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Reusable Launch Vehicle News

Other RLV News sites:
Space Frontier Society * Space Access Society Updates *
NASA SLI News * SpaceTransportation at MSFC *
NASA Watch Launch System News * OrbiReport - Space Transportation News


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

RLV News Archive Directory

May 31, 2001

News briefs... The Hyper-X flight could occur this weekend - X-43A Nears first Hypersonic Flight - DRFC PR - May.30.10 . Follow the latest news at the Hyper X - Developments page.

The X-38 and the CRV projects are still alive. NASA is seeking European help in their funding and development: ESA and the ISS Crew Return Vehicle - Spaceref - May.27.01 ...

The case for the Air Force saving the X-33 has not yet been won. Many within the defense agency are questioning whether it is the best use of limited space research funds: Air Force, Lockheed Martin push for X-33 - OrlandoSentinel.com - May.28.0



May 27, 2001

Northrop Grumman getting serious about RLV's? The company recently placed large ads in Space News (e.g. May.7,2001 issue) for an "RLV Chief Engineer", who will lead a team to "design and integrate reusable demonstrators and operational spacecraft". The company recently received several large awards in SLI funding for systems studies, integrated vehicle health management, and airframe projects. - Northrop Grumman Awarded $86.6 Million Contract For Work Under NASA's Space Launch Initiative. These projects will be run from the company's Air Combat Systems section. There is nothing about demonstrators mention in the press release so perhaps the company has bigger plans down the line.

[Note: Northrop Grumman and Orbital Sciences announced back in Dec.2000 that they would work together to develop a 2nd generation RLV for NASA.]

News briefs... While the countdown to the first X-43 flight continues -Mach 10 scramjet prepares June launch - BBC - May.25.01 - the program for the Mach 7.6 flight of the Australian Hyshot prepares for a flight in late summer - Hyshot Blows Its Nose - Spacedaily - May.24.01....

...The drastic reduction in satellites needing rides to orbit after the failure of the LEO communication constellations is leading to big problems with excess launch capacity - Rocket Shakeout Looms As Overcapacity Grows- Aviation Week - May.25.01 - This will make it even harder for RLV startups to find funding....

May 24, 2001

Orbital Sciences received $53 Million in SLI grants in the recent round. This included a "$47 million contract for the Demonstration of Autonomous Rendezvous Technology (DART) program. Under the contract, Orbital will design, build, test and launch a space maneuvering vehicle derived from the company's Pegasus rocket that will flight demonstrate in-orbit autonomous rendezvous and close proximity operations...".

Also, they will get $6 million to study further the company's concept for a "Space Taxi" or crew transfer vehicle. A multi-purpose reusable vehicle, it would take people to the Space Station, and stay there for long periods to act as the emergency rescue vehicle. It could also deliver small supplies of cargo and do on-orbit satellite servicing. It would probably be launched atop an expendable rocket.

Orbital Awarded $53 Million in contracts Related to NASA's Space Launch Initiative - Orbital PR - May.23.01

May 23, 2001

News brief... X-40 flights set stage for X-37 but how program will proceed is unclear. X-37 did not recieve additional funds in recent SLI awards but the program does have an ongoing contract split between NASA and Boeing: X-40A Test Program Ends With Success, But X-37 Fate Not Decided - Aviation Week - May.22.01

May 20, 2001

Most RLV startups lose out on SLI funds. Kelly Space, Space Access, Pioneer Rocketplane and several other of the small RLV technology companies failed to obtain contracts in the first round of SLI funding. However, they can still apply in the next round.

Kistler (see below), Andrews Space, and Universal Space Lines did obtain substantial contracts.

