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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
July-August 2002

Photo by Mike Massee of XCOR Aerospace
July 11, 2002: The EZ-Rocket zips through the cloudy Mojave sky .

Other RLV News Sources
Space Frontier Society * Space Access Society Updates *
NASA SLI News * SpaceTransportation at MSFC *
NASA Watch Launch System News * OrbiReport - Space Transportation News *
Spacetoday.net (Jeff Foust): Launch Vehicles

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

August 30, 2002

Scaled Composites Mystery Plane an X Prize Component?... In the August 5th issue of Aviation Week there was a picture of an odd looking plane built by Burt Rutan's company going on its first test flight at Mojave Airport. The company refused to answer any questions about the plane or its purpose.

In the August 26th issue a reader speculates in the correspondence section that the plane could be the carrier stage for Rutan's X Prize two stage system. The spindly vehicle looks like it's intended to straddle something since it has two widely spaced landing gear sections, with separate horizontal stabilisers, spanned by a narrow cockpit module with two jet engines high off the ground. The separate stabilizers would allow room for the tail section of a vehicle carried underneath.

However, the X-Prize page for Rutan's entry implies that his high altitude Proteus vehicle would be the carrier for a two stage system, as does this Powerpoint slide from 1998. It's possible, of course, that he changed his mind and decided a different first stage would be more suitable.

News briefs... David Livingston, host of The Spaceshow, discusses the bond between between RLV development and space tourism in his conference paper Space Tourism and RLVs: You Can't Have One Without the Other! written in 2000 and now posted at Space Future....

... Following up on the discussion of previous rocket powered vehicles (see below), the on line book Wingless Flight: The Lifting Body Story by R. Dale Reed at NASA Space History includes several sections on the rocket powered aspects of the lifting body prototypes, e.g. Chapter 6: From Rocket Power to Supersonic and Chapter 7: Rocket-Powered Flight.

August 29, 2002

Progress for Space Independents... While not directly related to RLV development, there were some news items this week involving independent space organizations of similar spirit as the startup RLV companies:

** JP Aerospace, run by John Powell as a volunteer organization up till now, has won a "multi-million-dollar contract with the Air Force" to launch sounding rockets and high altitude balloons "to the edge of space at 100,000 to 120,000 feet" according to these articles (via Spacetoday.net):

There is nothing about the contract posted on the JP Aerospace web site yet but according to the articles, the organization, based in Rancho Cordova, California will launch its first payload at the Pecos County/West Texas spaceport in early October. (I assume this will be a balloon launch).

John has not responded to my email about the contract but I imagine he is quite busy transforming JP Aerospace from an amateur operation into a full fledged company. (His talk at the SAS meeting last April was included in my review.)

[Look for a formal announcement from JPA soon. - Aug.30.02]

** Meanwhile, an organization that remains in the amateur category is the Civilian Space Exploration Team (CSXT), run by Ky Michaelson, aka Rocketman. CXST announced this week that it has received clearance from the FAA and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for a September launch of its advanced rocket that will attempt to break the high altitude record for an amateur group:

The 17ft (~5.2m) 511lb (~232kg) rocket will reach "Mach 5 in just 15 seconds -- breaking CSXT's previous speed record of 3,205 MPH" and go to 60 miles (~100km) if things go as planned. A previous launch window in June was missed due to bad weather.

** TransOrbital (a HobbySpace advertiser) has announced that it also has recieved approvals from the US Government, in this case for sending its Trailblazer spacecraft to orbit the Moon:

The spacecraft will be launched within the next 9-12 months from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The probe will provide "high-definition (HDTV) video and maps of the lunar surface (at 1 meter resolution), as well as new images of earth-rises over lunar craters."

In addition, you can place messages and personal tokens in a time capsule that will end up on the Moon when the spacecraft impacts the surface at the conclusion of the mission.

August 28, 2002

Orbital Pessimism... A high level manager at Orbital Sciences, Antonio Elias, wrote an editorial piece in this week's SpaceNews (Aug.26.02 issue, p.13) called "No Time for RLVs". He claims that a second generation RLV is "neither justifiable nor fundable" without "dramatic improvements in propulsion, materials, launch demand or the NASA budget".

