session at its April meeting. I know of at least half a dozen start-up rocket companies looking for people....

... Here's an interesting article on how high-def video was shot of the SS1 flights: Fujinon's 101x Zoom Lens Captures "X-PRIZE" Event: Science Channel and CNN use "breakthrough" lens to capture space launch - HollywoodIndustry.com - Jan.10.05 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... Jeff Foust notes the use of state tax credits by Rocketplane Ltd. in comments about the article in Space Review on the effectiveness of such credits in spurring space commercialization: Can tax credits work? - Space Politics - Jan.10.05

January 10, 2005

2:35 pm: News brief... Maybe there will soon be an index fund called The Alt.Space Top 20: Stocks' Final Frontier - Motley Fool - Jan.10.05. (Via a HS reader.)

1:55 pm: News brief... "XCOR Aerospace was at the heart of the legislative battle to open doors to commercial space travel": Bill boosts space tourism - Antelope Valley Press - Jan.10.05.

12:45 pm: News briefs... Rocketplane Ltd. has another update to their web site. See, for example, enhanced pages on the spaceplane specs, crew training and flight reservations (Item via Space Race News) ...

... Looks like the VSE is becoming firmly entrenched: NASA Uses Budgetary Authority To Shift Funds Toward Exploration Vision - Space News/Space.com - Jan.10.05 ...

... From the Operating Plan Expenditures spreadsheet file it appears that the Crew Exploration Vehicle program at $421.9M gets most of what was requested but the Centennial Challenges competitions program is getting an allocation of only $9.7M from a $20M request ...

... A.J. Mackenzie looks at the question of how the US government can best encourage commercial space development. Tax incentives may be less useful than providing demand for space goods and services: Tax policy and space commercialization - The Space Review - Jan.10.05.

12:45 am: News briefs ... If Virgin Galactic ever needs any extra funding, there will be plenty in Branson's Virgin Group piggy bank: Branson stands to gain $1bn from US flotation - Telegraph/Space Race News! - Jan.9.05 ...

... Also via X PRIZE Space Race News comes a tip on updates at Starchaser regarding engine development, a used engine collection, and upkeep of the Nova/Starchaser 4 rocket...

... There was an entry at Slashdot a few months ago about a demonstration at MIT of a space elevator type "lifter". Due to the traffic I couldn't reach the photo page at the time but I see that it is now available: LiftPort photo gallery :: Lifter Demo at MIT - Nov.04 ...

... By the way, LiftPort has created a "fan club" that you can join called the LiftPort Lounge. Membership includes some cool space elevator gifts. ...

... The astronauts just want to get going: Astronauts Express Confidence in Safety of Planned Mission - The New York Times - Jan.8.05.

January 9, 2005

1:30 am: News briefs ... Here's an interesting profile of John Carmack: 'Doom' creator also a space revolutionary: John Carmack exploded onto the scene with a revolutionary video game. But he's also fueled by a passion for rocketry. - Dallas News - Jan.9.05 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... ZERO-G seems to be attracting customers: Journey leaves her floating on air - Arizona Republic - Jan.9.05:

My legs shook as I left the plane. Mission accomplished. I had faced down my fears, had experienced unbelievable fun and fulfilled my oldest, wildest dream. More importantly, I had taken one small step toward spaceflight.

(via spacetoday.net) ...

... The Falcon I is taking longer than expected to make its first launch but I'm sure it is this kind of glitch that SpaceX engineers are hoping to avoid: Fuel sensors halt Delta 4 engines too early - Florida Today - Jan.7.05....

... Jon Goff at Masten Space Systems gives an update on their igniter project: Igniter Project Status - MSS blog - Jan7.05.

January 7, 2005

5:30 pm: News briefs ... The importance placed on the commercial sector in the new space transportation policy guidelines is highlighted in these comments: Space Foundation releases statement on new U.S. Space Transportation Policy - Space Foundation - Jan.6.05 * Space policy goes private: The White House blueprint includes strong support for commercialization - OrlandoSentinel - Jan.6.05. ...

... I wonder if Roskosmos offers an electronic ticket option or just paper? Maybe US astronauts can just swipe their credit card in the machine next to the launch tower in Baikonur: Ticketed Passengers Only Aboard Soyuz, Says Roskosmos - Space.com - Jan.7.04 * Russia To End Free Space Rides for US Astronauts - Technology News - Dec.28.04 ...

... That just makes NASA even happier to see all the parts for the Return-to-Flight arrive at the Cape: STS-114 Shuttle Report | All elements in place for shuttle's return to flight - Spaceflight Now/NASA - Jan.6.05

January 6, 2005

7:15 pm: VSE status and space transport policy... Robert Zimmerman notes in Space Watch: Bush 43 vs. Bush 41 in space - UPI - Jan.6.05 that despite flaws in implementation (e.g. a long needed "wholesale housecleaning" of NASA management has unfortunately not happened yet), the President's space initiative looks to be solidly on track. ...