NASA Awards US$767 Million in Space Launch Initiative Contracts + Options - Andrews S&T - May.21.01

Andrews will use the money to build a prototype of its Alchemist processing system. In the Andrews two stage Gryphon, the Alchemist gathers oxygen from the air and liquefies it while the vehicle flies at low altitudes for a hour or so until there is sufficient amount for use with a rocket to fly to a high altitude where an orbital stage is released:

Andrews Space & Technology Wins 2nd Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle Contract - Andrews PR - May.17.01 (pdf)

Dennis Tito wants more tourists in space and seeks to support efforts to lower launch costs. In several interviews, Tito has indicated a keen desire to find ways to help others experience the "paradise" that he experienced in space:

"What I would like to do is to put together a commercial venture that would provide much lower-cost transportation to orbit or sub-orbit for individuals who have the same desire that I do," Tito's vision More civilians in space - CNN.com - May 9, 2001

Perhaps he will collaborate with Space Adventures, which arranged for his trip to the Space Station. Space Adventures has taken in about $2 million in deposits from over 100 people for suborbital flights, but the company does not yet have a vehicle to fly them.

The company was probably hoping that the RLV startups would fund development of their own vehicles, probably through the launching of commercial LEO satellites, and it could then simply contract with them for tourist flights.

However, with the failure of the LEO comsat market, it now appears that the tourism market itself will be needed to get the RLV's off the ground.

Perhaps Space Adventures will work with Tito to fund a suborbital vehicle. For example, Pioneer's suborbital, discussed at the recent SAS meeting, might fit well with their needs.

Andrews sees $1200/kg as the magic number. Andrews Space recently released a NASA funded study of future space transportation markets. They find that the market is inelastic as the price per kg to LEO falls to around $1200/kg, i.e. no new markets open up and the number of launches stays about the same. Thus, revenues actually fall since the income per launch drops.

However, as the launch price falls below the $1200/kg level, new markets, such as tourism and in-orbit materials processing, start to develop and market elasticity kicks in very strongly.

News brief... X-40 successfully completes final flight test: X-40A seventh - and final - free flight successful, paving way for NASA's X-37 space plane - Marshall PR - 05-19-01

May 18, 2001

First big set of Space Launch Initiative (SLI) contracts awarded. A wide range of RLV technology projects were funded with $767 million spread among 22 companies and universities:

Instead of funding X vehicles, various RLV enabling technologies are to be investigated, developed or improved.For example, Pratt & Whitney and Aerojet won $115M to develop 3 separate reusable liquid engines:

Pratt & Whitney - Aerojet Joint Venture Wins $115 Million NASA Contract to Develop Reusable Liquid Booster Engines - P&W PR - May.17.01

It is hoped then that these technologies will lay the basis for vehicle development later.

The most interesting perhaps was the award to Kistler Aerospace. The basic contract is for $10M. If, however, the K-1 begins flying by Spring of 2003, the company will receive up to $125M to test various technologies during flight.

[--Link Dead--]Kistler Receives NASA Contract - Kistler PR - May.17.01

This represents the first time that NASA has positively responded to a long sought plea of many activists and RLV startup companies: instead of demanding that companies build vehicles to NASA specifications, NASA should simply contract for services and let the companies decide what vehicle designs will best deliver those services. Furthermore, with a substantial contract in hand for such services, the startups will have a much better chance of raising the money for building the vehicles.

We can hope that now with this contract, Kistler will finally get the funding package put together that will allow it to finish construction of the K-1 and the Woomera launch site.

News briefs... Kistler has a new New Kistler Payload Users Guide (3.42MB pdf) available on its web site. ...

Yet another successful X-40 flight: X-40A performs sixth flight - Spaceflight Now - May.17.01 *X-40A sixth free flight successful, paving way for NASA’s X-37 space plane - Marshall PR - 05-16-01

May 16, 2001

News briefs... Lots of action in the military reusable space maneuvering vehicle arena. Last week there was a X-40 drop test and then Aerojet's announcement of a peroxide engine program. This week Darpa announces plans to develop and test satellite refueling technology:

AvWeek: Darpa Pursues Refueling, Electronic Upgrades for Satellites - Aviation Week - May.15.01

and Boeing applauds its progress with the X-37:

[--Link Dead--]X-37 Reusable Spaceplane Program Achieves Milestones - Yahoo/Boeing PR - May.15.01 * Successful Mock-up Test Shows X-37 Progress - Space.com - May.16.01...

