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Reusable Launch Vehicle News
Archive: January - March 2001

Other RLV News sites:
Space Frontier Society * Space Access Society Updates *
NASA SLI News * SpaceTransportation.com *
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.

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.

RLV News Archive Directory

March 26, 2001

News briefs...While it is clear that the new administration sees space as a crucial to its defense strategy, it is very unclear what this will mean for defense involvement in RLV development - U.S. Space Launch Policy Facing Uncertain Overhaul - Spacelift Washington - March.25.01 ...

...The Millennium Academy, which teaches CAD using rocketry related projects, has announced the A New Space Odyssey. Students can participate in a collaborative project to design and build an ARV, or Avionics Return Vehicle. The ARV will act as "a miniature space shuttle, which serves to return the expensive guidance system of expendible rockets."

March 25, 2001

Space Access'01 Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, April 27-29. Come hear an "interesting mix of the usual suspects and some unusual new additions, once again providing an intensive informal snapshot of where the nascent cheap space access industry is this spring of 2001."

[Additional conference info released on March.27 by Henry Vanderbilt:

Confirmed presentations as of 3/19/01: (Watch http://www.space-access.org for additions.)

  • Andrews Space & Technology
  • John Carmack, on an amateur peroxide VTVL testbed project
  • Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society
  • Experimental Rocket Racing Association
  • Jeff Greason, on space basics from an airframer's perspective
  • HMX, Inc - Gary Hudson
  • Geoffrey Landis surveys future advanced launch technologies
  • Microcosm - Bob Conger
  • G.David Nordley, on low cost launch in fiction
  • Pioneer Rocketplane - Mitchell Burnside Clapp
  • Jim Ransom, on the benefits of intra-governmental competition
  • Reaction Engines Ltd - Roger Longstaff, "The SABRE Engine & Skylon"
  • RPI/Lightcraft Technologies - Leik Myrabo on beamed-power propulsion
  • Dave Salt, "European Developments"
  • Henry Spencer, "Space Basics & Recurring Controversies"
  • TGV Rockets - Pat Bahn
  • Universal Space Lines - Jess Sponable
  • XCOR Aerospace (with their latest-version carttop rocket test stand)
  • Panel, The New FAA AST Regulationss & RLV Flight Test
  • Panel, Advanced Launch Technologies - After Reusable Rockets, What Next?
  • Panel, The Investment Environment Panel, The Political Environment


March 17, 2001

News briefs...NASA continues to state that THE X-33 and X-34 cancellations were not due to poor management or a flawed approach. Instead the agency believes that RLV technology is simply not yet developed enough for implementation, especially with regard to SSTO. See NASA asking Marshall to show new paths to space - Huntsville Times - March.14.01 ...

Another X-Prize team recently joined the list of competitors - [--Error--]FunTech -- Press Release -- X PRIZE Foundation * Fundamental Technology Systems

March 15, 2001

Test of space maneuvering vehicle prototype a success.Yesterday the X-40A was dropped from a helicopter at 4500m in its second free flight test. X-Plane Test a Success - Space.com - March.14.01 * X-40A Components Tested In Gliding Flight - Aviation Week - March.14.01 [NASA's Successful Test Flight of X-40A Vehicle Is Major Accomplishment for its X-37 Program - NASA PR - March 22, 2001 ]

The vehicle is an 85% scale version of the X-37, which will be taken to orbit in a shuttle in 2003 and released for orbital tests and reentry. The X-40A is on loan to NASA from the Air Force. An earlier drop test occurred in 1998.

The program is aimed at developing a vehicle, usually referred to as a space maneuvering vehicle or SMV, for the military that could carry out a number of activities. During a crisis, for example, it could be dispatched to do tactical reconnaissance if no in-orbit spysat was in a suitable orbit to do the job.

It could also rendezvous with a satellite and inspect or even refuel it. Whether it should be capable of disabling an enemy satellite during time of conflict is, of course, a very controversial question.