Instead, he argues for development of a reusable 4 or 5 seat crew transfer-rescue vehicle (CTRV) that would launch on an enhanced EELV - Atlas V or Delta IV. A 2nd Gen RLV would require $3-5 billion per year "during the peak development years" (he doesn't give an estimated total cost), which isn't likely considering NASA's budget prospects. The CTRV, on the other hand, could be developed within a $1-2 billion a year budget for a total of $5-6 billion.

He claims that ELVs are "inherently more reliable than RLVs" because they are less complex (no deorbit, reentry, landing, etc. systems) and have higher payload fractions that allow for greater design margins.

He expects the yearly flight rate for both government and commercial launches to be less than "30 to 40 shuttle equivalent launches per year over the next 20 or so years." So a 2nd Gen RLV can not provide a payback on the investment in less than 15-25 years at best.

While he makes some reasonable points, they are mostly valid only within the warped space of the DC Beltway. Here is some counterpoint:

  • Orbital has been developing the CTRV concept for several years and obviously wants to push NASA in the direction where it has maximum advantage.
  • Why does the 2nd Gen RLV have to be a huge shuttle replacement vehicle? Start with small, cheap RLVs and work up.
  • For example, the Kistler K-1 is 75% finished. For just a couple hundred million dollars or so, it could be flying in less than 2 years and provide actual data on the reliability, operational costs, robustness, etc. of a fully reusable system that was built with costs in mind.
  • Using the K-1 for Station resupply, (Constellations Services will study this with its recent grant) would provide a real world test of the claims and counterclaims that RLVs can and cannot provide substantial cost savings over ELVs or partial RLVs.
  • Every ELV launches on its first and last flight. I doubt the X-43 guys will feel real confident when their next vehicle blasts off on yet another never-used-before Orbital Sciences Pegasus booster. The exact cause of the booster failure for the first X-43 mission was never completely resolved. That's typical for a system you can not incrementally test.

Rotary Memories ... A new book will be appearing in October called They All Laughed at Christopher Columbus: An Incurable Dreamer Builds the First Civilian Spaceship (Amazon commission link) by Elizabeth Weil. The cover blurb says the book focuses on Gary Hudson and his efforts since the 1970s to develop a RLV, especially a SSTO vehicle, culminating in the Roton project at Rotary Rocket.

In a posting on the sci.space.policy newsgroup, however, Hudson says the book is not a biography of him but "one reporter's nontechnical, nonbusiness view of about ten of the seventy people who were involved in the effort, mostly some of the younger techs and engineers..." Further, he says that originally "it was to be called 'Unreasonable Men' (as in 'all progress comes from unreasonable men') but the publisher decided upon the current title."

Weil also wrote the article American Megamillionaire Gets Russki Space Heap! Sells Joy Rides to Fellow Tycoons! NASA Fumes! - NY Times - July,23.00 a somewhat satirical look at Walt Anderson, the primary financial backer of Rotary.

August 24, 2002

Trusting Rockets ... Rockets don't have a great reputation for safety, to say the least. Virtually every popular article I've read about space tourism, for example, makes a point of rockets being inherently dangerous, prone to explosion. At a SLI news conference last Spring a reporter questioned whether NASA's goal for a future RLV to reach a reliablity level of 1 in 10,000 chance of failure was plausible considering that the vehicle would use rocket engines.

In a thread at sci.space.policy on Rand Simberg's Rockets Are Good Enough article, Jeff Greason of XCOR gives a firm rebuttal to the claim of a poster that "rockets are dangerous devices" that will never "attain the level of reliabillity, cost effectiveness and safety of a (scram)jet engine."

Greason argues that rockets are "fundamentally quite simple devices" that can be safe and reliable when those features are given high priority.

He believes the public perception of rockets as dangerous devices comes from ELV's that were blown up by range officers at the first sign of trouble. [Note that often the trouble is a malfunction in some other system than the rocket engine such as the navigation control]. "If jet aircraft were designed with self destruct, they would, especially in the early years, have generated similar hard-to-forget fireballs."