NASA will soon announce RLV technology contracts:

NASA to announce contracts for new generation of space vehicles - FLORIDA TODAY - May.15.01

Check out this interesting SSTO thread on Sci.space.policy:

How to do an SSTO - Google/Sci.policy Archive - May.13.01

May 12, 2001

News brief... First X-43 flight set for early June: Tests of NASA's X-43 hypersonic aircraft start June 2 - Spacedaily - May.9.01

Peroxide engines reach mainstream. Aerojet announced this week a contract to develop a hydrogen peroxide engine for the Air Force Space Maneuver Vehicle, of which the X40a (currently undergoing drop tests) and X-37 (in development) are prototypes:

Aerojet Wins $10.4 Million Contract to Develop Peroxide Engine for Air Force Space Maneuver Vehicle - Aerojet PR - May.10.01 * Engine Work Begins For Air Force Space Engine - Aviation Week - May.12.01 [* Peroxide engine being developed for spaceplane - Spaceflight Now - May.14.01]

This reusable unmanned vehicle will provide various capabilities such as emergency reconnaissance, rendezvous with orbiting spacecraft for re-fueling and examination and even repair if configured with some sort of remote controlled manipulator. (In time of war, it could also disable enemy spysats). It would typically be launched as a second stage on an expendable booster.

For such missions, the craft must offer fast preparation for flight. Cryogenic fuels such as liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen offer very high performance but are complicated and expensive to deal with and can not be stored in the craft for long periods. Peroxide, which only needs a silver catalyst, offers a very simple, stable mono-propellant system with less performance but with easy operational requirements such as long term storage onboard.

Note that a recurrent theme over the years among RLV proponents, e.g. in groups like the Space Access Society, has been the operational advantages of H2O2 and dense bi-propellants such as kerosene/LOX. In the 1950's there was a lot of work with these fuels but the performance demands of ICBM's and the Moon Race, and their de-emphasis of operational costs, cause a shift in focus to more esoteric fuels.

With the focus now moving back to low cost RLV's, many such ideas that had been abandoned are beginning to reappear.

May 7, 2001

News brief...More X-40 tests : X-40A tests side-to-side maneuvers in fourth flight - Spaceflight Now - May.7.01 [May.8 - X-40A Notches Fifth Free-Flight At Dryden - Aviation Week - May.8.01 ]

May 3, 2001

Canada's DaVinci X-Prize project to unveil engineering prototype rocket at the Toronto Aviation & Aircraft Show that starts May 6. The vehicle, which is 7.3m long and weighs 500kg, will undergo drop tests from 3300m to prove the deployment of the ballute and parafoil systems.

The group claims to be the first X-Prize team to complete the testing of its rocket engines and flight guidance systems. The flight vehicle, with 10,000-pound thrust, liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel, will be launched from a balloon at about 13000m.

The effort has gotten considerable support from several Canadian companies and have raised nearly "$1 million of in kind donation". Over "10,000 volunteers hours have already been invested into the project". However, a primary sponsor will be needed to proceed with construction of the flight vehicle.

With timely funding, they believe they can do an unmanned test flight before the end of the year and a manned flight two weeks later.

DaVinci press releases

Canadian X-Prize Entrant Unveils Full-Scale Engineering Prototype Rocket - Spaceref - May.3.01 * Canadian X PRIZE Team Unveils Rocket Prototype - Space.com - May.4.01

Flight animation - Spaceref

May 1 , 2001

Space Access'01

Henry Vanderbilt did a super job as usual in organizing the latest SAS meeting and in arranging a great lineup of speakers.

