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Reusable Launch Vehicle News
Archive: July - December 2000

Other RLV News sites:
RLV Alert at Spacer.com * Space Frontier Society *
Space Access Society Updates *
Highway2Space * Space Transportation Directorate
* NASA Watch Launch System New * OrbiReport - Space Transportation News


This section contains brief articles concerning developments in the field of reusable launch vehicles with links to news sources, NASA, company sites, etc.

RLV News Archive Directory

December 21, 2000

New briefs... The New York Times offers a review of the X-33 project at Rocky Road to Liftoff for a Successor to Space Shuttle - New York Times - Dec.18.00 (free registration required.)

December 18, 2000

New briefs... Orbital Sciences and Northrup Grumman are teaming up to look at manned RLV designs for NASA - [--Link Dead--]Orbital and Northrop Grumman Team Up to Design New Human Space Flight Architectures - Yahoo - Dec.14.00 ...

The tests of two X-33 aerospike engines will begin soon - NASA to begin tests on new X-33 rocket engines - Space Online - Dec.14.00 * Twin X-33 Engines Ready to Rumble - SpaceViews - Dec.14.00

December 13, 2000

MirCorp planning to build orbiter. CNN is reporting that MirCorp intends to build a "new manned spacecraft to carry paying clients into orbit". The article MirCorp plans to build spaceship for tourists- CNN-Dec.13.00 reports that an anonymous source at the company reveals that the "planned orbiter would cost about $100 million and take from 18 months to two years to develop" and "would be capable of docking with the International Space Station."

The article doesn't say that the vehicle is reusable but I assume so. The Roton comes to mind but Rotary was said to need more like another $200-300 million to get their system operational.

Walter Anderson, one of MirCorp's main backers, gave Rotary Rocket much of its initial funding but didn't seem to want to fund the rest of it himself.

[Ed. - after posting this news on the sci.space.policy newsgroup, the consensus of the comments was that this article was wrong. That the reporter confused MirCorp plans for a new ISS module with a new transport spacecraft. Dec.18.00]

MirCorp has been in the news for other reasons:

More Space-Hopper info posted. The Astrium Reusable Launch Vehicle program includes the Space Hopper two-staged demonstrator concept.

The first stage consists of a reusable glide-back booster. A small expendable second stage would be carried inside the 1st stage and released to take a payload to orbit.

A sled catapult would provide the initial horizontal velocity.

Two Stage Space Hopper - picture * Space Hopper - flight diagram

Hybrid motors proposed for manned suborbital RLV. Spacedev obtained in 1998 the rights to the hybrid motor technology developed by the now defunct Amroc company. Spacedev has since received several grants to develop further this technology. The NRO (National Reconaissance Office), for example, is interested in using the motors for in-space applications such as orbital maneuvering of their spysats.

The hybrids, which use a solid fuel and liquid oxidizer, combine many of the good points of both motors and engines. For example, unlike a solid rocket motor, the hybrid can be throttled and even shut off. The solid fuel and liquid oxidiser are both non-toxic and safe to handle.

Spacedev says that it is working with several groups pursuing the X-prize competition. The article Manned Space Plane Motors by SpaceDev describes a sub-orbital concept based on a hybrid motor with 6 oxidizer tanks and a reloadable fuel cylinder.

SpaceDev Successfully Fires First Rocket Motor - Press Release - Nov.16.00

December 1, 2000

Kistler attacked by eco-activists. Launching of K-1 "missiles" from Nevada threatens populated areas according to the article Space Cowboys in Earth Island Institute Earth Island Journal - Winter 2000-01. The propellant exhaust, furthermore, will exacerbate global warming.

[Ed. see the Kistler launch site page which shows maps of the sites and the launch corridors. Dec.18.00]

In a breathless, accusatory style, the article portrays Kistler of numerous offenses, especially that of minimizing the possibility of a malfunctioning booster crashing onto a town along the launch path. They don't see see RLV's as an improvement over conventional systems since "..flying reusable rockets like 'fleets of airplanes' will mean added wear and tear – and increased chances of failure or breakdown. "

The article is based mostly on information in an draft environmental impact assessment submitted by the FAA for the proposed launch facility on the Nevada test range. The initial K-1 launchings will take place from Woomera, Australia. (The company had a groundbreaking there in 1998 but suspended construction while waiting for additional funding.)

The authors say that Kistler did not respond to requests for interviews and information. This is probably because the company has more pressing demands such as staying in business. Also, perhaps the company believes that answering these questions is primarily a job for the promoters of the Nevada launch site.