Also, most rockets have not been designed with safety and reliablity as a priority. An ELV is only used once so cost considerations have a very high priority.

In the cases where rockets have needed to be reliable, they have in fact served quite well. The examples that Greason mentions include:

Finally, he reports that XCOR so far has had "1496 engine runs on various engines with zero uncontained failures.'

Sub-orbital confidence builders... A frequent criticism of the sub-orbital projects is that the capabilities of such vehicles are far less that what's needed for orbit and so won't contribute much to developing orbital vehicles.

This is unwarranted on several levels, the most obvious being that high altitude sub-orbitals will fly missions very similar to those required for the boost stage of a two stage orbital RLV. In addition, they will provide experience in dealing routinely with the challenging aerospace regimes of subsonic to supersonic and back, dense atmosphere to very thin atmosphere and back.

Operating and maintaining such an "aerospace" vehicle in a low cost manner will be a big challenge and directly applicable to orbital systems.

However, the greatest contribution of a sub-orbital business could be in simply countering the belief discussed above that rockets are inherently fragile and dangerous. When rocket powered sub-orbitals begin to fly weekly trips to 100km or more, this will go a long way towards convincing the public that rockets can be just as reliable and safe as turbojets.

A sub-orbital company that builds a track record of safety, reliability and low cost operations will obviously have a much easier time in raising capital to build an orbital vehicle than if it tried to skip the sub-orbital phase and go straight to an orbital vehicle. (Also, profits from the sub-orbital operations, such as tourist flights, will help to fund the next phases as well.)

Air & Space Looks at Space Tourism... .The Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine issue for September includes an article entitled Ticket to Orbit by Eric Adams. It includes comments from several of the independent rocketeers including John Carmack and Geoff Sheerin of the Canadian Arrow X Prize project. It also mentions Kelly Aerospace as an example of a rocket company moving away from the goal of serving the satellite delivery market and instead aiming its vehicle, in this case the Eclipse Astroliner, towards the sub-orbital tourism market.

August 23, 2002

Rockets vs Air Breathers... Rand Simberg examines the arguments for scramjets in his latest Fox News blog - Rockets Are Good Enough - FOXNews.com - Aug.22.02. See the Hypersonics section and this earlier Hypersonic Air Breather - The Solution or a Detour? article for background materials to this debate.

August 21, 2002

News briefs...The latest Aviation Week (Aug.19.02 issue, p.26) reports that the Japanese government is getting jealous of the Chinese manned space program and may start one of its own. If so, it probably will just mean trying to pop more pods into space rather than doing something exciting like flying HOPEs or, even better, KANKOH-MARUs. (Perhaps it could mean, at least, some scraps thrown to the RVT, more photos.) ...

..There is a rumor that Elon Musk, founder of Paypal and funder of Translife, is considering an orbital RLV project. Perhaps this was what he was referring to in a Space News article (June.17.02, p. 16) when he said his new company Space Exploration Technologies (I can't find a web site for it yet) would "compete with markets now dominated by Boeing [and] Lockheed Martin" ... "They have launch vehicles and spacecraft and we would be doing something along that line". He would not elaborate further....

...NASA Watch is reporting that an X-34 vehicle (without an engine) has arrived at Edwards Air Force Base in California. Also, the Air Force and NASA may soon be announcing enhanced cooperation.

August 19, 2002

RLV Industry Looking "a little healthier"... The recent issues of SpaceEquity.com offer several RLV related articles:

(Ed: Thanks go to a RLV News reader for pointing me to these articles.)

August 16, 2002

News brief... XCOR's Aleta Jackson is interviewed at the Objective American Daily - SPACE: XCOR for the Final Frontier - The Objective American Daily - Aug.16.02.

HyShot Went Hypersonic... HyShot project leader Dr Allan Paull, of the University of Queenslands Centre for Hypersonics, says that preliminary analysis of data from the flight on July 30th shows that the test engine did in fact achieve supersonic combustion:

HyShot program secures place in flight history - Univ. of Queensland - 16-Aug-2002

This would be the first successful demonstration of supersonic combustion in a full scale engine in an atmospheric test.