This was my fourth SAS meeting and I found it the most encouraging of them all. This came as a big surprise after last year's rather downbeat affair. There were a number of positive signs that we are, in fact, still on the road to low cost access to space, though the trip will take longer than was expected a couple of years ago.

Accessing Space on the Cheap

The one and only mission of the SAS is to encourage the development of low cost access to space. More than 4 decades after Sputnik, it still costs several thousand dollars per pound to place a payload into low earth orbit.

The Society believes that NASA and the big aerospace giants are just not institutionally built for or motivated to achieving drastic reductions in space transportation costs - i.e. to the level of a few hundreds of dollars per pound to orbit at most .

So unlike the major space conferences, which are dominated by NASA, Lockmart, Boeing, etc, the SAS meetings are primarily attended by representatives of small startup launch companies and a number of advanced amateur rocketry groups. In addition, there are proponents of new launch technologies, space activists and just plain old space enthusiasts such as myself.

The Big Picture

Some general themes that emerged from the presentations include:

  • In Recovery - by last summer it was clear that the collapse of the LEO constellation market had killed or deeply wounded several promising RLV startups such as Rotary, Pioneer, Kistler, etc. Since then the survivors have identified potential new markets, applications and investment sources. In some cases, they redesigned their vehicles for much lower cost development. As a result, the chances for the small launch startups to survive and thrive look much more promising now than even a few months ago.

    Some of the launch companies are also surviving on small NASA research contracts. While some participants thought this would not lead to a viable business, most see it as a necessity for the time being. However, in at least one case, the NASA proposal requirements were so enormous and intrusive, that none of the small startups even applied.

  • Incrementalism - develop systems one small step at a time; keep costs as low as absolutely possible to match the smaller available markets.

  • Sub-orbital - at previous meetings, suggestions of commercial sub-orbital RLVs, such as TGV's Michelle, were generally not taken very seriously. Compared to the huge potential income from placing satellites into orbit for Iridium, Teledesic, etc., sub-orbital looked like an insignificant sideshow. It was clear at this meeting, however, that sub-orbital is now seen as a sensible first step in an incremental approach to development of a launch company.

  • Big Airbreathers - despite the "let's get small" movement, there are still big projects getting attention...more

  • New Apps - imaging from sub-orbital platforms offers a strong potential new market as described by Pat Bahn of TGV (more below.) Vertical drag racing events at air shows could also become a sizable source of income for small rocket companies.

  • Regulatory Problems - despite years of strong support from RLV startups, especially from lobbying by Gary Hudson, for the AST (FAA's Administer for Space Technology), the recently released encylopedia sized book of RLV regulations completely ignores the input of the industry and threatens its very existence. For example, flight testing over land, even vertical up and down testing over a desert area, would essentially be forbidden. The alternative of testing a manned RLV over the ocean would both endanger the pilot and eliminate the possibility of at least partial recovery of a vehicle after an emergency landing. The loss of the vehicle could easily put a small startup company out of business.

    There was considerable discussion of how to deal with and possibly reverse these regulations. The potential of a passenger/tourist sub-orbital market looks completely hopeless if these rules go forward.

  • Amateurs Rising - amateur rocketry groups are making substantial progress, especially now with the entry of wealthy enthusiasts such as John Carmack of Id Software. Following the incremental approach described above, we may see manned amateur experimental rocket vehicles in the sky within a couple of years.

  • Irony - by fortunate happenstance, Dennis Tito's voyage to the ISS coincided with the meeting. Many in the Society have been advocating space tourism for decades. Such a concept was long considered prepostrous by most people in NASA. The resistance by NASA against Tito's flight was seen as consistent with the agency's reluctance to follow a vision of opening space in every way possible to all of humanity and not just members of its club.

The Presentations

Here are short summaries of most of the talks, categorized roughly by topic:

Small & Sub-orbital RLVs

  • Pioneer Spaceplane - Mitch Clapp would not discuss details of the company's downsized vehicle, but it probably is a sub-orbital. Instead of several hundred million to develop, it will cost about $35M.

