Access 2002 Review
Access Society meeting took place last week in Phoenix,
Arizona. Congratulations again to Henry Vanderbilt for bringing
in an impressive set of speakers.
Leonard David's review: Maverick
Rocketeers Pursue Cheap Space Access - Space.com - May.10.02
one and only purpose is to lower the barriers to space for those
who want to go. The primary barrier is cost, of course, but
regulations and attitudes (e.g. NASA's resistance to space tourism)
stand in the way as well. The talks and panel discussions addressed
all these issues.
came from a wide range of organizations including amateur rocketry
groups, aerospace startup companies, the FAA and NASA.
some general themes from the talks and discussions and then
review the highlights of the presentations.
Is Where It's At - the sub-orbital arena is no longer
discounted but is becoming the primary stage on which low cost
rocket vehicle concepts will prove themselves. Several groups
are aiming to build vehicles to address various sub-orbital
markets, which are looking stronger all the time.
The factor of 10 or so lower cost to reach 100km compared to
reaching orbit means the funding is far easier to obtain.
Tourism To the Rescue - Tito was in space during the
previous meeting and this year Shuttleworth headed for the ISS
on the day the meeting started. So while there were lots of discussion
on how big the space tourism market will be, especially with regard
to sub-orbital flights, there was no argument that it exists and
will contribute to the development of a commercial RLV industry.
Stuff! - as shown by Armadillo and XCOR, it's tremendously
important to actually build real stuff. Studies and simulations
are fine for setting general parameters and designs, but to learn
tough lessons you must build and test against hard reality. Failures,
essential to the process, will show exactly where one's boundaries
of understanding lie and thus serve to expand them. Incremental
improvements and cheap spares will keep the process going and
not leave one stuck on the ground learning nothing, i.e. the DC-X
vs X-33 experiences.
To Space Sooner - the Oklahoma
Spaceport just opened but already is helping the cause
of cheap access to space. The amateur group JP
Aerospace, in fact, helped to inaugurate the spaceport. OSIDA
( Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority) assisted Armadillo
Aerospace in obtaining FAA approval to test its high altitude
VTVL vehicles after getting turned down for tests in Texas. Pioneer,
TGV and other groups may get tax credits from the state if they
base their construction and operations there.
for XCOR - everybody is very happy about XCOR's success
with the EZ-Rocket and are rooting for the company's continued
progress. After the disappointing failure of Rotary Rocket (from
which many of the XCOR people came) and other small RLV projects,
it was a great morale boost to see the EZ-Rocket on CNN and to
hear news announcers talking about cheap access to space.
Several talks involved projects
aimed at developing sub-orbital RLVs:
- The EZ-Rocket
was intended only as technology demonstrator, primarily of the
company's low cost rocket engines. The company is continuing to
develop more powerful engines and other systems (see the recent
announcement). It was also recently included on one of the
selected for DARPA's RASCAL
XCOR is now planning a suborbital
vehicle but in keeping with XCOR's tradition, the company
will not say much about it until they actually have some hardware
Rocketplane - Mitchell Burnside Clapp talked about
the company's XP vehicle. It is basically a 50% scale version
of the Pathfinder but doesn't need aerial refueling to reach 100km.
It uses turbojets for takeoff and landing and a rocket to reach
He seemed far more optimistic this time about the viability of
than in previous presentations.
He also discussed the RASCAL design study contract. He thought
the goal of putting a 75kg payload into orbit at an average cost
of $750k was quite challenging but believes they can do it.
He talked a bit about the "mass injection" technique
that DARPA wants used to boost the turbojet thrust. In this technique,
water or some other fluid is sprayed into the inlet of the jet.
This cools the air which in turn allows more fuel to be injected
at a later stage. The combination of higher mass and higher temperatures
should provide significantly more thrust.
Rockets - Pat Bahn only briefly discussed the TGV
vehicle. He mostly discussed the Oklahoma support for RLV's and
the efforts to get US funding for state spaceport projects.
- Ed Wright reported on progress in the past year in developing
a "rocket racing" sport. Sub-orbital rockets would race
each other simultaneously or separately against a time clock.
The emphasis now is in developing a fleet of rockets and a "spacebase"
where people would come to see them race. (The base would also
feature amusement park type "space" rides and so forth.)
The "Arcangel" concept design would reach Mach 2 and
go to about 65km during a 17min flight.