A Russian/US rocket launch of a scramjet engine in 1998 did not achieve combustion at supersonic flow rates. The Air Force did achieve postive thrust in a scale model scramjet using a gun launch system to accelerate the projectile to Mach 7.1.

Dr Paull hopes to continue with six more flights over five years with the goal of developing a free flying scramjet powered vehicle. Eventually they hope to develop a launcher for small satellites.

August 15, 2002

Space Commander Wants RLV Money - NOW... Space News (Aug.12.02 issue) reports that General Lance Lord of the Air Force Space Command is trying to persuade the senior staff to include funding for RLV development in the next yearly budget rather than in the 2007-2009 time frame as currently planned. (Such long term funds seldom actually appear.)

He would like to see some demonstrators built including a VTHL "X-vehicle" that would reach Mach 10 with a LOX/Kerosene engine. This could then be followed with a "Y-Vehicle" that would show enhanced capabilities and perhaps even achieve orbit.

Armadillo Status... John Carmack recently posted to a sci.space.policy thread about the X Prize - Aug.12.02 and included some info on the status of his projects. Comments included:

  • Armadillo Aerospace plans to compete for the X Prize (he just hasn't had time to fill out the official entry papers.)
  • There will be several intermediate vehicles built before the X Prize entry.
  • Near term goals:
    • 60 sec burn of a bi-propellent engine
    • Develop a 5000 lbf monoprop engine.
    • Fly, initially unmanned, a seated VTOL with auto-hover and auto-land; then with a pilot on board. (See photo.)
    • Fly a streamlined vehicle (~140kg) to demonstrate the flight control system.
August 10, 2002

News Briefs... Space Future posts an interview with John Carmack about his group's efforts to develop VTOL rocket vehicles: The Armadillo Rocketeers - Interview with John Carmack - Space Future Journal - Aug.8.02....

... NASA Watch is reporting that NASA is giving the Air Force the partially completed X-34 vehicles. Apparently, the AF will use them as technology test beds but it's not clear if they will fly and if so what propulsion system they will use. (The Fastrac engine that NASA promised to Orbital Sciences, the contractor for the X-34 project, was never developed.)


August 8, 2002


SLI Hacked... Someone broke into a NASA database and stole 45MB of SLI related data, including detailed diagrams of rocket engines under development: NASA investigating hacker theft of sensitive documents - Computerworld - Aug.8.02 (got this link via Spacetoday.net).

Not sure if this is a disastrous loss of national secrets or a clever counter-intelligence coup designed to ensure that our enemies also don't develop a RLV before 2020.

August 7, 2002

XCOR's Big Oshkosh Adventure... A report has been posted at XCOR on the demonstration of the EZ-Rocket at the Oshkosh Airshow: XCOR Aerospace: Oshkosh 2002 trip report. Includes lots of photos of the trip and the two flights. See also the video at XCOR (they promise more to come) and the video at Air Venture.

August 5, 2002

News briefs... NASA returns to kerosene engines: NASA's Space Launch Initiative's next generation reusable launch vehicle may fly on kerosene - SLI PR - Aug.5.02....

...NASA returns to the idea of jet powered flyback boosters for the Shuttle: Propulsion Office studies next generation rocket boosters with flyback capability - SLI PR - Aug.1.02. [New generation rocket boosters that fly back studied - Spaceflight Now - Aug.6.02]...

... On his weblog Rand Simberg is leading a discussion on the promise and practicality of privately developed sub-orbital vehicles, XCOR's in particular: Space Technology And Business Misperceptions. Jeff Greason of XCOR today added some comments on the Xerus design and the general approach of his company to space development.

August 3, 2002

News brief... The Discover Magazine article in the July issue about the X Prize, mentioned here earlier, is now available on line - The X-Prize : Does anyone hear Charles Lindbergh chuckling - Discover Magazine - July.02.

August 2, 2002

News briefs... This week Rand Simberg's column at Fox News is entitled Pork versus Vision. He discusses the reasons why a genuine next-generation launch vehicle will not need special spaceport facilities like those at the Kennedy Space Center....