News briefs...XCOR Aerospace's X-1 replica project described in the article at [--Error--]Fledgling Company Has A Reach Stretching Into Space Rockets Scientists Start Out Small With Replica Of Famous Engine - SPACE.com - March.15.01 ...

According to the Feb.19 issue of Aviation Week, the German aerospace center DLR and the Austrian Space Company are cooperating on development of metallic thermal protection materials for RLVs. ...

The German company MAN Technologies and Astrium have built a heat shield for the orbital version of the X-38, which is apparently canceled due to ISS overruns.

March 10, 2001

News briefs...A new bulletin from the Space Access Society has been released: Space Access Update #98 3/8/01. It discusses ProSpace's March Storm campaign on Capitol Hill, SLI status, and the need for competitive RLV programs outside of NASA...

Orbital Science's president J. R. Thompson says NASA additional red tape and design changes after Mars probe failures resulted in the cost overruns that led to project cancellation (basically repeating what RLVNews said below.) - Builder of X-34 faults NASA - Space agency and contractor disagree on cost overrun blame- Huntsville Times - March.9.01

March 8, 2001

Kistler,Andrews Space and Technology & Universal Space Lines are among the winners of the first round of SLI financing according to Space.com - Entrepreneurial Firms Take Share of Early SLI Funding - Space.com - March.6.01. Kelly Space, Pioneer Rocketplane and Space Access were left out.

The same announcement that of the X-33/X-34 cancellation stated that the SLI grants had been decided but it did not reveal their names. Apparently, there was some further negotiations involved with each company.

Several large firms such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing will also receive funds.

X-33 aerospike engine tests canceled. Despite the disappointment of the X-33 project, the engines have frequently been cited as one of the great successes of the program. This technology could be very useful for other vehicles, so one would hope that these tests could be completed regardless. But apparently they will be stopped as well - [--Link Dead--]X-33 Engine Testing Halted - Space.com - March.7.01.

NASA "air-augmented rocket" moves to design phase. MSFC is seeking a commercial partner to work on the design of a [--Link Dead--]RBCC (Rocket Based Combined Cycle) SSTO - Development Of A Horizontal Take-Off & Landing Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (RBCC) Single Stage To Orbit Vehicle Concept - Spaceref.com - March.8.01. The vehicle would both takeoff and land horizontally. (See some RBCC artwork at Media Fusion.)

March 1, 2001

X-33 & X-34 Projects canceled. NASA released the following announcement this afternoon: NASA REACHES MILESTONE IN SPACE LAUNCH INITIATIVE PROGRAM; ALSO ANNOUNCES NO SLI FUNDING FOR X-33 OR X-34 - March 1,2001.

While the death of the X-33 has been rumoured for sometime, the X-34 cancellation is somewhat surprising. As mentioned here previously, the X-34 program came under review and revision in the aftermath of the Mars orbiter and lander failures when all major programs were examined to avoid similar management and technical failures.

Apparently, for the X-34 the review led to considerable cost increases which in turn caused the program cancellation:

"A joint NASA/Orbital Sciences Corporation review of the project last year revealed the need to redefine the project's approach, scope, budget and schedule. To ensure safety and mission success of the X-34 it became necessary to increase Government technical insight, hardware testing and integrated systems assessments. As a result, the projected cost of completing the X-34 program at an acceptable level of risk rose significantly above the planned budget. NASA decided that such additional funding for X-34 risk reduction would have to be competed within the SLI evaluation process. As with X-33, NASA determined that the benefits to be derived from continuing the X-34 program did not justify the cost." - NASA PR

However, this could also be seen as NASA killing a program not because it was without merit but to avoid the chance of another public embarassment if a vehicle crashed. Here a "no failures allowed" approach drove up the cost to the level where it had to be canceled. So nothing will be learned despite the nearly completed vehicles sitting in storage.

[Budget Concerns Could Shrink X-Fleet - Aviation Week - March.2.01 * Losing X-33, Lockheed Shifts Focus to Space - Aviation Week - March.2.01 ]

More money for launch tech. The $5 billion overrun of the ISS combined with only a 2% increase in the President's 2002 budget is resulting in cuts throughout NASA. See Engineers Look for Ways to Trim ISS Budget -Space.com - March.1.01.