- a panel discussion about RLV regulations included Joe Hawkins
of the AST
office at the FAA. He seemed quite interested in the experiences
in dealing with the FAA and the suggestions of the other panelists
that included John Carmack, Randal Clague (ERPS) and Mitch Clapp.
He emphasized that the office must insure the public safety but
also by law must encourage the development of the industry.
There were several panel discussions
on markets and the investment situation. Although the collapse of
the LEO mobile satellite constellations made space project financing
very difficult, there are nonetheless promising markets in development,
especially on the short term for sub-orbitals:
Tourism - the Shuttleworth flight highlighted the progress
made in legitimizing the concept of space tourism, especially
with at least 3 other people trying to get on the next Soyuz mission
in the autumn. The fact that Space
Adventures has had nearly 100 people place deposits on a $98k
sub-orbital "experience" is also very encouraging. (Pioneer
and several other RLV vehicle companies have signed contracts
with Space Adventures that will come into effect when the vehicles
- Pat Bahn of TGV rockets discussed the advantages of using sub-orbitals
for imaging at last
years meeting and the prospects for this have only
& Other Scientific Services - these include a wide
range of R&D services with sub-orbital RLV vehicles such as
running microgravity experiments, validation of equipment going
to the ISS or on scientific probes, astronomical observations,
- the millions of dollars paid to place logos on the sides of
racing cars are essential in supporting the sport. Similar logos
on the sides of rockets could help pay for their development.
Like the Pepsi name placed on the Russian launcher a few years
ago, this could become a common technique to bring in a few extra
Payloads to Orbit - the suborbitals can also act as
reusable first stage vehicles for small expendable second stages
that place microsats into orbit as in the RASCAL program. There
are many micro and nano-sat projects that would love a cheap ride
to space. These projects range from amateur and student satellites
to technical demonstrators for the military to commercial satellites
(such as low cost constellations proposed for tracking, meter
Aerospace - John Carmack gave a review of his group's
progress in the past year. Although they have not yet flown a
person even for a short hop, he feels they are on track to send
a person to high altitudes by 2003.
He and his group of volunteers carried out many, many tests of
engines and protoype VTVL vehicles since the last SAS meeting.
(See the super video now posted on the Armadillo website that
shows highlights of their test flights.)
He emphasized that he believes that hardware tests are far superior
to endless simulations for learning what's really going on and
how to move to the next level.
Also, he finds that costs are nowhere near as high as he expected
either for materials or for machine shop work (they mostly do
their own shop work but did contract out a few jobs.)
The engines so far are monopropellant hydrogen peroxide engines
and they have extensively studied different approaches to building
the silver catalyst packs.
For the high altitude manned vehicles, they are currently looking
at a rocket tipped rotor system similar to Rotary Rockets. He
said such a system would make the reentry process much easier
than multiple stages of parachutes and rocket firings.
He also discussed his dealings with the FAA in trying, but failing,
to get permission to do high altitude flight tests in Texas. He
later negotiated with the Oklahoma
spaceport who helped in arranging waivers to do his tests
at their site.
- This group wants to be the first amateur organization to put
a payload into orbit. Their basic approach is to use a balloon
to carry the rocket
to 30k meters or so and then fire it from there. (A rockoon
is the traditional name for this type of system.)
John Powell reported on the history of their tests and their future
plans. Their previous
systems involved the platform hanging a couple hundred meters
below the balloons so that the rocket, which is tilted to a small
angle at launch, misses the balloons when it fires.
The current designs involve a balloon structure or wide platform
from which rocket launches and other high altitude operations
can be performed. They have started tests of these Dark
Sky Stations (DSS). (See also the 3D
interactive simulation and animations.)
A DSS flight was intended for the inauguration of the Oklahoma
Spaceport but was canceled due to high winds. The flight involved
project in which paper airplanes made by Oklahoma school children
were to be released at 25km or so. Instead they were released
at lower altitude by a weather balloon.
Another clever educational project is called PongSat.
A pongsat is created by cutting a table tennis ball in half and
letting a student put whatever experiment he or she can think
of into it and then resealing it. The pongsat will then be taken
up by a high altitude balloon or a sounding rocket and later recovered.
So far, several hundred students are taking up the challenge.