...Check out David Livingston's June 25th interview on the The Space Show with space analyst Jeffrey Foust who examines the launch industry for the Futron consulting company. (Jeff also operates Spacetoday.net.) The last third of the interview deals with RLV developments. The interview is 71 minutes in Windows Media format. (The "director's cut" adds several minutes that were not broadcast during the original radio show.)

August 1, 2002

News briefs... NASA building new test facilities for SLI engines Stennis Gears Up For SLI Testing - Aviation Week - July.31.02 ...

... Check out the nice intro to ramjets and scramjets, as well as pulse detonation engines, at the Onera (a French research company) tutorial: RAMJET, SCRAMJET and PDE - an introduction.

For info on a scramjet engine test carried out with a Russian missile in 1998, see the report CIAM/NASA Mach 6.5 Scramjet Flight and Ground Test, R. T. Voland et al, AIAA-99-4848, 1999 (pdf, 294kb).

(These links courtesy of Glenn Olson.)

July 30, 2002

HyShot launched...The Australian scramjet engine HyShot was launched on a rocket booster today at the Woomera flight test range: HyShot launch successful – positive signs for experiment 30-Jul-2002 * Australians Launch Hypersonic Scramjet Engine - Yahoo! - July.30.02

While the flight went well this time (in the previous test last October the booster rocket malfunctioned), there is no indication yet if the engine achieved supersonic combustion and positive thrust. The segment of the flight where the scramjet should fire only lasts a few seconds before impact - see the flight diagram. It could take several weeks of telemetry analysis to determine the engine performance.

More about the project at the Univ. of Queensland's Centre for Hypersonics site and in the Hypersonics section.

Canadian Arrow Engine Test Success...The X Prize competitor Canadian Arrow reports on the success of a test of its single burner cup rocket engine : Space race team closer to $10 million prize - CNN.com - July.30.02

Like the vehicle structure, the engine is modeled after the original V2 design. The engine burns a mixture of alcohol and liquid oxygen. The complete 18 burner cap version will produce 57,000 lbs. of thrust at sea level.

The group reports that they will finish "all the testing of the main flight engine before the end of 2002" and will aim for "a first launch mid-2003."

July 25, 2002

EZ-Rocket Flies at Oshkosh...Jeff Greason reported on the sci.space.policy newsgroup that the EZ-Rocket flew successfully today at the air show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Congratulations to the XCOR team!

I hope this is the start of rocketplane and VTOVL rocket flights becoming common events at air shows. Ed Wright for some time has been promoting the concept of rocket exhibition flights and even rocket racing at air shows as a promising market to help pay for the development of private suborbital rockets.

Advanced Turbine Engine for Reaching Mach 4...NASA has given GE a grant of $55 million to begin development of a turbofan engine that would push a vehicle to Mach 2.5 while in conventional gas turbine mode and then convert to a "ramburner" mode to reach Mach 4+.

Aviation Week (July 22, 2002) reports that the Revolutionary Turbine Accelerator (RTA) project, which is part of the Revolutionary Aeropropulsion Concepts program at NASA Glenn Research Center, hopes to develop such an engine for eventual use in the first stage of a 2 stage RLV. The current project, however, seeks only to build a ground demo engine by 2006.

July 23, 2002

XCOR's Suborbital Plans...XCOR offers its own press release about the Xerus and the contract with Space Adventures. It also offers some more information about its approach to building a suborbital vehicle, stressing that the design shown in the graphics is just one possible configuration and the design may change significantly.

In addition to passenger rides, they plan to use the vehicle for other applications such as carrying science payloads, e.g. to test equipment and microgravity experiments intended for the ISS, and to provide a first stage for launching microsats to orbit.

More Xerus... Race to launch first "spaceplane" hots up - New Scientist - July.23.02 ...Plane designed for space tourists - MSNBC - July.22.02 ... ['Cheap' space trips offered for the rest of us - CNN.com - July.24.02]

News Brief... NASA developing hypersonic technologies for future - Spaceflight Now - July.23.02

July 22, 2002

XCOR Xerus Suborbital Spacecraft
Image- Space Adventures
Artist's vision of XCOR's Xerus suborbital vehicle, which will initially
be dedicated to space tourism flights for Space Adventures.

