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Reusable Launch Vehicle News
Archive: April-August 1999

Other RLV News sites:
RLV Alert at Spacer.com - Space Frontier Society -
Space Access Society Updates - X-33 History Timeline - July-Dec.1999

Note:These articles provide a sampling of developments in RLV technology during this time. Unfortunately, many of the links here will expire over time.

When the the links go dead, an attempt to "relink" them will be made if the pages can be found at a new location. Otherwise, the text will be disconnected but still shown in italics.

If you want to follow up on an interesting but disconnected item, there are a few possiblities:

  • Most of the Yahoo news items are based on press releases from companies, NASA or other agency. If you go to the website of the particular company
  • or institution involved, it may have the PR in its archive. Look for the News or Press Release page.

  • Many online newspapers break their links after a period of time but keep the articles in an archive. However, they often will charge for a search.

  • If all else fails, try Google
  • or other search engine using the title or keywords from the title.

Archives: RLV News Archive Directory

  January-March 2000
  Sept - Dec 1999

August 27, 1999

X-33 overruns make the headlines. The GAO (General Accounting Office) report mentioned below finds that the project is more than $300M over its initial cost and 16 months behind schedule. This was caused by problems with the development of the engines and hydrogen tanks. Also, the top speed will reach Mach 13 instead of Mach 15. (L.A.Times article says top speed is Mach 11.) The report has caught the attention of most major media outlets. e.g. [--Link Dead--]L.A. Times - Glitches Slow Rocket Plane Development * Space.com - Congressional Report Blasts X-33

See the recent SAS Bulletin for a perspective on the NASA approach to the X-33.

August 26, 1999

News briefs...Support for loan guarantees to private companies developing reusable launch vehicles is growing in Congress. ( [--Link Dead--]Space.com - Support for Space Launch Legislation Grows) Earlier versions of a proposed bill by Sen. John Breaux (D-Louisiana) were previously opposed by the small startup companies (e.g. Kelly and Rotary) due to fears it would only benefit Lockheed-Martin's VentureStar. However, changes in the bill plus continued difficulties in raising private funds has soften the opposition.

New Space Access Society bulletin reports on the 6th anniversary of the first flight of the DC-X, status of RLV funding in the current bills in Congress, Kistler status, Rotaryfunding, NASA search for shuttle replacement, and European RLV efforts.

X-33 is over-budget and behind schedule according to a GAO report. (SAS Bulletin , Rohrabacher statement at Reston.com )

August 25, 1999

NASA's X-Planes briefing promised that 2000 will be a busy year for RLV testing. The X-33 is on (a delayed) schedule for rollout in the 1st quarter of the year and first flight in the summer. Currently, there are no major problems with key components (but the engines begin testing soon and there could always be a surprise there.)

The weight problem seems to have been overcome and they vehicle has been steady at 75k lbs for sometime. I did not hear what top speed they would reach but would reach 50miles altitude. 15 flights are in the test program with a 2 day turnaround to be demonstrated once. [X-33 Slide Show ]

The X-34 will have 3 vehicles instead of 2. The A1 was intended for ground testing only but will now be modified for unpowered drop tests (and renamed the A1-A). These tests will be in early 2000. The A2 vehicle will have the Fastrac engine installed in the Spring and after ground firings, will be launched in the summer. A third vehicle will be available in late 2000 for flights going to Mach 10.

The X-37 currently has only 2 flights scheduled. In 2002 it will be taken up in a shuttle and released for a flight back to the ground. A mission in 2003 will be a long duration flight, relying on the solar panels paid for by the Air Force. It will also demonstrate that it can rendevous and inspect a satellite in LEO (Gee! I wonder why the Air Force is interested in that capability?)