... And speaking of space policy, the White House has released a formal set of guidelines for both civil and military space transportation programs: U.S. Space Transportation Policy Fact Sheet 6 January 2005 - SpaceRef/Office Science & Tech. Policy - Jan.6.05.[pdf]

As Jeff Foust notes - Space transportation policy finally done - Space Politics - Jan.6.05 - the administration maintains many existing policies such as supporting both the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 EELV programs. The policy also is consistent with previous plans to fly the Shuttle until 2010 (so that NASA can finish the ISS assembly) and to develop the CEV by 2014. The famous four year gap with no US human spaceflight capability remains.

The Commercial Space Transportation section is quite encouraging. It says the US Government is "committed to encouraging and facilitating a viable U.S. commercial space transportation industry that supports U.S. space transportation goals, benefits the U.S. economy, and is internationally competitive."

It instructs the government, for example, to purchase "commercially available U.S. space transportation products and services to the maximum extent possible, consistent with mission requirements and applicable law."

We can hope this modifies NASA's well known obliviousness to the space transport development activity in the private sector. Ideally it would simply state what space transport services it needed, e.g. X number of astronauts delivered per year to the ISS, and give the contract to the lowest bidder, regardless of the system used by the company.

However, I expect that NASA managers will only see the word "develop" in the instruction that the agency "maintain the capability to develop, evolve, operate, and purchase services for those space transportation systems, infrastructure, and support activities necessary to meet civil requirements, including the capability to conduct human and robotic space flight for exploration, scientific, and other civil purposes."

7:15 pm: Rocketing employment... And speaking of space transport companies, they are now in hiring mode: X Prize launches spaceport hiring boom - Antelope Valley Press/Space Race News- Jan.6.05. I hear XCOR, for example, is looking for composite engineers and technicians.

5:10 pm: News briefs ... Well, speak of the devil, John posted a brief update today and said they will be "hot-firing the vehicle engine" this weekend: Almost ready - Armadillo Aerospace - Jan.5.05. This refers to a "mixed monoprop, now with the mini-nozzles" according to a Q&A posting...

... The first SpaceX Falcon I launch is now expected in March: Astronotes: Private Rocket Liftoff Pushed to March - Space.com - Jan.6.05. A pad firing test must be carried out before then.

1:05 am: Slow week on the space transport news front. I expect things to pick up soon as several projects (e.g. da Vinci/GoldenPalace) start to carry out test flights ...

... John Carmack appears to be focused currently on a programming priority at his day job and will eventually return to giving us updates on Armadillo's progress: Armadillo Q&A Thread - Dec.22.04 ...

... One slightly space transport related item involves SpaceDev's hybrid motors, like the ones that propelled the SS1. They may be used to power the Aussie Invader 2, which will attempt to set a new land speed record: Aussie Goes for Rocket-Powered World Land Speed Record, SpaceDev Expected to Provide Rocket Motors - SpaceDev - Jan.4.05 ...

... Maybe someday we will see an orbital "reusable" launch vehicle that doesn't require the arrival of a barge before every flight: Shuttle tank arrives at Kennedy Space Center - Spaceflight Now - Jan.5.05.

January 3, 2005

5:40 pm: Rockeplane Man... Rand Simberg interviews Mitchell Burnside Clapp of Rocketplane Ltd.

4:55 pm: News briefs ... Jim Muncy, who played a big role in the campaign for the Commercial Space Launch Admendments Act, reflects on its successful passsage and on the NASA budget: A tale of two victories - The Space Review - Jan.3.05...

... A NASA scientist believes the agency has made strong progress towards initiating the VSE: New NASA vision: Moon, Mars and a crew vehicle - Financial Express - Jan.3.05....

... Alfred J. Zaehringer, author of Rocket Science (Amazon) will be interviewed on the Space Show on Tuesday evening. Now retired, he was involved in many rocketry projects in the post-WW II period...

... Check out also John Garvey's recent interview, which is now available in the archive. His company, Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, collaborates with students at Cal State Long Beach. The team has succeeded with several ambitous rocket projects, including the first flight of a liquid propellant aerospike engine. He talks about the struggle to carry out these projects with very little funding. An interesting note is how the big aerospace companies have actually undercut them (by stealing away students and staff) rather than support their program.

January 1, 2005

11:35 pm: Alt.space timeline... I've assembled a timeline that lists some of the most significant developments in the alternative space development movement during 2004.

11:35 pm: X PRIZE fund raising... The X PRIZE Foundation raises over $30K from the public and this results in over $60K total with the matching grant: The $100,000 matching dollar challenge ended - Space Race News! - Jan.1.05.


Continue to December 2004

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