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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
January 2003

da Vinci Prototype
Copyright of the da Vinci Project

A prototype of the da Vinci Project's X Prize vehicle under construction.

Other RLV News Sources
Space Frontier Society * Space Access Society Updates *
NASA SLI News * NASA SpaceTransportation *
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.

See the Space Log for entries
on related topics such as amateur rocketry, space businesses, etc.

RLV News Archive Directory

January 31, 2003

Wascally RASCAL problems... The latest Space News (Jan.27, 2003, p.8) reports that DARPA's RASCAL project may have difficulty meeting its performance goals within its target budget. Last April the project distributed $10 million to six groups to develop designs for a system to launch small payloads.

The contracts specify (some say over-specify) that the system :

  • Should deliver (~50kg) to LEO "anytime, any inclination".
  • Should use a reusable manned jet powered vehicle to carry a small expendable rocket stage that takes the payload to orbit.
  • Use mass injection (e.g. water) for the turbjet to achieve extra thrust at high altitudes.
  • Achieve high flight rates and low cost (~$750,000 per launch)
  • Be capable of operating from a small airfield with minimal support infrasturture required.

The teams are now in the process of presenting their results to DARPA. In an interview with Space News, the project manager Preston Carter stated that three of the teams chose to go with an existing aircraft. However, two of these designs fail to meet the program goals and the other one would require so many modifications to the aircraft it probably would be cheaper to design a whole new vehicle.

So it appears that they will go with a design that uses a new vehicle and it's not clear if that will fit into the overall budget of $88 million (including the currently contracts.) This March 1st there will be a downselect to two teams who will each receive abour $10 million for a 1 year advanced design phase. Then in 2004 one team will be selected to build the system for a 2006 launch.

News briefs... The newly formed Suborbital Institute (SOI), first mentioned back in December, will host a breakfast on Capitol Hill this February 10th. Afterwards members of SOI will meet with various congressional staffs to present briefings on issues involving regulation, insurance, and inland spaceports, which are of great importance to the successful development of a suborbital transportation industry. Contact Pat Bahn if you are interested in participating.

... Double check your X-43C proposal to conform to the latest mods : Modification to a Previous Presolicitation Notice: X-43C Hypersonic Demonstrator Vehicle - SpaceRef - Jan.30.03

January 28, 2003

Andrews Reusable Tug... Came across this item - Seattle firm's space-tug design impresses NASA - Puget Sound Business Journal - Jan.27.03 - at Spacetoday.net. It's about Andrews Space & Tech's design for the NASA alternative access to the ISS contract.

Their vehicle could deliver cargo to the ISS up to 20 times. It uses an inflatable ballute to slow the vehicle during re-entry. NASA seems happy with their approach but since NASA has decided for the OSP it's not clear if it will continue the alternate access program.

Constellation Services, as well as Boeing and LockMart, also got a similar design contract. There is an interesting interview with Charles Miller of CSI at the Spaceshow on Aug.27, 2002. Miller talks extensively about their standardize container approach to cargo delivery, patterned after the standardised containers used on trucks and ships. Their containers could be used on many different vehicles. They are using the Delta II, Kistler K-1, and a design from HMX as reference vehicles.

January 27, 2003

Four New X Prize Teams... The official X Prize press release is now available.

NASA & Defense Dept. to Emphasize RLV Tech Development... The latest issue of Aviation Week reports that NASA's Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT) program will takeover several projects previously funded by the "defunct" SLI program. These span both near and far term technologies.

Cooperation with the military on RLV tech will grow and "tighten".

For the near term a major priority will be the development of large reusable hydrocarbon engines, such as the RS-84 at Rocketdyne. The program will concentrate on ways to "prevent coking residue buildup" when kerosene or similar fuels are used to cool the engine. In addition, they will develop "materials that can withstand the oxygen-rich engine environment through repeated firings."

On the far term, hypersonics research remains a major priority for both NASA and the military. In particular, there will be a strong effort to fly the X-43C in 2007. This version of the X-43 series, will test a hydrocarbon scramjet developed under the HyTech project.

The decision on whether to re-start SLI's "aggressive" push towards a 2nd gen RLV will be postponed to 2004. In the meantime, NASA and the Defense Department will work to tighten their coordination of RLV development plans.

January 26, 2003

News brief... The Truax-Sprague team, mentioned below as one of the new teams htat recently entered the X Prize contest, is now listed under American Astronautics Corporation. The entry page also now includes a team briefing (pdf, 76kb). They have a website and a section on their The Spirit of Liberty vehicle but no content yet.

January 24, 2003

Gary Hudson talks to the Transterrestrial Muse... Rand Simberg has posted an interview with long time RLV developer - Space Entrepreneur Profile: Gary Hudson - Transterrestrial Musings - Jan.24.03

January 21, 2003

Three More X Prize Teams On Line... The official X Prize team list now includes the rest of the 4 teams first mentioned last week. This follows the posting of IL Aerospace Technologies over the weekend. The new teams include :

New briefs ... More on Peter Diamandis's recent remarks about the X Prize competition at - Panel says space tourism prospects upbeat for 2003 - Spaceflight Now - Jan.19.03. ...