See [--Link Dead--]Space.com - Air Force Needs Shape Newest NASA X Rocket * CNN - 'X' marks the future: NASA moves forward with space-planes - August 24, 1999 * SpaceViews Article: NASA, Orbital Revise X-34 Testing Schedule * [--Link Dead--]Space.com - X-34 Test Set, Experimenters Join Project * [--Link Dead--]Space.com - X-33 Project Races Toward First Test Flight Next Summer

August 20, 1999

Kistler K-1 is 75% complete according to a report at Space.com ([--Link Dead--]Money Tight for Kistler Aerospace-Space.com). The article discusses Kistler's hunt for funding to complete their development phase. Nothing said about the Saudi funding mentioned in the Aviation Week Space Business back in July. Perhaps it has either fallen through or they decided not to say more until the deal is finalized. (Recent print issues of AW&ST have not mentioned their interview with Mueller. Perhaps, it will be in the next quarterly issue of AW Space Business.) However, Kistler seems to be proceeding regardless and says they will be flying 10 months after funding is obtained.

NASA's Hyper-X/X-43A project receives the first Pegasus booster at Dryden Research Center according to a report at [--Link Dead--]Launchspace. After various tests the Orbital Science booster will be attached this fall to the second stage Hyper-X vehicle. Three separate such combinations will be launched from a B-52 starting next Spring to investigate hypersonic technologies. Although the vehicles will not be recovered, the information learned could lead to applications in future hypersonic reusable vechicles.

August 19, 1999

Kistler accelerates development of Nevada launch site. An [--Link Dead--]article in Space. com details Kistler's plan to use part of a former nuclear test site for its second launch facility after the one Woomera, Australia. Kistler recently raised sufficient capital to continue with its development plans.

Rotary Rocket will finish ATV flight tests but will cease operations by end of year without new funds appearing. [--Link Dead--]Space.com - Tom Clancy-supported Spaceship Ready to Resume Flight Tests.

X-37 and Boeing RLV strategy in Aviation Week, Aug. 2, 1999 issue. Boeing is involved in both NASA's X-37 and the Air Force's X-40A . Both are mini-shuttle type lifting bodies. The X-40A is a prototype vehicle that was dropped from a B-52 in August 1998. The X-37 will be 20% bigger than the X-40A. (The Air Force is also contributing funds to the X-37.) It will undergo not only atmospheric drop tests but also will be taken to orbit aboard a shuttlein late 2002 and will fly back to earth on its own.

The X-37 is part of NASA's FutureX project and will test 41 different technologies for reusable launch vehicles. These include the use of hydrogen peroxide for both main propulsion and control thrusters, new reusable thermal protection materials, lightweight landing gear, fault-tolerant systems for autonomous operations, and more.

The X-37 program will also contribute directly to Boeing's RLV development plans. Boeing intends an incremental approach to RLVs that first involves a 2-stage-to-orbit (TSTO) vehicle. This could initially be an X-37 type vehicle atop an expendable and then later a reusable first stage. This could deliver about 2500kg payload to low earth orbit. A follow-on vehicle would be a large TSTO that delivers 10-12,500kg payload to orbit.

NASA to broadcast an X-Planes briefing on NASA TV at 1 p.m. EDT Aug. 24. Presentations will be given on X-33, X-34, & X-37 projects. See SpaceCasts section for online sources for NASA TV. Spacelink - 99-08-18 X-Vehicle Briefing AUG 24

NASA's X-33 History Project provides not only background information on the project but also an ongoing timeline . For example, it reports that as of mid-August , there were still 50 parts missing from the engines delivered to Stennis and tests have been delayed.

August 13, 1999

News briefs....NASA continues support of Aerojet's strutjet rocket based combined cycle: [--Link Dead--]Yahoo - GenCorp Aerojet to Continue Developing New Propulsion System .

The August 2 issue of Aviation Week (p.36) gives a detailed and interesting description of the recent short testflights of the Rotary Rocket ATV. The flights were considered a success but were challenging for the pilots.

For example, the pilots sit below the center of mass so the motion cues are reversed, i.e. when the vehicle starts to move left, the bottom of the vehicle swings right.

Also, the rotors are powered by tip rockets fed via centrifugal pumping thus leading to unstable rotor speed. Faster rotation gives more pumping and thus even faster rotor speed. A converse instability occurs when reducing speed. The copilots job is primarily to control the rotor speed.

Recent reports in Space News and in a newsgroup message from G. C. Hudson indicate that Rotary Rocket has enough money to complete a few more test flights but will have to close shop at end of the year without new infusions of cash.