However, the SLI budget will rise to around $450M from its current $290M. We can only hope that this money will be more successfully spent that that for the X-33 & X-34.

NASA Shuts Down X-33, X-34 Programs - Space.com - March.1.01

First X-43 flight in May according to the latest issue of Space News (Feb.26.2001). A flight readiness review was completed in February. The first vehicle will be released from its Orbital Sciences Pegasus booster at Mach 7.

While Russia has tested scram-jet engines on missiles, this would be the first time a vehicle will actually be powered during flight purely by scram-jet propulsion. The powered time will last 11sec. The vehicle will be lost into the Pacific but instrumentation telemetry is designed to return the essential performance data.

X-43A is readied for flight as sister vehicle arrives - NASA PR - Feb.23.01

February 20, 2001

New reports from Kistler - The Kistler website just posted two new papers based on presentations given at the Space Technology and Applications International Forum in Albuquerque, New Mexico, February 11-14, 2001.

Beyond LEO - The K-1 Active Dispenser - 1.7MB pdf - the active dispenser is an expendable orbital module with its own propulsion system. It can take a payload to orbits beyond LEO. For example, it can send a satellite of up to 1500kg to geostationary transfer orbit. This is performance comparable to the Boeing Delta II 7960, which costs $45-60 million versus Kistlers $25 million.

ISS Cargo Resupply Using the K-1 Vehicle - 3.1MB pdf - summary of Kistlers
3-month study, funded by NASA, for using the K-1 to resupply the ISS. It also discusses a reboost capability.

February 18, 2001

FAA releases yearly RLV review - The Administrator of Commercial Space Transporation office has produced several nice annual reviews of both commercial and governmental RLV efforts.

This year's 2000 Reusable Launch Vehicles - Programs and Concepts-(pdf), - January 2001 doesn't hold any surprises except for reporting that Pioneer Spaceplane has gotten a memorandum of understanding with the Oklahoma Spaceport for substantial funding:

"On September 13, 2000, Pioneer signed a MOU with the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority. Under the terms of the MOU, the Oklahoma Space Industry Development Authority agreed to provide up to $300 million in revenue bond" [ed. my emphasis] "financing to help finance the development of the Pathfinder launch vehicle. In exchange for this financial assistance, Pioneer agreed to conduct launch operations from the proposed Oklahoma Spaceport at the former Clinton-Sherman AFB in Washita County, Oklahoma. Until such time as the FAA authorizes over-land launch corridors, Pioneer plans to base its vehicles at the Oklahoma Spaceport and ferry-fly to approved launch sites on the East or West coasts." - page 10. Info obtained from an "Interview with Mitchell Clapp, CEO, Pioneer Rocketplane, January 4, 2001"

Whether this funding is contingent on other factors, e.g. matching funds from other sources such as NASA, isn't revealed.

Battles over how to lower space access will certainly be among the big space stories of the coming year. With big projected cost overruns in the Space Station program and demands from military strategists for cheaper and faster access to space, the pressure is increasing to decide on a clearly defined path to a post-shuttle successor.

Most of the frequently cited $100 billion ISS lifetime price tag comes from the tremendous costs of operating the shuttle as its primary transportation system.

Congress is planning to carefully examine NASA's SLI plan - House to Hold Hearings on Space Launch Initiative Funding - Space.com - Feb.14.01.

Some space supporters are voting for Shuttle II - Congress should support shuttle fleet improvements -FLORIDA TODAY - Feb.18.01.

Others, such as the Space Frontier Foundation, are pushing instead for NASA to contract with commercial companies for operational vehicles and concentrate solely on incremental X vehicle development and generic technology research.

Getting oxygen on the run. The article Into space on thin air - New Scientist - Feb.14.01 discusses Andrews Space & Technology's "Alchemist" concept in which a vehicle first accumulates liquid oxygen from the air during an initial phase while flying within the atmosphere for 3 hours or so. Then it uses this with the fuel on board to power a rocket engine for a second phase boost to orbit. NASA gave them $70k to study this concept further.