Many US commericial spaceports have courted Kistler. If Nevada turns out to be too complicated, Kistler would have several alternatives including Florida Spaceport, California Spaceport (i.e. Vandenburg), Kodiak Launch Complex, Narrow Point, Alaska and others.

Private Rocket Group Slammed by Environmentalists - Spaceviews - Nov.29.00

RLV vs Expendable costs. Microcosm chief James Wertz presented the paper - Economic Model of Reusable vs Expendable Launch Vehicles - pdf-125k - at the recent IAF Congress. He lays out all the components of the model clearly and discusses the sensitivity of the conclusions on the various assumptions.

Basically, his model says that low cost expendables (such as his Scorpius) have a substantial advantage over reusables unless the launch rates increase by a factor of 100. RLV's must pay off their much larger development costs, they are more complex and thus tougher to maintain, are less efficient since they must carry their landing system, including re-entry fuel, to orbit and back, are only built in limited numbers and so don't go very far along the manufacturing learning curve.

Expendables, on the other hand, get cheaper over time as more are made and improved, don't have recovery and refurbishment costs, have a higher payload to takeoff mass fraction, and can incorporate new technology more easily.

Generally, I think he gives a fair presentation for his model. However, he likes to use the space shuttle as the failed, and only, model of RLVs. I think using this first generation vehicle as the archetype RLV is a bit of a cheap shot.

He doesn't mention that the shuttle is, in fact, only semi-reusable. The failings of the shuttle design are well known. It was way too large and ambitious (due to various political requirements especially with regard to support from the military) for a first generation RLV. This resulted in engines and other components that were pushed to the bleeding edge of technology, leading in turn to a very un-robust vehicle requiring 10,000 support personal.

Expendables, on the other hand, have had about 60 years of development through several generations. Yet, despite this, new vehicle designs, such as the Ariane 5 and Sea Launch, regularly fail during their first few launchings and remain less than foolproof even well into their operational periods, e.g. the launch failures of Titans and Deltas in recent years.

Expendables have an inherent problem which Wertz does not address. To decrease ELV costs and increase the mass fraction, there is tremendous and continual pressure to reduce redundancy to the lowest level possible. But this means that reliablity is always under pressure. On the other hand, returning the RLV safely is of the utmost importance to staying in business; so reliability is the top priority.

Ultimately, I believe the greater reliability of RLV's will become the winning factor in their favor, even if initially the costs are not as cheap as hoped.

For example, say I've spent several years of my life helping to develop a satellite. If some company like Kistler is offering regular, reliable monthly flights, I would be glad to pay more for such a ride than I would pay for an ELV that requires a long lead time to reserve and has a few percent chance of destroying my precious spacecraft. E.g. K-1 Small Satellite Missions vs Russian controllers lose contact with QuickBird.

News Brief... Aerojet Awarded $7.9 Million Contract Modification to Develop Technologies For Next-Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle - SpaceRef - Aerojet PR - Nov.27.00

November 28, 2000

ISAS - Inferno VTVL demonstrator
ISAS VTVL Demonstrator

Japan's VTVL demonstrator tests continue. As mentioned in an earlier report, ISAS (the smaller of the two Japanese space agencies) has built a mini-DC-X vertical-takeoff-vertical-lander demonstrator as a testbed on which to develop RLV technology.

According to a September press release -The experimental unit of reusable rockets - Fourth Static Test - the vehicle underwent some ground test firings of the liquid hydrogen engines last July and August in preparation for upcoming flight tests. The picture above shows the vehicle with a new airframe. (The earlier "stripped down" version is shown in the April report.)

[Unfortunately, I've been unable to find any details about this fascinating project. If anyone knows more about it or whom I could contact, please let me know. - Clark]

November 21, 2000

The recent drop test of the X-38 module succeeded in landing safely (Space Station Lifeboat Sails to Success In Desert Test - Space.com - Nov.2.00) but there were a couple of anomalies that will have to be understood before the next drop.

Soon after it's release from the B-52, the vehicle unexpectedly rolled 360degrees before stabilizing. The parafoil later deployed while the vehicle was not in the proper orientation.

This was the "first flight test of the final configuration of the X-38 atmospheric test vehicle that included a rounded aft end, identical to the shape of the X-38 space flight vehicle now under construction at Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. " That vehicle will be released from a Space Shuttle to fly back to Earth in a mission planned for August 2002.