Aug 5 , 1999

Kistler has received clearance from the US State Department, according to Aviation Week's business , to send various necessary tools and equipment to its launchpad in Woomera, Australia. Along with funding problems, this had held up construction there for over a year. [--Link Dead--]Yahoo - GenCorp Aerojet to Continue Developing New Propulsion System

VentureStar design falls into place. Engineers at Lockheed-Martin have now put together a detailed design for the VentureStar SSTO with sufficient margins to give them high confidence of reaching their payload goal. Success of the X-33 suborbital launcher next year is the only remaining step before they could begin construction leading to a launch in 2005. Of course, funding is still the biggest obstacle.

SUMMA Technology has been selected by NASA to develop and build the Fastrac engine for the X-34 program under a $11 million contract.

July 30, 1999

News briefs....Space.com reports on the [--Link Dead--]X-33 aerospike engine testing at Stennis and on the first test flight of the Rotary Rocket ATV.

July 28, 1999

Kistler receives Saudi investment. Aviation Week Space Business Online reports that Kistler will obtain enough funds from investors in Saudi Arabia to complete its test program. The Saudis have promised to provide "whatever it takes" to reach operational status. This should also release the Taiwanese funds (see below ) that were contingent upon Kistler obtaining sufficient funds from other sources to reach the $200M or so required to build and test launch the first vehicles. This should also save them from the high interest rates required for junk bonds that Kistler was considering to issue. As soon as the check arrives, construction will resume on their launch facilities in Woomera, Australia.

July 24, 1999

First flight of Rotary's ATV occurred on Friday July 22. As planned, it only lifted a few feet off the ground in the methodical process of testing out the controls and fixing bugs in the system. (Report from SAS Update ). Unfortunately, Rotary has also undergone further layoffs as funding fails to appear. [July 28 - Rotary Press Release on first ATV flight .][July 29 - Video now available at RR. Spaceviews Article ]

July 16, 1999

News briefs....First complete X-33 aerospike engine sent to NASA Stennis for tests. See [--Error [--Time Out--]--] Press Release .

July 14, 1999

NASA & Boeing sign X-37 agreement. The government/industry collaboration will split the $173 million development cost of the reusable, unmanned orbiting vehicle that will be taken into orbit in 2002 with the Space Shuttle. It will use its own propulsion system to deorbit and then return to earth with an autonomously controlled glide landing. The X-37 is part of NASA's continuing program to develop cheaper launch systems and will "serve as a test bed for 41 airframe, propulsion and operations technologies" that support RLV development.

The X-37 is a 120% version of the X-40 , which in August of 1998 carried out a successful drop test from a B-52. The X-40 is part of the Air Force's Spaceplane program and the Air Force will contribute $16 million to the government share of the X-37. First drop test of the X-37 from a B-52 will occur in 2001.

NASA/Boeing Press Release * CNN - New space plane project takes off - July 15, 1999

July 13, 1999

Marshall Spaceflight Center has awarded $16 million to 13 proposals involved with various reusable launch vehicle technologies. Composite materials, hydrogen peroxide techonlogy, autonomous flight control, and other areas important for RLV development are involved.

A small Huntsville, Alabama company called [--Error--]Space America was awarded a $900,000 contract to develop regenerative cooling for the Fastrac rocket engine thrust chamber, which currently uses ablative cooling. Note that Rotary Rocket recently switched to the Fastrac.

See MSFC Press Release , [--Link Dead--]Huntsville Times article .

DASA plans RLV demonstrator. DaimlerChrysler Aerosapce (DASA) has begun the Phoenix demonstration program. Phoenix will test various technologies leading to launch in 2002 of a small single engine sub-orbital test vehicle. Success of this project would then lead later to a reusable, unmanned launcher system called Hopper. Equipped with 3 Vulcain Mark 2 engines and sled launched, Hopper will go into low earth orbit and release a separate expendable upper stage that can place 7 ton satellites into LEO or 5 tons in geostationary orbit. It will return to earth with a glide landing. The Hopper will weigh 400 tons at take-off and is 40m long and 22m wingspan. [--Link Dead--]SpaceDaily article . [DASA Press Release June 99 ]

News briefs....A Yahoo News article discusses European views on RLVs: Rocket Designers Look To The Next Generation .