- The Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society reported on their
various projects, especially the recent flights of their KISS
rocket.The hydrogen peroxide monopropellant vehicle was flown
three times over one weekend. They simply refilled the tank each
time after the rocket parachuted back to earth.
There is a tilt within the
SAS towards the view that cheap access to space will first be achieved
with small payload vehicles financed by private investors. However,
people are certainly willing to listen to proposals for large, ambitious
vehicles whose development costs would reach several billion dollars
and so could only be financed by a government source, mostly likely
NASA in its quest for a space shuttle replacement.
There were two presentations
for vehicles of this type:
Access - Mike Wade gave a lengthy review of the
history of Space Access since it started in 1994. Many in the
company came from the National Aerospace Plane project and so
were experts in air-breathing engines. Their SA-1 vehicle uses
a ramjet to power a horizontal first stage to high altitude where
it releases a rocket-powered second stage that goes to LEO.
Most of the story dealt with endless battles with NASA and the
Air Force over bids for particular projects (e.g. they tried to
make the Air Force consider their vehicle for the EELV funds)
or over ownership of intellectual property. Recently, they fought
with DARPA over IP questions with regard to their selection in
the RASCAL project design phase.
Despite passing many intensive technical reviews over the years,
NASA has apparently never given the SA-1 genuine consideration
and continues to say that a shuttle replacement isn't feasible
before 2015 or even later. (It reminds me of a receiver in football
who is always open but no matter how much he jumps up and down
and waves his arms, the quarterback won't throw him the ball because
he isn't the receiver the quarterback wants to throw to.)
Space & Tech - Joe Hopkins gave a status report
on the Andrews TSTO system that initally flies subsonically with
turbojets for 3 hours or so to liquify oxygen from the air and
then uses this with LH to power a rocket engine. A second stage
is released at high altitude to take a payload on to orbit.
Air Collection and Enrichment System (ACES) is the key technology
and the company is building a ground system to prove that it can
achieve the required perfomance within the required weight limits.
topics of interest:
- Jordin Kare gave a review of this fascinating vehicle
design that he and colleges at Lawrence Livermore
Lab developed in 1994. The vehicle's only purpose
was to prove that single stage to orbit and return
The bowling pin shaped vehicle stood only 5 meters
tall. It was 1 meter in diameter at the bottom and
then tapered to a sharp point at the top. It took
off on the thrust of 8 engines designed for low altitudes
and then switched to a single central engine for high
altitudes. The oxidiser was 98% H2O2 for JP-5 fuel.
A super lightweight approach, such as very thin walls
that served as both hull and fuel tanks, would be
needed to achieve a dry mass of 75kg and a liftoff
weight of 1500kg. Since it was only meant as a SSTO
demo, the fact that it could only take a kg or so
of payload was not important (they also called the
vehicle the "Bricklifter"). For return an
unbrella like shield opened up on the bottom to act
as an aerobrake.
The project was actually approved by the missile defense
chief at the time and would have cost about $20M.
But the project was canceled when the BMDO leader
Kare says there will soon be a document posted on
the web that gives details about the project.
Propulsion - Kare also spoke about laser
propulsion as he did last year. The technology is
being given increasing scrutiny and there will be
a conference on it this autumn at MSFC.
He said previous designs required very high power
lasers that could only possibly be funded by military
programs, especially by missile defense programs.
However, he has now shown that low cost laser diode
arrays can be clustered into many "searchlight"
type beams. An array of 20,000 such beams would provide
100MW of laser power and could be built for about
$2 billion. Such a system could send a continual stream
of 140kg payload packages to orbit.
Gerald A. Smith, formerly a professor of physics
State University, and now at Synergistic
Technologies in Los Alamos, N.M, is involved with
funded by NASA and the Air Force. Last year he
spoke primarily about efforts to collect and use antiprotons.
This year he emphasized positrons, which are somewhat
easier to produce and collect. It appears that it
will be possible to produce milli-grams per year of
positrons, which would allow for some interesting
Other topics - Dave Salt spoke again about
what's happening in European RLV development (not
much) and also on a systematic approach to assessing
& Randa Milliron of Interorbital
Systems talked about their Tonga spaceport for
their RLV and signing up Wally Funk for an orbital
Nordley described a rotating tether system (See the
HASTOL design at Tethers
Unlimited) that would allow payloads to be "thrown"
from earth to the Moon or Mars where matching systems
would "catch" them.
See previous articles in the