... An environmental assessment has been completed for a large spaceplane to land at Edwards Air Force Base in Mojave, Ca. - No major pollution foreseen from spacecraft - L.A. Daily News - Jan.20.03 (link found at spacetoday.net). It says this is for a generic craft but I assume it's in preparation for the option of the X-37/OSP to land there rather than at KSC.- [Jan.24.03 - This item might be a little more interesting than I first thought. I'll keep you posted if anything emerges.]

January 19, 2003

New Israeli X Prize Team ... An new entry from Israel - IL Aerospace Technologies - has now been added to the team list. Their Negev 5 consists of a hybrid motor (HTPB (rubber) and LOX ) powered module that first rides a balloon to 25km before firing. See their team briefing (pdf, 114kb) for more details.

January 17, 2003

X Prize Team Updates... The X Prize entry page for Funtech Systems has been updated. It now includes a team briefing (pdf, 65kb) about their organization and the Aurora Rocketplane....

... There will be entry pages for the four new teams ready sometime next week.

January 16, 2003

New X Prize Teams... Jeff Foust has a brief report on the space tourism meeting today in Washington D.C. - More X Prize competitors on the way - SpaceToday.net - Weblog - Jan.16.03. Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize, stated that there will be four new competitors announced next week. He also is confident that there will be manned test flights this year and a winner within 12 to 18 months.

News briefs ... Buzz Aldrin talks about RLV's, space tourism, and orbital hotels in- Heavenly Hiltons By Buzz Aldrin and Ron Jones - TCS: Tech - Jan.16.03. (BTW: Buzz will talk today at the Washington Space Business Roundtable meeting on space tourism. Jeff Foust said he may post a summary of the meeting on his weblog.) ...

... In his latest Spacefaring Web essay, John Carter McKnight offers some good advice on how space tourism companies should take advantage of the showbiz tactics of P.T. Barnum to market space travel to the public....

... While Taylor Dinerman has some suggestions to Sean O'Keefe on the ISS and RLV development - O'Keefes First Year at NASA: Getting the Details Right, But...- Space Equity.com - Jan.15.03.

January 15, 2003

XCOR Plans... I should have mentioned below with regard to Rand Simberg's interview that Jeff Greason briefly outlines the plans for XCOR. (I was spurred to this after seeing his comments highlighted in a sci.space.policy posting by Jim Kingdon). The XCOR roadmap goes roughly as follows:

  • Xerus is their main project
  • They are in the process of raising funding for it.
  • Once the funding is in hand they will begin construction and reach revenue producing flights in 3 years
  • The revenue is mainly from sub-orbital tourism. [He doesn't say this but I take it for granted.]
  • Xerus will also carry an expendable upper stage to put "very small payloads (10kg) into LEO". (i.e. smaller than the RASCAL 50-100kg but a similar goal)
  • Then a 2nd-gen system with a larger sub-orbital vehicle and expendable upper stage.
  • Replace the expendable upper stage with a reusable stage
  • "[B]y that point the price should be low enough for orbital passenger flights."

I sure like this roadmap. It makes my Stairway to Space Timeline look more plausible.

Space Tourism Financing Study... This paper - Developing Viable Financing Models for Space Tourism by Fabian Eilingsfeld & Daniel Schaetzler - 2002 - Spacefuture - does some in depth analysis of financing for space tourism, especially sub-orbital tourism.

It concludes that "a commercial `X-Prize'-type vehicle could be developed and brought to operating capability for under $100 million while still returning up to 35% (IRR), given that the vehicle's time-to-market is kept to a minimum."

The Usual Approach To Space Tourism... On the other hand, there are many who still believe only NASA, ESA and the major aerospace companies can get us to space - Space: Final Vacation Frontier? - Wired - Jan.15.03.

The article says that Astrium has done some paper studies of RLVs for tourism, i.e. "the company has also drawn up plans for a "space coaster," a vehicle capable of carrying up to 12 passengers. The coaster looks like a space shuttle with a glass dome for the passengers piggybacking on the ship."

This vehicle would "be preceded by six-passenger "space-hoppers" that could bring people into sub-orbital flight -- not high enough to be in outer space, where the space station orbits, but high enough to see the blackness of space and for passengers to experience weightlessness." This will follow, I suppose, from the current German Hopper project.

January 14, 2003

Jeff Greason Meets the Transterrestrial Muse... Rand Simberg has posted an interview with Jeff Greason of XCOR. They particularly focus on the regulatory challenges for the development of sub-orbital vehicles - Space Entrepreneur Profiles - Jeff Greason - Transterrestrial Musings - Jan.14.03.