July 11, 1999

The second X-38 vehicle successfully completed its second flight test on July 9. It was dropped from the highest altitude yet - 31,500ft. The test verified new maneuvers and improvements in the drogue chute. More tests of ever greater complexity and altitude will continue over the coming years leading up to a release from a space shuttle in 2001. See SpaceViews , [--Link Dead--]Spacedaily articles.

July 9, 1999

News briefs....Technology Review gives a short report on RLV's at [--Link Dead--]July/Aug 99: Reusable Rockets Get Ready ...

July 2, 1999

News briefs....A RealMedia streamed video of the recent X-34 captive carry test is available at the Houston Chronicle space news page. The piece also includes a background video on the X-34 program....Forbes magazine (July 5) has an article about Rotary Rocket and other RLV startups - Earth to Gary . Includes also a sidebar on space tourism .

June 30, 1999

News briefs....See the Antelope Valley Press article for the latest on Rotary: AV Press: Rotary Rocket lands $1 billion in contracts ... X-34 captive test flight ended early after some vibrations seen on a panel on the L-1011 but otherwise no major problems: CNN - NASA's rocket-plane takes first test ride - June 29, 1999 ....


June 27, 1999

X-34 captive flight tests begin. The first flight test of the X-34 reusable rocket plane will take place this week. The vehicle will remain attached to its L-1011 mother ship. The aerodynamics of the configuration will be studied as well as various tests of the modifications made for the X-34 attachment. NASA press release .

X-38 problems delay project by 6 months. The X-38 is the developmental program of the Crew Rescue Vehicle for the International Space Station. The program is being carried out by Johnson Space Center. The CRV will use a small rocket to drop out of orbit and after a period of free fall will glide to a landing with a parafoil. Several drop tests from a B-52 of sub-scale versions have been carried out. In 2001 a drop test in orbit from the Shuttle is planned leading to an operational system by 2003. However, various problems with electrical and parachute systems have delayed drop tests this summer that may in turn delay the space tests. The upcoming flights are from a higher altitude than previous tests and will involve using the flight control surfaces. See article in Antelope Valley Press June 23, 1999 .

June 24, 1999

Rotary makes a turn for the better.In a press release, Rotary clarified their situation a bit. They have decided to defer development of the Rocketjet main engine and instead use a derivative of the Fastrac engine developed by NASA for the X-34 project. (See the Fastrac links). This engine is reusable but for only a limited number of times due to the use of an ablatively cooled nozzle. However, in a newsgroup message, Gary Hudson said the derived from phrase in the PR should be emphasized. This could mean that Rotary will make some modifications to extend the lifetime of the engine. A cluster of Fastracs will be used to achieve the necessary thrust.

Engineers and technicians involved with the RocketJet have been laid off although the company hopes to return to development of the engine later if possible. In the meantime, there is enough funds to continue with the ATV tests. The company succeeded in a ground test and will soon try taking the vehicle a short distance above the ground.

Also, good news on the Rotary business situation. The same press release says that they now have over 900 million dollars of contracts for launches during the first ten years of operation. While they won't see much of this money until the spacecraft are in orbit, this will certainly help in convincing investors of the companies viability. SpaceViews article June 24,1999 .

Kistler Provides Payload User's Guide at the Kistler Aerospace web site. It gives the details for satellite builders on how to adapt their spacecraft to the Kistler K-1 launcher.

Development of reusable engine technology shows progress. While there was little new rocket engine technology development of any sort in the USA for about 25 years after the Space Suttle Main Engine, there seems to be a spurt of progress on several fronts:

  • The NASA Fastrac engine mentioned above has been undergoing hot fire tests
  • this past Spring (see video .)

  • Orbital Sciences recently announced a [--Link Dead--]successful static firing of a new low-cost engine in a project with NASA & Air Force for the Upper Stage Flight Experiment (USFE) reusable engine. The engine uses non-toxic hydrogen peroxide propellant. See also the paper on [--Link Dead--]H2O2 propulsion.

  • Aerojet recently "successfully tested fuel- and oxidizer-rich preburners as the first step in the development of a highly reusable rocket engine for future U.S. Air Force applications." See press release
  • .