XCOR & Space Adventures Announce Xerus Suborbital Spacecraft...XCOR has begun preliminary design of a resuable suborbital spacecraft that can take 1 pilot and 1 passenger to 100km (62 miles) in altitude:

XCOR and Space Adventures signed a marketing agreement in which the craft will be dedicated to SA's space tourism passengers for the first 600 flights.

Similar to the earlier SA announcement on the use of the Russian suborbital Cosmopolis 21 for space tourism flights, the vehicle development is contingent on XCOR securing the financing.

Once funding is available, "XCOR expects that it will take eighteen months to begin flight tests and three years before entering revenue service."

Space Adventures Teams with XCOR Aerospace To Develop Sub-Orbital Vehicle - Space.com - July.22.02

News Briefs... Andrews describes their recent SLI Alternate Access grant (see below) : Andrews Space and Technology Wins $2.9 Million Contract from NASA - SpaceRef - July.22.02...

...Air Force recently awarded Boeing a grant to develop hydrocarbon engines for its reusable Space Operations Vehicle, or SOV, which will launch the Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV): Boeing Rocketdyne Awarded Air Force Hydrocarbon Study Contract - Boeing PR - July.10.02

July 17, 2002

RSTARS for SLI?...An AvWeek article recently discussed here reported that NASA was considering the development by 2008 of a Crew Rescue Vehicle for the ISS that could ride to orbit on an expendable, e.g. an Atlas 5 or Delta IV, or in the shuttle bay. Gradually it would develop into a full-fledged space taxi.

The July 8, 2002 issue of Space News gives a similar report about this design concept. The project has been given the name Reusable Space Transportation and Recovery System or RSTARS. The cost estimates range from $1.5-4.5 billion.

The Space News article says this would cause a major revamping of SLI since it is believed that diverting resources for RSTARS would mean that the current goal of a reusable two stage system by 2012 to replace the shuttle could not be achieved. Instead SLI would concentrate on "third generation" RLV technologies that could lead to a shuttle replacement in the 2020 time frame.

July 15, 2002

CSI Announces NASA Contract... "Constellation Services International, Inc. (CSI) announced today that it has been awarded a $2.3 million prime contract to study its LEO Express(SM) Space Cargo System for launching supplies to the International Space Station (ISS). The award was made by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center as part of the Alternate Access to Station (AAS) program, a multi-year effort enabling commercial ISS resupply services to supplement the Space Shuttle and other nations' ISS delivery vehicles"...continue press release

Airbreathers & Rockets Just Can't Get Along...First it was a haywire Pegasus that destroyed the first X-43 hypersonic test vehicle. Then the Australian Hyshot scramjet crashed due to the failure of its first stage rocket booser.

Now a subscale Japanese supersonic test vehicle has crashed spectacularly after a premature demating with its rocket booster: Bolts blamed for rocket crash - New Scientist - July.15.02 (Most of the press had fun portraying the event as another Concorde type disaster but the flight actually didn't last long enough to test the supersonic design.)

Obviously, it's harder than expected for an airbreather to get a safe ride on an expendable rocket.

Inflatables Re-Enter and Hide... In an odd repeat of a previous test of an inflatable re-entry system, the recent flight of the Demonstrator 2 (see below) seemed to succeed only to disappear: CNN.com - Experimental Russian spacecraft is missing - July 15, 2002. Some parts of the earlier IRDT system were apparently never found. [See also Inflatable Spacecraft Missing - New Scientist - July.16.02]

July 13, 2002

XCOR Readies for Oshkosh... As noted below, XCOR flew the EZ-Rocket twice on Thursday. A press release now offers some nice photos (see above) and videos of the flights: Another XCOR Milestone for EZ-Rocket: two flights in one day - XCOR PR - July.12.02

The second flight occurred within about 6 hours after the first. The refueling was accelerated by cryogenically chilling the helium used to pressurize the propellant tanks. Doug Jones of XCOR says that "Typically, as we load helium, its temperature rises through compression heating. Chilling the helium during loading negates this heating and allows us to get a full load onto the EZ-Rocket quickly."