    The state of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Spaceport organization is working to provide tax benefits that will bring Pioneer and other startups to the state. With this support, Mitch seemed quite confident of getting the project underway.

  • TGV - Pat Bahn said that they now have substantial funding commitments lined up for their sub-orbital Michelle vehicle. The vehicle will be piloted and VTVL. It will have 6 engines with pressured fed LOX/Kerosene. There is high redundancy and up to two engines can fail and still land safely.

    Furthermore, he described an exciting new market involving the use of sub-orbital platforms for imaging and remote sensing.

    A sub-orbital platform offers advantages over both aerial and satellite imaging. Aerial photography at low altitudes involves a lot of expensive post-processing to properly align and register the many small scenes with mapping coordinates. A sub-orbital can provide imaging as frequently as desired rather than the twice a day rate from a satellite. A sub-orbital will allow a view of an area up to several thousand miles.

  • Near Space Transport - John Hare, owner of a construction concrete company and self-taught rocketeer, is a member of Len Cormier's XVan2001 team. Unable to raise the several million dollars needed to build the XVan, he presented a new vehicle that is somewhat less ambitious but can be built for less than $2Million.

    In collaboration with the kit aircraft company WingCo, they are proposing to combine Wingco's Atlantica, a blended wing body design, with rocket engines that will take the vehicle with a pilot and two passengers to 50km.

    They would develop the vehicle in several stages:

    • In stage one they would use the current long wing design but would use a jet engine to achieve Mach 0.85.
    • In stage two they would replace the wings with short ones suitable for supersonic flight. They would then gradually over multiple flights bring the vehicle to Mach 1.5.
    • Once they are confident of the vehicle performance at this speed, they would replace the jet engine with 2 rocket engines. Again, they would test the vehicle in a methodical, one step at a time, fashion to attain faster and higher performance until they achieved the 50km altitude.

    The moldings to build the vehicle are ready and Hare has several investors ready to contribute the cash. The big hurdle, though, is to arrange $5Million in contracts for microgravity science experiments and whatever other business they can find. (They are not going after the tourist ride market due to the regulatory and liability problems.)

  • XCOR - Dan Delong described the various projects that the company is working on and also put on a couple of conference hall live fire demos of their small bipropellant engine.

    After a year since founding with their own money, they now have 4 major investors and a couple of contracts. They have developed a proprietary electrical ignitor and also 150lb and 400lb thrust engines. They are working on a 1500lb engine that could be scaled to 5000lb.

    Their primary goal is to build rocket engines and sell them to those building vehicles. However, they will also build their own vehicles if funded by someone else. For example, the Kommet-II, a modernized version of the German Me-163b rocket warplane from WWII, has been designed. It would take about $2.0M to develop it and they would sell copies for $0.5M.

Amateur Rocketry

One of the most surprising and encouraging presentations was from John Carmack. He is famous as one of the founders of Id Software and a key programmer for its games such as Doom and Quake.

After looking around for a challenging hobby, he has gotten heavily involved in amateur rocketry. Last year, for example, he funded a couple of CATS competitors to the tune of $35k.

He is now actively pursuing development of VTVL vehicles. He decided on this since high altitude rocketry is typically restricted to just a couple of attempts a year and those may fail with limited feedback. VTVL tests can be done frequently and incrementally. Also, at least during the early development phases, the vehicles can be easily tested in parking lots and even indoors rather than at remote locations.

The initial phases have involved small remote controlled vehicles using hydrogen peroxide engines. The goal is to move step by step to a high altitude manned version by the end of 2002. The progress of the efforts of his team of volunteers can be monitored at Armadillo Aerospace.

Although he has the resources to simply buy all the parts from commercial sources, the goal is carry out the project with a budget of around $50k. So, while some parts have simply been purchased, many have been designed and built by him and his team.

Interestingly, he said that developing the flight control software within the old style DOS environment of a PC-104 card and its limited memory resources has been harder than developing the rocket engines!

