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Reusable Launch & Space Transport Information
Part 1 - General Info, US Projects, X Prize
..
This animation shows how the three components of the reusable SpaceX Falcon 9 system -
the first and second stages of the rocket and the Dragon crew capsule -
will return back to the launch site with powered vertical landings.

A fully reusable launch system is the key to providing the low cost access to Space. Low cost access is in turn the key to extensive human exploration and settlement of the solar system.

The Space Shuttle succeeded technically as a partially reusable launcher but failed miserably economically. It required several thousand support personal and 2 months or more to rebuild a Shuttle for its next launch. Shuttle launch costs are roughly $20,000/kg, which is actually higher than most expendable launchers.

During the 1990s a number of RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) startup companies appeared due to the promise of a lucrative market for launching spacecraft for the low earth orbit communications constellations that were then in development. Unfortunately, the failures of Iridium, Globalstar, and the other constellations pulled the rug out from under these space transport companes and several disappeared or went into long-term limbo.

The failures of several NASA projects, such as the X-33 and X-34, also discouraged government investment in RLV technology. Bad design and poor management had more to do with these failure than technical challenges but they nevertheless convinced many in NASA and elsewhere that RLV technology was not at hand.

Currently (circa 2013), the most intense RLV development activity is taking place in the suborbital spaceflight area. These vehicles are primarily intended for space tourism but will also take over many of the scientific applications carried out by sounding rockets.

SpaceX has begun work on a "fully and rapidly" reusable Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon crew module system. They have been flying their Grasshopper prototype reusable first stage booster at their test site in McGregor, Texas. They also plan to begin to attempt powered controlled returns of their first stage booster to the sea surface after launches of the Falcon 9 v1.1. Once that is perfected, they will attempt to return the booster to the pad.

See SpaceX videos into a sequential playlist: SpaceX Grasshopper flights - YouTube. The list begins with the first brief test almost a year ago: Grasshopper Takes Its First Hop / 9-21-12 - YouTube

Here is a compilation of the first 6 Grasshopper flights plus clips of Elon Musk discussing the challenges and advantages of "fully and rapidly reusable" launch vehicles:

..

Blue Origin is also developing a reusable booster for their orbital crew module, though initially it will fly on the expendable Atlas V.

Thsi page provides resources about such RLV projects & technology present, past and future. The T sign indicates that a project has an entry in the RLV Table.

Also, included are in-space vehicles, which can be launched in different ways. For example, such a vehicle might be released in space from a shuttle or launched on top of an expendable. They might operate in space indefinitely or, in other cases, return to earth to be used again for crew transport.

See the New Launch Technologies section for resources related to new conventional expendable and partially reusable rocket vehicles. It also offers information and links dealing with non-rocket types of transport such as space elevators and laser launchers. See the Hypersonic Transport sections for resources related to scramjet vehicles.

Note: Many people complain that the term reusable launch vehicle is clumsy and archaic. We don't, after all, call airliners reusable takeoff vehicles! The RLV term helps to perpetuate the myth that every flight of a rocket powered vehicle is a lucky shot and that such craft will never attain the high reliability and lost cost operations of airliners.

However, in the next few years we will see robust and reliable rocket powered suborbital vehicles begin making daily flights, even multiple flights in a day. It will then seem rather silly to talk about countdowns and launches. They will simply takeoff when they are ready, just like any other flying vehicle.

There is not been put forward a generally accepted substitute term. The SpaceShipOne success argued for spaceship but it still isn't generally accepted. I'm gradually replacing the RLV terminology here with space transport. However, some other term, such as spaceliner, rocketship, etc , may eventually become the more popular choice.

See the RLV & Space Transport News section for the latest on the development of RLV and other space transportation technologies.


Page Directory

General

Competitions:

Cost Comparisons - How much does it cost to put a kilogram into space? Here are some various cost comparisons.

RLV Company and Link Lists

Regulatory, Legal & Safety Issues

Industry/Activist Organizations

Orbital RLV Projects in US

Suborbital RLV Projects
These companies/projects focus on sub-orbital launchers for commercial markets. Some of the teams participated in the X PRIZE, which was was won by the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne. We indicate here which of the projects were also X-PRIZE participants.

This list includes some non-US projects. Other non-US suborbital projects are listed in RLV Part 2. SThe Table compae some of the sub-orbital vehicles in development. News and resources about some of the suborbital companies can be found at Suborbital Vehicle Companies - Commercial Space Wiki.

Lunar Lander Challenge Teams
Low altitude competition for rocket powered VTVL vehicles. Sponsored by NASA.

Air Launched RLV Designs

Other RLV, SSTO Designs & Companies:

NASA

US Military

Other RLV sections:

 

The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey
NewSpace Watch at NSG

 

 

 

 

The Rocket Company
The Rocket Company

Fictionalized account of the challenges faced by a group of seven investors and their engineering team in developing a low-cost, reusable, Earth-to-orbit launch vehicle. Forward by Peter Diamandis
Amazon: US
UK

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon:UK
Amazon:UK
Amazon:UK
The Next Shuttle by Dave Ketchledge
 
 
 
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