Rapid turnaround and multiple flights per day with a small ground are important goals for XCOR, which wants to demonstrate that a rocket powered vehicle can provide robust, low cost operations similar to those of a jet aircraft. Next generation rocketplanes intended for markets like sub-orbital space tourism and fast cargo delivery will need such operational capabilities to be economical.

July 12, 2002

NASA Announces ISS Alternate Access Awards... SLI will spread $10.8 million, among Andrews Space & Tech, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Constellation Services International for a 12 month study into ways to deliver cargo to the Space Station other than with the Shuttle and the Russian Progress modules.

NASA awards contracts to investigate commercial services to supply International Space Station - NASA PR - July.12.02

They will look at "cargo vehicle concepts for rendezvous and docking with the Space Station, and the technology requirements needed to accomplish an automated approach by NASA and industry."

Ironically, the announcement comes the same day that NASA said the Shuttle fleet would be grounded for two months to investigate cracks in the main engine fuel lines - Space Shuttle Fleet Grounded Until September - Space.com - July.12.02.

Note that CSI includes several space activists including Charles E. Miller, founder of ProSpace and David W. Anderman, a director of Space Frontier Foundation. Walt Anderson is also an advisor.

Inflatable Re-entry Shield Test... A sub-orbital Volna rocket launched from a submarine today and released a capsule that re-entered with an inflatable thermal shield. The project follows the previous flight of the IRDT system tested with a Fregat upper stage of a Soyuz rocket in February of 2000:

Volna Launches Mini-Shuttle Demonstrator From Submarine - Andrews Space&Tech - July.12.02

July 11, 2002

7:00pm ET: Second XCOR flight also a success. Aleta says Dick got to show off to brother Burt who came by to watch.

3:00pm ET: First of two XCOR flights goes well according to Aleta Jackson of XCOR. Dick Rutan said the flight had "zero defects". They are currently awaiting a new dewar of LOX before flying a second time today.

July 10, 2002

XCOR Rocketplane To Fly Twice on Same Day...If weather permits, XCOR will first fly the EZ-Rocket at the Mojave Civilian Flight Test Center on Thursday, July 11 at 7am. Then they will "refuel as quickly as possible and fly again later in the morning, wind cooperating".

The goal of the two flights is "to show rapid re-usability and to prepare for The Oshkosh air show."

If successful, I believe this will easily be the fastest turnaround for a large rocket powered flying vehicle since the DC-XA flew twice within 26 hours in June 1996 and one of the fastest in history.

[July.11.02: Aleta Jackson of XCOR tells me that "the Germans could turn around a Me163b in about an hour. We've a long way to go to match that! " I expect they will eventually get there. ]

July 8, 2002

News brief...NASA & Boeing complete a design review of a prototype Rocket Based Combined Cycle engine (an integrated rocket - ramjet system): Revolutionary Air-Breathing Engine Rockets Past Key Milestone Ahead of Schedule - July.8.02.

July 3, 2002

Early CTRV Becomes 2nd Gen RLV Crew module...NASA is considering the development of a crew transfer/return vehicle (CTRV) that could be docked to the ISS by 2009 for emergency crew rescue. It could be launched atop a Atlas V or Delta 4 or taken inside a shuttle.

Then when the 2nd Gen RLV is developed by SLI, it would become the second stage crew vehicle for that system. (In all current SLI designs, the crew and cargo go in separate modules.)

More info at Two-Step Crew Vehicle Option Under Study for Space Station Aviation Week - July.2.02

HyFly Engine
Full scale HyFly scramjet engine at NASA Langley wind chamber.

Hypersonic Air Breather - The Solution or a Detour? Hypersonic air breathing propulsion, e.g. ramjets and scramjets, is often cited as the best way to lower the costs to reach orbit. It seems obvious that it is far more efficient to use oxygen from the atmosphere than to carry it in LOX tanks.