Michael Wallis of the Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society gave a talk on the various projects that the group is involved in. Their vehicle projects include reusable VTVL's and manned sub-orbitals.

Cheap ELV:

Bob Conger of Microcosm gave a status report on their very low cost expendable launcher development. Their second successful sub-orbital Scorpius rocket launch took place this past March. The "SR-XM flight used the ultra-low-cost Scorpius 5,000 lb. thrust engines, avionics, and composite fuel tank".

The Scorpius approach, similar to that for low cost RLVs, is to make simple boosters with as few parts as possible and to trade off some performance for big gains in operability, reliability and low cost. The follow-on Sprite Mini-Lift will take 700lb payload to LEO for just $2.5M.

The Microcosm approach is looking quite promising but progress has been slowed by the trickle of funding that they have received. So far they have won 18 competitive awards from NASA and the military since 1993.

Big Air-breathers:

Big Airbreathers - despite the "lets get small" movement, there are still big (i.e. multi-billion dollars to reach orbit) projects in the running:

  • SKYLON - Alan Bond's hybrid airbreathing/rocket combo SSTO vehicle is still very much alive. Roger Longstraff present a status report on the Skylon project. He said that the company recently received substantial funding from a private source. It will be used to build a demo version of the crucial heat exchanger system for the SABRE engine. The hot incoming air must be cooled during the airbreathing phase. Up to Mach 5 this air is pressured fed into the combustion chamber. Above 26km, the oxidizer is fed from on-board LOX tanks.

    Once this technology is proven, they will seek out private and government sources to build an actual vehicle. The unmanned vehicle would take a 12 ton payload to LEO.

  • Andrews Space Technology is proposing its two stage Gryphon. Dana Andrews described the HTHL vehicle which would takeoff using turbofan jets and then spend an hour or two at low altitudes where its Alchemist system gathers and liquifies oxygen. This LOX is then used to feed rocket engines that pushes the first stage to about Mach 7.5 and 120km. There it releases a piggyback second stage that goes on to orbit. The first stage glides down to about 10km and the turbofans turned on again for landing.

    Andrews has gotten a NASA contract to prove the air liquification system.

Advance Propulsion Technologies

Antimatter propulsion is usually relegated to Star Trek fantasies. Even with the routine production of antiprotons at Fermilab in the US , it would take millions of years to produce even gram amounts of the amazing stuff.

However, Dr. Gerald A. Smith, formerly a professor of physics at Penn State University, presented a report on propulsion applications of reasonably attainable quantities of antiprotons. While at Penn State he worked on several projects to capture and hold antiprotons for long periods.

Now at Synergistic Technologies in Los Alamos, N.M, he is involved with several projects funded by NASA to prove that significant quantities of antiprotons can be captured and stored for long periods. A $600k degrader/spectrometer combination experiment, for example, is being setup at Fermilab to capture and hold a trillion antiprotons.

For propulsion small quantities of antimatter would be used to catalyse microfusion explosions of deuterium and Helium 3. Fusion is normally very difficult to achieve but with the addition of a bit of antimatter, the resulting very high energy in a small volume will be enough to trigger the fusion reactions and lead to a net production of energy.

The fusion reactions would heat a hydrogen propellant. Such a propulsion system would provide an Isp of 61,000secs and would allow a spacecraft to reach 10000 A.U. in 50years.

See the publications page at Penn State for several articles on antimatter propulsion systems.

Leik Myrabo gave an update on his laser propulsion experiments and the formation of the Lightcraft Technologies company. He discuss several ideas on how to expand the system to provide for manned spacecraft. (See the recent update here on Lightcraft.)

New Ideas:

Ed Wright expanded on rocket racing ideas that he first proposed at the Space Frontier Foundation conference last fall. The concept now is for vertical drag races of two manned rockets to a given altitude. The races would occur as events at air shows, just as currently there are airplane races. Developments are moving along rapidly and there could be formal announcements of teams and demonstrations within a few months.