February 15, 2001

Laser propulsion goes commercial. Lightcraft Technologies has been formed by Leik Myrabo and his daughter Tregenna to commercialize the laser propulsion technology that he has been developing for almost two decades.

Myrabo, a professor of engineering at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Aero Lab, has been seen in headlines and television shows occasionally since 1997 when his group began making actual test flights. (He has given some amazing talks at the Space Access Meetings as well.)

Recent test flights at White Sands Missile Range sent an 18.5 in diamater lightcraft model as high as 233 ft with a 10KW laser.

The fuel-less vehicle is shaped such that the

"..backside of the craft is a large, highly polished parabolic mirror that is designed to capture the laser beam projected at it from the ground. This mirror focuses the pulsed beam into the shroud, rapidly heating the air and creating a blast wave that pushes this vehicle upward. As the beam is rapidly pulsed, the vehicle is continuously propelled forward, on its way to orbit." - LTI Newsletter

With increasing laser power the vehicle could reach orbital speeds (an on-board system, of course, would be required for the exo-atmospheric propulsion requirements.) The plan is to develop the capability to send nano-satellites into orbit within 5 years.

Recently they have obtained a "vintage pulsed electric discharge carbon dioxide (CO2) laser that can propel our Lightcraft to the edge of space, after its subsequent upgrade to 100 kilowatts of beam power."

With this power they should reach sub-orbital altitudes of 50-100 km. With this capability they expect to receive some commercial business such as testing space components for rad-hardness and for micro-gravity experiments.

A megawatt power laser, expensive but within current technology, would provide a means to send small sats to orbit in an assembly line fashion at costs 10 to 100 times lower than current systems.

Within twenty years he sees manned lightcraft vehicles flying to orbit with similar reductions in cost.

Much of his funding has come from Air Force and SDI grants but recently he has gotten substantial support from the space advocacy group Space Frontier Foundation via its FINDS off-shoot.

Be sure to watch the recent test flight videos in their gallery. The sparkling flashes of the "vehicle" are like something from a Spielberg movie.

February 9, 2001

News brief...Check out the [--Error--]X33 News Center with the latest news on the engine tests and other developments. [--Error--]Engine test photo.

February 8, 2001

News briefs...[--Link Dead--]Space Frontier Foundation Says Space Launch Initiative Program (SLIP) Fix it or Kill it - Yahoo - Feb.8.01....

[--Link Dead--]Qualification Testing on X-33 Flight Engines Now Underway at Stennis Space Center, Miss. - NASA - Feb.7.01 : "The ignition test went the full scheduled duration of 1.1 seconds with no observed anomalies."

February 6, 2001

News briefs...The X-43/Hyper-X project should see its first flight this summer: Hypersonic Vehicle Enters Flight Phase; Second Vehicle Arrives - Spaceref - Feb.5.01 ...

Stennis Ready For RS-68, Aerospike Firings - Aviation Week - Feb.6.01

February 4, 2001

Another security study pushes for better space access. The U.S. Commission on National Security (also called the Hart-Rudman Commission after its co-chairmen - Gary Hart and Warren Rudman) recently released a report - " Road Map For National Security: IMPERATIVE FOR CHANGE" . It presents a host of recommendations for improving and modernizing the US security systems.

They see space as playing a crucial role in US security but they see a number of problems in how space policy is created and carried out. There is a lack of organization and coordination among the various departments and agencies that deal with space. They also see space access as needing improvement:

"..the nation's access to space must be expanded in ways that are more cost-effective. The more robust U.S. space launch capability, the more able the United States will be to retain its space superiority, reconstitute systems after attack, and reduce its vulnerabilities. The Commission strongly recommends that the modernization of the nationís space-launch capability be accelerated."

This follows a report recently released from a separate commission, headed by the new Defense secretary Rumsfeld, that also recommended improved space access. These combined reports should bring much greater support for the military spaceplane projects.

