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The Space Gazette

Space for Everyone      -        July 31, 2001     -         Vol. 1 No. 3

RLV News - Rocketry - Future

Rocket Racers at the Starting Line

EZ-Rocket piloted by Dick Rutan
EZ-Rocket piloted by Dick Rutan. The modified EZ-Long plane
is powered by two 400 lb thrust XCOR Aerospace engines.
XCOR Photo.

Rocket racing has now moved from the highly speculative to the highly likely. In the coming year we will see vehicle flight demonstrations at air shows and the development of racing events.

Dick Rutan, who won fame with the first non-stop, round-the-world flight on the Voyager aircraft (now in the Air & Space Museum), began test flying the EZ-Rocket in July 2001. The first flight of a few hundred feet went smoothly.

The EZ-Rocket is a modified version of a EZ-Long plane. Instead of being pushed by a propeller engine, it's hurried along by two 400lb thrust XCOR Aerospace engines.

X- Rocket, the Experimental Rocket Racing Association, sent out a press release on July 28, 2001 declaring that the EZ-Rocket would tour the airshow circuit in 2002. The craft will lead to racing events such as vertical drag racing. Initally, this will involve attacks on vertical climb world records.

Rocket Shows

Edward Wright first proposed rocket racing at the Space Frontier Conference 9 in October 2000. As outlined in the white paper Aerospace Racing paper, the goal is to follow the example of air racing, which led development of advanced aviation technology during the 1920's and 1930s when government investment in aviation was quite small.

Even today, airshows are one of the top spectator sports with typically several hundred thousand people coming to see the air races, acrobatic flying, military teams like the Blue Angels, and other exhibitions over the course of several days. The addition of rocket vehicle events should arouse an enthusiastic reception.

Reliable Rockets?

The EZ-Rocket will provide a testbed to develop safe, reusable, and low cost rocket technology. A prime motivation of the rocket racing promoters, in fact, is to demonstrate that rocket vehicles are not inherently unsafe and unreliable.

The common perception of a rocket as always on the hairy edge of existence comes from the many scenes over the years of catastophic launch failures (see links to rocket blast videos in MultiMedia.)

However, the usual cause of a failure is not the rocket engine or motor itself but some other component such as a flight control system. The spectacular explosions, in turn, are primarily due to the explosives placed on a vehicle and triggered by a range officer when it begins to go off course.

Furthermore, the failed vehicles were typically expendable rockets on their first and only test flight. Expendables come from a missile heritage which in turn rose from artillery. They are built with the least amount of redundancy possible to reduce costs while maximizing performance for their single flight. Less than perfect reliability is inevitable under such conditions.

The partially reusable shuttle system involves both solid rocket motors, i.e. the ones that failed on Challenger, and liquid fueled engines. Budget restraints forced NASA to choose this complicated hybrid system, which involves lots of tradeoffs and narrow safety margins. The engines notoriously push the limits on performance and many assumed initially that they must have caused the Challenger failure.

In fact, though, rockets can be just as reliable as jet engines when designed and operated within significant safety margins. For example, a version of the Mirage jet fighter used by the Swiss Air Force for decades, safely employed rocket boosters for takeoffs from short landing strips.

Fully reusable rocket vehicles can be tested extensively and incrementally, slowly expanding their flight envelope just as is done with jet planes. The X-15 followed such a program for nearly a decade.

Rocket powered vehicles like the EZ-Rocket should help both in changing the perceptions of rockets and in improving the reusable rocket technology.

[Revised Aug.1.01]

Activism - Investing

Activists Push Space Legislation

It use to be that space activism in the US just meant writing your congress-person once a year to support more funding for NASA. Now activism can extend to involvement in space projects completely independent of NASA or other government agencies. Activists support a wide array of projects such as amateur satellites, advanced rocketry, simulated Mars habitats and more.

Nevertheless, politics and multi-billion dollar US space expendentures are not ignored. While most activists still want a robust NASA budget, the political efforts now concentrate on helping private space companies accomplish what NASA has failed to do: provide low cost access to space and establish a sustainable commercial manned space environment.

Four bills have been introduced to Congress recently that give serious support to private space developments:

  • Space Tourism Promotion Act - H.R. 2443 - seeks to stimulate the development of space tourism by means of guaranteed loans, tax credits, establishment of a "straightforward and predictable regulatory structure". However, US govenment space vehicles and the US modules of the Space Station could not be used by anyone except officially permitted visitors. Sponsored by Rep. Nick Lampson (D-TX)

  • Zero Gravity, Zero Tax Bill - H.R. 2504 - space-related income excluded from gross income for calculating income taxes for 10 years, except for income from space-based telecommunications, remote-sensing , and space launch companies currently in business. Also, it provides $100 million in tax credits for investments in new space enterprises. No capital gains tax on the sale of the stock for a period of 10 years. Sponsored by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Ca).

  • Invest in Space Now Act - H.R. 2177 - provide tax credits to investments in qualified new space launch vehicles. The sliding scale would drop from 50% of the value of the stock in 2002 to zero after 2010. Sponsored by Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.)

  • Spaceport Equality Act - H.R.1931 - commercial spaceports could be financed with bonds exempt from federal tax on their interest payments (i.e. like tax-free municipal bonds). Spaceports would thus recieve equal treatment as given to airports. Sponsored by Rep. Dave Weldon (R-Fla.).

Activist organizations such as ProSpace and the National Space Society have worked with Congress to develop and push these bills. These groups were instrumental in getting the Commercial Space Act of 1998 passed, which set various goals and guidelines for space commercialization of the ISS, space launches, and other space activities.

Find more info at:

[Revised Aug.3.01]

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Space Science - Activism

Devon Island Mars Habitat Webcams Now Online

After several weeks of working out the bugs, the webcams at the Devon Island Mars habitat simulation came online this week. Watch the Mars crew in action both inside and outside the habitat enclosure.

Satellite Watching - Astronomy

Heavens Above

The Heavens Above free website continues to expand its range of offerings for those interested in observing spacecraft.

By entering your geographic location and bookmarking the resulting page, you can quickly find what spacecraft will be visible during the coming evening.

The International Space Station, for example, is now one of the brightest objects in the sky. However, it passes overhead quickly and at different times. Heavens Above will provide a list of passes in the next 10 days and display a sky chart for each pass.

The free services also includes star charts, info on planet visibility, comet sightings, and more.

Music - History

Gemini 6:
First Space Jam?

Walter Schirra and Thomas Stafford donated their space harmonica & bells to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum. They played these musical instruments during a broadcast to Earth near Christmas time 1965, on their Gemini 6 mission.

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