Dave Salt of Vega Aerospace in Germany gave, in addition to his yearly review of RLV developments in Europe, the results of a brief study that he has done on the potential for low cost RLV's to serve the geostationary comsat market. According to his calculations, if fueling and modular assembly (e.g. connecting a small booster to take the comsat to take it to GEO) were done in low earth orbit, RLV's would offer a considerable cost advantage over current ELVs. Even though it would take at least 2-5 trips to orbit for the RLV to bring the fuel and modules to LEO, they would still offer much lower costs. The major hurdle, however, is convincing the very conservative telsat companies to take the initial risk to prove the approach.

News briefs... The X-40A continues its series of drop tests - Futuristic X-40A Passes Third Drop Test - Aviation Week - April.30.01 and the X-43A's flight is getting closer Dress rehearsal successful for flight of X-43A scramjet - Spaceflight Now - April.30.01

April 20, 2001

News briefs... Buildup to the X-43 program's first flight has begun in earnest. Lots of articles this week including these: NASA's X-43 Could Some Day Chase Mach 10 - Space.com - April.19.01 * X-43A to make first scramjet hypersonic flight - Spaceflight Now - April.19.01 * Space jet could leave rockets in the dust - CNN.com - April 18, 2001

April 18, 2001

News briefs... The X-38 crew rescue vehicle project may not be dead after all - NASA weighing options for crew escape vehicle - FLORIDA TODAY - April.17.01 ...

More about the Air Force's possible rescue of the X-33 & X-34 - [--Error--]Firms Look to U.S. Air Force to Revive X-33, X-34 - Space.com - April.16.01 ...

and more about the recent X-40a drop flight - X-40A craft paves way for NASA's X-37 space plane - Spaceflight Now - April.15.01 ...

Overview of the NASA sponsored X projects - NASA's X planes - Huntsville Times - April.15.01

April 13, 2001

Pentagon my revive X-33. The Washington Post reports of discussions between the Air Force and NASA to keep the X-33 project alive.

[--Link Dead--]New Mission for Lockheed Space Plane? Air Force May Give Life to Canceled X-33 Shuttle Replacement - Washington Post - April.13.01

Gen. Ralph Eberhart, head of the Space Command, is asking NASA to provide bridge funding of $15M to maintain the program till October when the military could then take over with money appropriated in the next fiscal year. Furthermore, Lockheed Martin has offered to pay half that if NASA pays the rest.

The Air Force sees the X-33 project, with a VentureStar follow-on, as a quick route to hardware development of a military space plane. The aerospike engine tests had been going along successfully and other major sub-systems, such as the thermal protection system, were on schedule for a 2003 launch before the project was canceled . The new aluminum fuel tank design was ready to move to the construction phase.

Goldin has shown interest but hasn't made any committments yet. He's apparently afraid that come autumn there would be no new money budgeted to the Air Force for the project and NASA would have funded a bridge to nowhere.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is apparently supporting the idea. The renewed interest by the military for a space plane was, in fact, kicked off by the report from a military space commission on which he served before taking over his new post.

The article mentions that a possible application for the space plane is as a long range bomber. A VentureStar-like space plane could deliver a warhead to anywhere in the world within 90 minutes. The bomb's destructive power would come from simple kinetic energy due to the speed of delivery from an orbital platform.

April 12, 2001

News briefs... At least some in the military seem to be getting serious about supporting RLV development - Air Force Steps Up Quest For Reusable Launchers - Aviation Week - April.12.01 ...

Meanwhile, the NASA/Air Force Space Maneuvering Vehicle proto-prototype, X40A, makes another successful drop (X-37 would be the SMV prototype) -

... X-43 getting ready for first flight - Briefing Set As Hyper-X Flight Preparations Begin - NASA PR - April.12.01

April 11, 2001

News brief...The LA Tines has a nice review of the X-43 project and the upcoming flights: [--Link Dead--]Plane's Final Destination Mach 7 - LA Times - April.10.01.