Prototype International Space Station Lifeboat Overcomes Difficulty for a Safe Touchdown under World's Largest Parafoil - NASA Dryden Press Release - Nov.2.00

November 13, 2000

News brief... Top Air Force brass failing to support the X-37 / X40 orbital space vehicle (also referred to as the SMV - Space Maneuvering Vehicle) development according to an article at Aviation Week - [--Error--]Military Spaceplane Hampered By Lukewarm Support - Aviation Week - Nov.8.00

November 6, 2000

News brief... Lone Star Space (formerly Dynamica Research) gets encouragement from the President of Venezuela for the company's plans to launch its Cosmos Mariner RLV from his country - Venezuela hopes to offer vacations on the Moon - Nov.3.00 - CNN

October 26, 2000

News brief... The dual aerospike engine test setup at Stennis Space Center is now ready according to NASA - Twin engine tests for X-33 rocket plane take shape in Mississippi- MSFC PR -Oct.24.00 .

October 24, 2000

Kistler posts several interesting reports on its Publications page. The papers, published by th AIAA, provide more details on the status of the K-1 vehicle, the launch site preparations, how they plan to market the vehicle, how it can be used for low cost microgravity research, and more.

News brief...Beal Aerospace had planned to include some reusable parts in it's mostly expendable rockets, and there was talk of a reusable 2nd generation design. However, the company has now decided to shutdown, citing unacceptable competition from government funded programs - [--Link Dead--]Beal Aerospace, a Texas company developing a commercial heavy-lift launch vehicle, announced Monday it was ceasing operations.- Space.com - Oct.23.00 * Statement from Andrew Beal Regarding Cease of Operations by Beal Aerospace - Spaceref - Oct.23.00 ...

X-43 engine site HFXE includes high tempeature tunnel test videos (submitted by Byron McDonald) ...

Continue X-33 testing under strict NASA oversight - FLORIDA TODAY editiorial - Oct.6.00

October 11, 2000

Byron McDonald, a RLV News reader, tells us that NASA presented several exhibits at Oshkosh 2000 and included some of the RLV projects such as the [--Error [--Time Out--]--]X-33, Fastrac, and [--Link Dead--]Hyper-X. Several of the engineers working on these programs were available for discussions.

He was told that the design for the X-33 aluminum tanks was completed and the team was waiting for a go-ahead from NASA and Lockheed-Martin to start cutting metal.

A version of the Fastrac engine was on the floor and headed for Stennis after the show for firing tests.

Cooling issues for the hypersonic Hyer-X have been worked out and that the first flight should likely happen this fall.

News brief... advances in thermal protection materials could lead to new vehicle shapes and capabilites - [--Link Dead--]Hot New Ceramics Make Tougher - Space.com - Oct.7.00 .

September 30, 2000

NASA and Lockheed-Martin agree on X-33 plans... According to the NASA Press release, the project will finish all major sub-systems by the end of this year except the hydrogen tanks. These tanks will be changed to an all aluminum design from the previous composite design that failed in tests.

The first test flights could occur by 2003.

However, NASA will promise LockMart only one more payment of $68M. After that, the company will have to compete for funds from the Space Launch Initiative, assuming that initiative is approved by Congress.

Fuel tank problems delay X-33 - SpaceOnline - Sep.30.00 [Earlier article - Shuttle replacement may never fly - Space Online - Sep.24.00]

September 29, 2000

News brief... the latest Space Access Update (Sep.26.00) discusses the NASA budget prospects in Congress and the SAS's view towards the Space Launch Initiative (SLI). Rather than tie all the money to NASA's own launch priorities, SAS wants NASA to support US commercial launch needs with "multiple smaller projects from both established and startup vendors rather than via one or two megaprojects from the established major aerospace firms. "...

More publicity for Cerulean at SpaceDaily - For A Cool Half Million You To Can Own Your Space Ship - SpaceDaily - Sep.22.00 ...

.China starting to look at RLV development - China To Develop New Generation of Rockets With View To Moon Landing - SpaceDaily - Sep.00 ...

September 21, 2000

HobbySpace Status

September 14, 2000

Kistler website overhauled. The media and news section has been completely revamped with several sub-sections added that include a publications list and an extensive photos page. The former includes a recent paper- K-1 SmallSat Missions (pdf) - presented at the Utah State SmallSat Conference held in August. The photos section gives images and descriptions of the major sub-systems comprising the K-1.

The schedule and other pages don't seem to have changed significantly yet.

X-33 Dual-Engine tests to start in December. While attention has been focused on the failure of the composite hydrogen tanks and the resulting funding battles and flight test delays, the development of the groundbreaking aerospike engines has been going very well. The single aerospike engine tests were completed successfully last Spring after accumulating 1500 secs of burn time, equivalent to about "seven X-33 flights".