  • X-33 aerospike engine powerpaks (i.e. most of the turbopumps and other machinery except the nozzles) have been successfully tested. Problems with the nozzle materials also seem to be solved. See [--Error [--Time Out--]--]X-33 status report
  • from May 26, 1999.

Europe begins to investigate RLVs. The Ariane 5 has dominated European launch development for several years and the governments there want to see a return on this investment before starting radical new programs. However, Europe is nevertheless beginning to take a look at RLVs as progress in the US starts to appear. Although currently the talk is about vehicles 15-20 years in the future, this may change when the NASA and private RLVs start to fly. Some of the work from the canceled Hermes manned vehicle is being carried over, as well as work with NASA on the crew rescue vehicle for the ISS.

The French aerospace giant [--Time Out--]Aerospatiale Matra is taking a leading role in this area. See their [--Link Dead--]reusable launch vehicles page.

The third Ariane 5 mission, in fact, launched a capsule called the [--Link Dead--]ARD that tested thermal protection materials for future RLVs. Vehicle test designs include the [--Link Dead--]ARES winged glider test vehicle with no onboard propulsion and the [--Link Dead--]Themis that would carry out sub-orbital tests up to Mach 11 with its own propulsion.

June 19, 1999

Rotary announces layoffs and restructuring...Unable to raise sufficient funds to maintain the development of the Rotan launcher, Rotary will cut back on staff. However, they will attempt to continue with tests of the ATV. See SAS announcement , SpaceViews article , NASA Watch . [According to a news group message from SAS's Henry Vanderbilt, Rotary will be able maintain about 40% of it's previous workforce for several months. This should allow them to finish the ATV testing while continuing the search for funding. June 22, 1999.]

June 12, 1999

A Single-Stage-To-Orbit in 1970? Though many in the aerospace community dispute whether an SSTO is feasible even today, others claim that already by the late 1960's such a vehicle could have been built. Gary Hudson , founder and President of Rotary Rockets , has been working on RLV and SSTO concepts since the 1970's. His paper History of the Phoenix VTOL SSTO, AAS 91-643 (pdf) notes the pioneering work of Phil Bono at Douglas Aircraft. Bono developed several reusable SSTO designs beginning as far back as 1964.

Hudson discusses the Saturn IVB 3rd stage that was developed by Douglas. A standalone version of this stage (more as a thought experiment than a real proposal) could have put itself into orbit along with a 5000kg payload. A reusable version could have put about 1700kgs into orbit.

Bono and later Hudson developed several vehicle designs under the title of the Phoenix series. This work gradually refined RLV SSTO concepts. A crucial finding from this work was that developing lightweight structures to obtain a low structural mass fraction was far more important than improving propulsion technology. The availability of high strength, low weight composite materials in fact has brought about the revitalized interest in such vehicles.

For more about the history of RLV SSTO designs, see other papers by Gary Hudson that have been collected in html format by Marcus Lindroos :
Phoenix: A Commercial, Reusable Single-Stage-To-Orbit Launch Vehicle (1986)
X-Rocket Concept (1987)
Phoenix M: A Small SSTO Launch Vehicle for Commercial Space Transport Missions (1989) & Appendix

The Thunderbird X-Prize entry from the British Starchaser rocketry group advances. The three person vehicle, also referred to as Starchaser 4, would provide a 15min ride to 100km and back. Led by Steve Bennett, the group has the support of a number of British organizations and companies. They have announced a contest for a ride on their entry in the X-Prize contest, as well as a ticket purchase for £64500 ($100000). Plans are for first launch in 2003. The group has successfully launched some conventional rockets. See the recent BBC articles on their rocket launches and a mockup of the Thunderbird . Advanced Rocketry .

Rotary receives contract with Applied Space Resources (ASR) to launch its lunar lander. Sometime after 2002 the Lunar Retriever I would return 12kgs of lunar samples to earth to use for research as well as to sell to the public. See article at SpaceViews .

Other news....check out the [--Link Dead--]Kistler Promotional video (12mins) in RealVideo from Aerojet's Kistler page ... Also, a short video on the X-34 (Turning rocket dreams to reality) at MSNBC .... Aerojet develops robust preburners as part of an Air Force reusable engine development program...Space News reports that Kistler Aerospace is planning to seek public financing later this year.