AvWeek Sees Bleak RLV Status... Aviation Week just issued its annual Aerospace Source Book for 2003. The section on Reusable Launch Vehicles (written by Marco Caceres of the Teal Group) is, not surprisingly, very downbeat on the prospects for RLV development. (Essentially a repeat of last years review.)

Basically he states that the OSP is the only NASA program now that SLI has been downgraded and Kistler's K-1 is the only commercial company with any chance of getting a vehicle operational any time soon.

He doesn't provide much new on Kistler except to say that its investors continue to keep it going, though not with enough funds to finish the K-1. The SLI contract has also helped sustain the project but whether the new SLI will continue this support isn't known. He speculates, though, that the K-1 could be a useful testbed for OSP technology.

He comments on the Catch-22 situation for RLVs in which no one will provide investment until the markets are proven that can justify the high flight rates needed for RLVs to bring down launch costs, but the markets won't appear until RLVs bring down the costs to less than $1000, and maybe $500, per pound.

He briefly mentions "a handful of technology efforts" such as XCOR and the European programs.

RBCC Test... Aerojet has posted its press release on a test of a thruster for the ISTAR (Integrated System Test of an Air-breathing Rocket) project - NASA, Industry Consortium Successfully Test Full-Scale Hypersonic Engine Thruster - Aerojet - Jan.14.03. The NASA funded project seeks to develop a Rocket Based Combined Cycle (RBCC) engine that can run either as a rocket or as a ramjet/scramjet.

In rocket mode the engine should accelerate a craft from the ground to a speed where it can shift to ramjet action (around 3750mph). This test was the " first successful hot fire of a thruster using a mix of decomposed peroxide, liquid peroxide and JP-7 jet fuel to generate combustion. This 90-percent peroxide “tri-fluid” approach will allow the thrusters to fit within the engine’s extremely tight packaging restraints, yet deliver high performance."


"The team successfully decomposed liquid peroxide in a platelet catalyst bed to supply hot oxygen to the combustion chamber as an ignition source.

"Data gained from this test series -- particularly regarding reaching 90 percent efficiency of the catalyst beds -- was the first step needed to establish a start sequence for the full-scale thruster. The platelet catalyst beds reached 90 percent efficiency in six-tenths of a second."

"Secondly, the team demonstrated tri-fluid combustion, or the stable operation of decomposed and liquid peroxide and JP-7. The goal of the test was to establish an ignition start sequence and to characterize the use of liquid hydrogen peroxide to cool the combustion chamber walls. A reliable start sequence was established that minimized the start transient -- the abrupt and potentially risky physical motion of the thrusters during ignition -- and resulted in reaching full chamber pressure in less than one second."

The schedule of the RBCC Consortium, or RBC3 (NASA, Aerojet, Rocketdyne, & Pratt & Whitney), goes as

  • 2003 - longer-duration thruster tests in early 2003
  • 2006 - "a full-scale ground demonstration test of a rocket based combined cycle engine"
  • 2010 - "flight-test a self-powered hypersonic flight vehicle to more than six times the speed of sound, demonstrating all modes of engine operation."
  • 2025 - "creation... of flight vehicles that will offer safe, routine, affordable space access and air transportation to any point on the globe in less than two hours."

News briefs ... The Space Frontier Foundation speaks out against the OSP - NASA's Orbital Spaceplane Program: New NASA Program Doomed to Failure, NASA Should Explain Failures, Foundation Tells Congress - SFF - Jan.13.03 ....

...The Starchaser site shows photos (at least in the Flash version of the site) of recent tests of large steerable parachute canopies that they will use later this year in flights of the Nova rocket. In these tests, the parchutes used as the payload an ATV (all terrain vehicle) with two occupants to simulate the rocket's capsule.

January 13, 2003

News briefs ... See pictures of the X-38 heading for the warehouse : X-38 Put in Storage at Johnson Space Center - SpaceRef - Jan.11.03 ...

... SpaceX has posted some updates on their project. Tests of the "main engine and second stage engine" will take place in "central Texas at a former Navy test site". They selected Irvin to supply the parachutes for the reusable first stage.

January 5, 2003

Doing business in space ain't easy... Starting a space business, whether it intends to develop a RLV or a comsat towtruck, is very exciting but also very difficult. Check out my Conversation with Dennis Wingo, the founder of SkyCorp and cofounder with Walt Anderson of Orbital Recovery, to hear about his companies and the challenges a space entrepreneur faces in getting an enterprise into orbit.

January 4, 2003

News lull before a busy year... Not much in the way of announcements and events related to RLVs in the past few weeks. I expect, though, that things will pickup considerably as the year progresses.

As mentioned earlier, many of the X Prize competitors should begin to carry out test flights this year, perhaps even a manned test flight by the end of the year.

NASA will begin to ramp up the X-37 project and the design of the Orbital Space Plane will start to firm up. Perhaps NASA will even surprise everyone and award an ISS alternate access contract to Kistler or some other private launch company.

Don't forget the Space Access Society meeting at the end of April. See the latest Space Access Society Update for information on conference news and registration info.


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