April 9, 2001

News brief...France may build a crew rescue vehicle similar to the canceled (or at least postponed) X-38 - Italy, France May Build New Pieces For Station - Aviation Week - April.4.01. France could perhaps build on what they learned with the defunct Hermes spaceplane project, which was canceled after considerable investment in its development.

April 6, 2001

The Phoenix rises in Germany...A consortium of German government agencies and commercial companies have approved funds for development of the Phoenix "demonstrator for reusable space transport ": Go-ahead for new, reusable space transport system - EADS Press Release - April.4.01. Image

The Phoenix is a prototype for the Space Hopper concept that Astrium began developing in 1999. The Hopper consists of a winged first stage ([--Error--]illustration at Astrium) that is horizontally launched on a sled. At the apogee of its sub-orbital trajectory, the first stage releases an expendable second stage that takes the payload to orbit. (See [--Error--]sequence diagram at Astrium). The Hopper stage then glides back for landing. The Hopper looks a bit like a smaller version of the Shuttle.

The Phoenix, due for completion in 2003, is a sub-scale version of the Hopper with a length of "just under seven meters long. It will have a wingspan of 3.8 meters, a weight of 1,200 kilograms." Exactly what capabilities the Phoenix will possess have not yet been detailed in the press releases or on the web sites.

  [April 11, 2001 - Update: The April 9 issue of Space News has an article about the Phoenix project. Items of interest include:

  • Total funding is 32 million DM (~15M US dollars).
  • The vehicle will undergo drop tests from a helocopter at 4km.
  • Primary goals are to test aerodynamics and automated guidance systems.
  • Phoenix is supported by two German RLV technology development programs:
    • Astra - focuses on automated landing and aerodynamic challenges
    • Tetra - concentrates on structures and landing gear.
  • Hopper would be launched from a magnetically levitated sled located at the ESA launch center in French Guiana.


[ April.11.2001 - Editor: In general, these and other European RLV programs focus only on long term technology development. There are no plans for an operational vehicle earlier than the 2015 time frame. The European space powers want to insure they first get a return back from their huge Ariane 5 investment before developing other major launch systems. ]

News briefs...[--Time Out--]X-33/VentureStar says good-bye. A Flash animation gives a project summary and listing of the participants....

Russia has begun development of the Angara launch system: Russia starts serial manufacture of new heavy rocket - Strana.Ru - March.20.01. This will encompass a family of heavy launch variations. One of these later variations will include a reusuable flyback booster. Just how soon they can begin work on this booster, however, is very uncertain.

April 4, 2001

News briefs...The X-37 spaceplane project has survived the budget cuts so far. It's also been decided that the project will be run out of Cape Canaveral: X-37 to make Cape home - FLORIDA TODAY - April.03.01 X-37 Coming to Cape Canaveral Spaceport - Spaceref - April.2.01. (The X-40 scale version had a successful test drop recently.)

See previous articles in the archives:

      Jan-Mar 2001
Jul-Dec 2000
      Apr-Jun 2000
Jan-Mar 2000
      Sep-Dec 1999
    Apr-Aug 1999







RLV related discussion groups:
Space Propulsion, The VentureStar Club & Advanced Space Transport Science at Yahoo Clubs

Space Frontier - CATS Bulletin Board



HobbySpace Store:
Space Business Books

Space: The Next Business Frontier
Space : The Next Business Frontier
Lou Dobbs, H. P. Newquist - 2001
Amazon: US UK
Lou Dobbs, famous business news anchor on CNN and co-founder of Space.com, reviews current space businesses and prospects for future space industries.

Managing Martians
Donna Shirley - 1998
Amazon: US
Managing the very challenging but successful Pathfinder project.

The Essential Guide to Telecommunications
Annabel Z. Dodd - 1999
Amazon: US UK
More space books...
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