However, there is a tradeoff in higher fuel consumption since an air breathing vehicle must use up lots of energy to push through the atmosphere as it builds up speed. A rocket, on the other, zips up and out of the atmosphere as quickly as possible.

It can also mean higher complexity and operational costs since two propulsion systems must be maintained. A rocket engine is still required to reach orbit and in some systems is required to provide the initial boost to reach speeds where the ramjet/scramjet engine can function. (Catapult systems, e.g. maglev or tube launcher, offer another way to get an initial boost.)

Hybrid air breather/rocket systems (e.g. RBCC - rocket based combined cycle) could provide SSTO capabilities but need many more years of development to prove they can provide the necessary performance and also operate in a robust and reliable manner.

Ramjets do offer an elegant, no moving parts approach in which intake air is slowed and compressed by the shape of the inlet. Injection of fuel and combustion provides a net positive thrust.

Scramjets are similiar except that the air continues to move at supersonic speed through the engine. This requires a fast burning fuel like hydrogen.

Note that ramjets can function on vehicles moving at supersonic speeds but that the air is slowed internally to subsonic velocity. This allows for easier handling of hydrocarbon fuels, e.g. jet fuel.

The first ramjet engines were built and flown many decades ago (e.g. see the Leduc test flights, the F-23, and the Bomarc) but no scramjet has flown successfully outside of a wind chamber. Both engines have the problem of not producing thrust at takeoff and slow speeds so either a turbojet or rocket must be used initially. (Or employ hybrid designs that integrate ramjets with turbojet or rocket action.)

The X-30 program in the 1980's used up a billion or so dollars to develop a SSTO scramjet but never got past the computer simulation stage. The NASA X-43 program has developed vehicles to test scramjets at Mach 7 and Mach 10. However, the Pegasus booster failed on the first test flight. A second attempt should take place this year.

The Australian Hyshot scramjet is a similar but much lower cost program. Its first flight also failed due to a first stage booster failure. A second test is coming up this summer.

Recently, there have been reports of progress in developing scramjet engines for the US military. There are two projects - HyFly and HyTech - that aim to use hydrocarbon fuels. To do this the fuels must be "cracked" to shorter molecular chains to attain the fast burning rates needed at supersonic air flow speeds. This is done using high pressure and excess heat from the engine before the fuel is injected.

Here is a brief summary of each program:

HyFly - joint DARPA/Navy hypersonic flight demonstration project planned to last 4 years.

Participants: NASA, Boeing, Aerojet, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and the Naval Air Warfare Center. The engine is a dual combustion ramjet engine developed by APL under ONR’s Hypersonic Weapon Technology program.

Goal - develop to deployment stage a dual combustion ramjet-based hypersonic strike missile compatible with launch from ships and submarines as well as aircraft.

Schedule - first powered flights in November 2004 at Mach 4, and reaching Mach 6 one year later.

Recent Progress -

HyTech - Air Force program running since 1995 to develop scramjet technology.

Participants: Air Force, NASA, Pratt & Whitney, Allied Signal GASL Div.

Goal - general hypersonic engine development for missiles and space launchers.

Schedule -

  • Wind tunnel tests of flight weight engines starting now and will reach Mach 6 .
  • Second engine ready in 2003 for ground tests with flight-worthy fuel and control systems.
  • Flight test a hydrocarbon scramjet engine on the X-43C in 2006.

Recent Progress -

(I thank Glenn Olson for some info used in this article.)

July 2, 2002

News briefs...Collapse of the fins on the first stage of the Hyshot launcher is deemed the most likely cause of the test flight failure last fall: Final Report into Hyshot Scramjet [Test Failure] Released - Australian Minister of Industry - June.20.02 * UQ welcomes report into Hyshot scramjet flight anomaly - Univ. Queensland - 20-Jun-2002...

...Next HyShot test planned for July 29, 2002.

July 1, 2002

News brief...SLI is funding several rocket engine projects (e.g. see previous note on hydrocarbon engine development) , which will certainly invigorate the US propulsion companies: SLI May Be Boon For U.S. Propulsion Industry - Space.com - July.1.02



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