Hart-Rudman Panel endorses SIG Space for civil, military space policy-and space launch - Spacelift Washington-Spaceref - Jan.31.01

Starship 2040 - Marshall Space Flight Center Exhibits team has developed a traveling educational exhibit to introduce the public to NASA's long term program developing advanced space transportation technologies.

The exhibit "invites visitors to explore futuristic technological possibilities and gain new insight into real-world space transportation and propulsion challenges.." See the tour dates page for the schedule.

News brief...the Rotary Rocket announced last week that it was closing down its Mojave facilities and auctioning off the contents this weekend. (No word on what will happen to the ATV.) The corporate offices in San Bruno, California will remain open.

January 25, 2001

Kelly Space & Voight team for SLI Bid. Like Orbital Science and Northrop below, Kelly Space and Voight Aircraft are collaborating to bid for some of the [--Link Dead--]Space Launch Initiative funds to be awarded this year:

Kelly Space and Technology, Vought Aircraft Industries Join Forces to Design and Produce 2nd Generation RLV - Kelly Space PR - Jan.23.01

Firms Join in Bid for Shuttle Successor - Aviation Week - Jan.24.01

The RLV concept will follow the design that Kelly has been pushing for several years: a 2-stage vehicle with a reusable first stage and expendable orbital stage. The combo is towed by a 747 into the air before the first stage fires.

Voight is the largest independent airframe manufacturer and will bring valuable resources and engineering talent to the design of the astroliner.

The initial awards will most likely be only for studies and component prototypes. Kelly has been quite successful at winning NASA study contracts. This has kept it alive while it continued looking for the major investments it needs to actually build a working vehicle.

[--Error [--Time Out--]--]San Bernardino, Calif.-Based Space Plane Designer Embarks on 2001 Odyssey - SPACE.com - Jan.2.01

January 23, 2001

A Siamese-twin from Orbital Sciences and Northrop-Grumman? According to an Aviation Week online article, the two companies are teaming together to compete for the next-generation space shuttle contract expected around 2005. Their design will involve two nearly identical boosters mated side-by-side at launch.

Although both vehicles would fire at launch, one booster would provide the fuel for both until it separated and glided back to the launch site. The other would be left with full tanks and would proceed to orbit. Additional boosters could be added for heavier payloads.

The top of the orbital vehicle could carry either an unmanned payload or a crew compartment. After releasing its payload or delivering a crew to the space station, it would return to earth for a glide landing.

Note: this is basically the same design described by an Orbital representative at last April's Space Access Society meeting.

See also the recent PR - Orbital and Northrop-Grumman Team up to Design New Human Space Flight Architectures - Orbital Science Press Release - Dec.14.00.

Another Note: at a satellite investment conference yesterday, Orbital CEO David Thompson said that manned spaceflight would be one of the companies primary growth areas in the next 5 years. He didn't mention the above next-generation shuttle proposal but he did mention a space station crew rescue vehicle. He is probably referring to Orbital's CCTV vehicle proposal.

News brief...the non-profit Swiss Propulsion Laboratory is working on a reusable two stage sounding rocket (X-Bow I) and a reusable 3 stage rocket (X-BowIII) that could put a small payload into orbit.

January 16, 2001

Vertical Take-Off and Vertical Landing Demonstrator Concept
Credits: Media Fusion artworks for NASA

Novel NASA RLV concepts pop up occasionally on the web. Most are certainly nothing but slideview- ware. However, they might give an indication of the kind of in-house proposals that will be made for the SLI (Space Launch Initiative) funding later this year.

Media Fusion Digital Media, for example, has been creating artwork with NASA teams at Marshall on various [--Link Dead--]Pathfinder and [--Link Dead--]ASTP projects.

The Concepts artwork page shows the above VTVL demonstrator that looks like a combination DC-X and lifting body.

The same page also shows a Sub Orbital Tour Bus and a RBCC Demonstrator.

Another NASA page - Advanced Concepts & Studies - shows a [--Link Dead--]Balloon-Assisted Reusable Rocket (BARR) that is certainly novel if nothing else.