June 3, 1999

Rotary updates: Information on the ATV tied down tests have been posted on the Rotary site. See the What's Hot page, a press release with links to a short video clip. See also SpaceViews article .

Other news.....a short history of the X-15 , the first reusable spaceship, is given in an article by Andrew LePagein the June 1 edition of SpaceViews... follow there also the ongoing discussion of RLV vs ELV costs.

May 28, 1999

Senate Committee hearings on the Commercial Space Launch Industry discussed RLV prospects on May 20. Senator John Breaux (D-La) has proposed loan guarantees of nearly a billion dollars for the RLV industry. Many of the small startups, however, fear this money will all go to Lockheed-Martin's VentureStar program. Peter Teets of Lock-Mart, in fact, said that they have been unable to raise interest on Wall Street for commercial funding of [--Error [--Time Out--]--]VentureStar . (see [--Link Dead--]Spacer.com article)

Stephen Wurst of Space Access is one of the stronger supporters among the startups of Breaux's efforts and presented his views on how Congress and NASA can help RLV development. He supports loan guarantees in this presentation (and at the recent Space Access Society meeting ) and has also previously urged that NASA contract for transportation on whatever vehicle offers the lowest price rather than getting involved directly in launcher development. This was also the theme of Andrew Beal , whose Beal Aerospace is developing an ELV who also suggested a tax holiday for a given period for profits from new launchers.

Gayle Schluter of Boeing revealed at the hearing that Boeing has serious ongoing efforts to develop RLV technologies and launchers. This includes work on the X-37 and X-38 projects. (See [--Link Dead--]Spacer.com article.)

NASA Space Transportation Architecture Study reports are now on the web. This study was commissioned by NASA to hear what various private companies have to say about what NASA should do to reduce the cost of space transportation in the next decade. Reports come from the big guys -Boeing , Lockheed-Martin and Orbital Science - and also several small startups - Kelly , Kistler , Space Access - plus a [--Link Dead--]NASA in-house study.

X-33 Program Status Report indicates that the problems with the hydrogen tank and aerospike engines are being overcome. Other component development, such as the oxygen tank tests and thermal protection materials, seems to be coming along well. The big challenge now is to assemble and integrate all the systems in time for a mid-2000 launch.

Rotary updates: Gary Hudson reports in a newsgroup message on May 27 that the ATV has recently undergone "tied down" tests. Various small problems were found and are being corrected. First hover tests will occur soon.... Jerry Pournelle , science fiction writer, has posted a page of photos and commentary on the April rollout of the ATV. (He is the prime force behind the influential Citizens Advisory Council on National Space Policy .)

May 8, 1999

Orbital Sciences rolled out the first X-34 at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in California on April 30. The first of three vehicles, the A1 will be used on several captive carry test flights with the company’s L-1011 aircraft. The second vehicle, A2, will be delivered in July and will be used for several unpowered drop tests later in the summer. The first powered flights could begin as early as January 1999 if these tests go well. Using the Fastrac engine, developed by NASA, the unmanned vehicles should reach Mach 8 and an altitude of 50miles. A third vehicle, A3, will be delivered in 2000. A1 could be modified for flight capability later for about $10-15M if one of the other vehicles is damaged. See Aviation Week, April 26, 1999, pp. 78-80. Links .

Orbital begins study of a commercial RLV. Based on its X-34 design, Orbital Science is beginning preliminary development of a follow-on commercial reusable vehicle. The vehicle would put about 4000kg in low earth orbit. Development costs are estimated around $250M. [See [--Link Dead--]article at Spacer.com ]

X-33 fuel tanks make progress. The first composite [--Error [--Time Out--]--]hydrogen tank , two of which reside in the rear portion of the vehicle, was [--Error [--Time Out--]--]delivered for testing to Marshal Spaceflight Center in April. The second tank will be delivered later this summer. It was the delamination problems in the latter that has caused several month postponement of the first flight. A [--Error [--Time Out--]--]duplicate of the aluminum [--Error [--Time Out--]--]oxygen tank , a double lobed structure that takes up the front of the vehicle, has just completed successful tests at Marshall. It used water instead of liquid oxygen to simulate the stresses of flight. [[--Time Out--]VentureStar Press release , [--Link Dead--]Spacer article: X-33 L-Ox Tank Completes Stress Tests 18-May-99]