Now the test site at Stennis is being modified to hold two engines that will work in tandem just as they would on the test vehicle. This includes tests of the differential thrusts between the engines to guide the vehicle's direction.

News brief... Cerulean Freight gets some publicity for it's Kitten vehicle at Ananova - DIY spaceship comes in a kit ... Earlier report describes Cerulean's entry into the X-Prize contest - [--Link Dead--]A 19th team joined the X-Prize race - Space.com - Aug.15.00.

September 11, 2000

Kistler obtains funds to launch in early 2002 according to a report from Australia where the company will use the Woomera launch range. Curt Johnston, Kistler's flight operations director, said that they company has reached it's $900 million funding goal that will allow them to complete construction of the K-1 two stage RLV and do three test flights.

The final $400 million funding should be finalized by the end of the year and the first flight will occur about 1 year after the cash arrives.

[--Link Dead--]Group Sees 2002 Lift-Off for New Satellite System - Reuters/Yahoo News - Sept.6.00

September 8, 2000

Space Access Update #95 08/27/00 gives a nice status report on several RLV startups such as Kelly, Kistler, Rotrary, etc. All are still surviving on small grants during this time of a small satellite LEO market retrenchment due to the Iridium failure.

The main thrust of the update, however, is the lobbying strategy with Congress over NASA's budget for it's RLV programs. The Space Launch Initiative, in particular, is seen as trying to force a combined commercial RLV and a shuttle replacement design that will most likely result in a vehicle that does neither well. So the SAS will campaign to delete funding for SLI.

Other items include discussions of the X-33 and X-34 delays and problems with the Fastrac engine development.

August 24, 2000

NASA funds Alternative Access to ISS studies. Marshall Spaceflight Center has announced that it has awarded Andrews Space & Technology (a space consultancy group), HMX (the propulsion company which worked on prototype systems for Kistler and Rotary Rocket), Microcosm (developing the very low cost Scorpius expendables), and Kistler Aerospace (see below).

Alternative access by new vehicles developed by private launch companies has been a theme pushed by space activist groups such as ProSpace.

NASA to Fund Studies of Alternate Space Station Access - SpaceViews - Aug.24.00 * NASA will fund four short-term studies by emerging launch vehicle and aerospace companies of alternate access to the ISS - Space.com - Aug.25.00

Kistler gets NASA grant to study K-1 for ISS access. Kistler [--Link Dead--]announced today that it has received an award from NASA for a 3 month study as part of NASA's look at "alternative access" to the International Space Station.

Kistler "will develop and submit to NASA a detailed roadmap showing how the K-1 can become a viable choice to meet NASA’s ISS contingency resupply needs."

The announcement says nothing about Kistler's development schedule but does say that a "fleet of five vehicles is planned to support launch rates of one per week."

Note: The Kistler payload guide is available now in both PDF add HTML.

X-34 flights may be delayed by up to two years according to SpaceRef. As indicated in earlier RLV News reports, the X-34 program has been undergoing a re-structuring to avoid unpleasant surprises like the failed Mars probes last year and the X-33 hydrogen tank destruction. While these reports indicated a delay in the first test flight of a few months, it now appears the delay will be much longer. Far more extensive ground testing of the propulsion system has been recommended as well as improvements in the avionics.

August 20, 2000

X-33 tank failure report finally released. Completed last Spring, the report from the team investigating the test failure of the composite hydrogen tank was delayed apparently by a dispute between NASA and Lockheed-Martin over funds to continue the project. Major problems cited include poor communication among the groups working on the tank and not taking a slower, more incremental approach to its development.

[--Error--]Report: Design Approach Faulted In X-33 Tank Failure - AviationNow - Aug.10.00 * [--Error--]X-33 Tank Failure Delays First Flight By Two Years - AviationNow - Aug.10.00 * X-33 Program Marching on Despite Fuel Tank Failure - Space.com - Aug.10.00 * X-33 Tank Failure Report Released - SpaceViews - Aug.12.00
[--Link Dead--]Liftoff in doubt for heir to Shuttle - Orlando Sentinel - Aug.20.00

[--Error--]X-33 Investigation Team Final Report (PDF)

News briefs... XCOR Aerospace, which employs several former Rotary Rocket engine designers, have updated their web site. It includes more info on their X-1 and Me163 Komet II replica projects...Kistler Aerospace made a recent minor update of their [--Link Dead--]schedule page. First flights are now indicated to occur in 2001...Space Online's editorial in support of X-33 : Support X-33, VentureStar despite problems, setbacks.