January 13, 2001

Reusable Saturns. Scott Lowther, whose Aerospace Projects Review discusses aerospace projects that never got into the air, has put together a 30 page review of various proposals to derive reusable launchers from the Saturn launch vehicle. He sells the report on his web site. See Reusable versions of the Saturn Launch Vehicle.

January 12, 2001

Canadian Arrow becomes the latest X-Prize entry. The Arrow is a 2-stage, V2 inspired vehicle but with modern materials and controls and with both stages fully reusable. The first stage holds a single single engine that is a close reproduction of the V2 engine. After a one minute burn, the first stage separates and deploys parachutes for safe return and recovery at sea.

Four solid rocket motors then propel the second stage, with a pilot and 2 passengers, to a height of over 50 miles. A cold gas jet system allows the pilot to orient the vehicle as desired. A ballute/parachute return system brings the vehicle safely back for a recovery at sea.

Besides Space tourism , they cite the sport of Space Diving as a financial driver for the project.

Kistler launch operations were outlined in a talk given by Curtis Johnston at the ASRI 2000 Conference in Brisbane, Australia last December 2000. No details are given in the on line report - [--Error--]The Kistler K-1 launch operation (30kb PDF) - but there are some interesting comments nonetheless.

For example,

"The testing of the vehicle is accomplished using a Vehicle Health Monitoring System.....The only ground test equipment are two redundant laptop computers. There are 5 persons in the launch control room." [My emphasis]


"The launch has one additional activity not usually present in the automatic sequence. The engines are evaluated at 50% thrust and key parameters are determined to be correct before the engines are advanced to 100% thrust.

There is no hold down system; when the thrust exceeds the weight, the bird flies."


" Vehicle is tested in the Flight Environment"

Military spaceplanes may get a boost from the incoming administration. Defense Secretary-designate Donald Rumsfeld has been head of a committee investigating military space policy. The committee strongly recommends that defense space efforts be better organized and given a much higher priority. - Rumsfeld panel says U.S. fails to realize space threat - Florida Today - Jan.12.00

Frank Sietzen in Spacelift Washington: Commission to Recommend Military Space Boost, New Programs - Spaceref - Jan.10.01 reports that, among other things, the committee recommends development of "... the capability to interdict foreign satellites with minimum preparation time, i.e. military spaceplane and reusable, maneuvering upper stages ".

This kind of pressure may overcome the reluctance, reported earlier, of some top Air Force brass to support the X-37/X-40 spaceplane projects.

January 9, 2001

New briefs... A group in Japan has begun a project to build a reusable vehicle for space tourism. The vehicle is still in the conceptual stage. Japan plans to make space tourism science fact- Houston Chronicle - Jan.5.01

...A group at Queensland University in Australia will test hypersonic engines on sounding rockets this year: Centre for Hypersonics - HyShot Scramjet Test Programme. See also Shrinking The Planet To A Few Hours- SpaceDaily - Jan.6.01 * Scramjets Could Rocket Australia Into 21st Century- SpaceDaily - Jan.6.01

January 3, 2001

Rotary pays bills. The LA Times reported a couple of weeks ago that the Rotary Rocket had failed to pay its property tax bill on its Mojave Airport facility and it had been seized for auction: [--Link Dead--]Kern County Seizes Rotary Rocket Property - LA Times - Dec.22.00. This included the ATV, which was successfully tested in 1999.

However, apparently the bill has now been paid and the property will be released once the check clears: [--Link Dead--]Delinquent rocket firm sends cash, insults to Kern - Bakersfield.com - Dec.28.00.

Note that Rotary has a separate corporate headquarters in San Bruno California.

According to a Space Access Society report last August, although Gary Hudson and most of the technical staff left the company, Rotary is maintaining a skeleton crew while the search for funding goes on.

See previous articles in the archives:

      July - Dec 2000
April - June 2000
      Jan  - March 2000
      Sept - Dec. 1999
         April - Aug 1999




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Space Frontier - CATS Bulletin Board


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