Space Access LLC in a Popular Science article (June 1999) reveals more about the design of its hypersonic vehicle and its development plans. The horizontal takeoff and landing first stage uses ejector ramjets, based on a proprietary design of its Kaiser Marquardt subcontractor, that provides enough power at low speeds to allow the vehicle to take off and reach the velocity where ramjet action can take over. The 4 ramjet engines get it to an altitude of about 30mi where a rocket engine provides a further boost to 100mi altitude and mach 9. The nose then opens alligator style to release a small reusable booster to put satellites into LEO. A third booster for geostationary satellites is also under design. The orbital vehicles would return and do glide landings. The first stage is about the size of a 747 and the second stage looks about the size of the X-40 designs. Development costs look to be in the $billion+ range. The company says a first flight could occur in 2002 and regular flights in 2003 to put 5000kg in LEO at $2000/kg. The company is teamed with a merchant bank to raise the money and is also pushing for government support in the form of loan guarantees and/or a NASA contract for Space Station support. They claim NASA could save $10billion over a 10 year period with the Space Access vehicle replacing the shuttle.

Other news... Space Access pushes for FAA certification of RLV's as part of the effort to reach the reliability of airliners (article ) ... The Financial Times reports that Richard Branson has created Virgin Galactic Airways to develop space tourism projects. The 3 person company hopes to offer 2 hour rides in orbit for $50k by 2007. They are in discussions with various RLV companies, especially Rotary. [Gary Hudson said at Space Access that most of the detailsin previous newspaper reports about Virgin and Rotary, e.g. that Virgin was making a large investment in the company, were wrong but wouldn't say more.]

April 26, 1999

Kistler Aerospace will receive $50 million from several Taiwanese banks. The Taiwan government is encouraging investment in Kistler by the private sector to help boost the country's space technology base. Once they are flying, Kistler has promised to enter a joint venture with Taiwan and transfer its technology. (See [--Error--]NandoTimes/Reuters article, China News article) [Ed. - this will be a substantial boost to Kistler coming in addition to the recent $30M investment from Northrop-Grumman. This should allow them to achieve a launch in early 2000. However, I wonder if the draconian restrictions recently placed by Congress on space technology interactions, even with friendly countries, will throw a monkey wrench into their plans.] [May 17, 1999 - [--Link Dead--]Spacer.com article]

Another successful Space Access conference in Phoenix. Space Access'99, organized by Henry Vanderbilt, presented a super lineup that included representatives of most of the major players in RLV development. Status reports covered projects ranging from X-33 to small startups like TGV. The former has overcome problems with the engines and the hydrogen tanks and is on schedule for maiden flights in 2000. The various small RLV companies are making lots of technical progress but still fighting for funding. [See the conference review by Jeff Foust at SpaceViews , May 8,1999]

Rotary Rocket reduces rotor lengths. In a presentation at Space Access'99, Gary Hudson said that studies have shown that the Rotan's rotors can be shortened by about 6ft and still provide the necessary landing capabilities. Furthermore, this means that the rotors not longer have to be folded upwards as the vehicle reenters the atmosphere. They can now extend normal to the vehicle and remain safe from the bowshock heating.

Advent Launch Services (Civilian Astronaut Corp) has gone out of business. Advent tried to bootstrap its way to space tourism by using the deposits of customers to fund its vehicle. However, the number of customers placing $5000 deposits grew too slowly to give them a realistic chance of meeting their construction timetable. They were aiming for at least 2000 customers to raise $10M before they would begin cutting metal for their suborbital sea launched RLV. However, after a couple of years they had less than 150 paying civilian astronauts. Rather than drag out the process indefinitely, they decided to close shop and return the deposits. See the SpaceViews article . [Ed. - while this is a setback for space tourism startup efforts, I still find it remarkable that there were this many people willing to put down several thousand dollars for a ride that would provide 4 minutes of weightlessness, and in a vehicle that didn't even exist yet. It is not a big leap of faith to imagine that this indicates a very large market for rides on a proven, reliable vehicle.]

Other archives:

  January-March 2000
  Sept - Dec 1999


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey






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
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