August 3, 2000

The Hope-X unmanned re-usable test vehicle project has been put on hold due to continuing problems in Japan's space program. The vehicle is intended to be launched atop the expendable H-IIA and then return to earth via a gliding landing with its lifting body design. But continuing problems with the H-IIA development has made the Hope-X launch in 2004 untenable. The Hope-X was already a scaled down version of the manned Hope RLV - Japan freezes plans for unmanned space shuttle - CNN.com - August 2, 2000, Japan shelves space shuttle plans - Florida Today Space Online - Aug.2.00

News briefs..Next round of pre-flight tests begins for X-34 rocket plane - SpaceflightNow - July.26.00, X-34 Program Resumes Tests - SpaceViews - July.26.00 [Engineers are testing the X 34 runways at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center - Space.com - Aug.5.00]...Web sites are back in busines for two RLV sites that were down for several weeks. TGV, which is developing a reusable suborbital vehicle, and Dynamica Research, now Lone Star Space Access, which is developing a vehicle for the X-Prize, are now online again.

July 25, 2000

News brief...X-38 Leaves Texas for California's High Desert - Space.com - July.11.00... First Canadian team joins race for the X-Prize; plans to launch rocket from the world’s largest hot-air balloon - Space.com - July.17.00 ...Starchaser Blasts Ahead of Competition for X PRIZE - Space.com - July.10.00

July 6, 2000

Note: My wife and I are moving to Maryland from Stockholm tomorrow. So this page will be updated intermittently at best for the next month or so until we get settled and I get back on-line. Please continue to check back occasionally and let me know if you have suggestions and/or criticisms about this page. - Clark

First composite liquid oxygen tank launched on a suborbital rocket in a joint program of Microcosm, Garvey Spacecraft, and the amateur group Reaction Research Society. Space News July 3 reports on the successful development of a tank whose lining resists the destructive effects of oxidation of the graphite epoxy materials.

John Garvey, formerly of McDonnell Douglas and the DC-X program, started his own company in January to develop composite LOX tanks. He decided to collaborate with Microcosm, which had made progress with its own LOX composite tank efforts. With the help of volunteers from RRC, the collaboration was able to integrate 10inch composite tanks into the K-4 suborbital rocket in just 4 months.

Microcosm plans to use composite LOX tanks on a second generation Scorpius vehicle in 2001.

Note: Rotary Rocket also has developed composite LOX tanks.

NASA's Space Launch Intitiative begins to draw attention. The Boston Globe has an interesting article about NASA's Space Launch Intitiative, which with little outside discussion is starting $4.4 billion plan in the next five years to develop various propulsion and RLV technologies.

The article reports on criticism from the Space Access Society and others that the program will undercut support for commerical startup RLV companies.

[Ed. For example, if a RLV startup proposed to develop a small crew transfer vehicle for the space station it would have little chance of getting funding since NASA is already planning to fund its own vehicles within the SLI scope, e.g. the proposed $1 billion Orbital Sciences space taxi. ]

[--Link Dead--]Critics fire at new NASA rocket effort -Boston Globe - July.3.00.

Hyper-X will not need to install additional cooling. Space News July 3 issue reports that the program has determined that the current materials and cooling system can handle the expected maximum of 3727degrees Celsius heating of the airframe at Mach 10. Tests of the current thermal system show that the hafnium and zirconium alloys survived these temperatures without problems.

The intial tests this October and next February will be at Mach 7 and shouldn't have any problem with heating. The final scheduled third test in 2002 will hit Mach 10 and there was some worry that some extra develop would be needed for the airframe to survive such temperatures.

[Ed: Activists see the above LOX composite tank development as the kind of fast, low cost, successful technology efforts that NASA is unwilling to acknowledge is possible by small independent startups. Such a project within NASA's SLI would typically cost several times more than spent by this collaboration.

On the other hand, the Hyper-X thermal protection systems is exactly the kind of fundamental techology development that NASA engineers do so well. Only NASA has the talent, facilities and money to carry out such difficult experiments. Commercial companies will certainly take advantage of this kind of technology.]

July 1, 2000

News brief...Aviation Week reports that NASA is seeking payloads to fly on the two orbital missions of the X-37. The vehicle will ride in the payload bay of a Shuttle and then be released in orbit for re-entry and landing. The missions are expected in the 2002-2003 time frame. [--Error--]NASA Seeks Payloads for X-37- AviationNow - June.29.00


See previous articles in the archives:

      Apr-Jun 2000
Jan-Mar 2000
      Sep-Dec 1999
    Apr-Aug 1999


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