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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
April 2003

X PRIZE Trajectory
Copyright ofX PRIZE

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 Advanced Rocketery Section for entries on
advanced amateur & student rocketry, experimental rocketry,
& innovations by small rocket companies.

In addtion, the Space Log contains news about
amateur space activities, space businesses, etc.

RLV News Archive Directory

Special Topics

April 30, 2003

Space Access'03 Review

News briefs ... Jeff Foust discusses RLV regulations and issues brought up at the Space Access'03 meeting : RLV regulation: licensing vs. certification - The Space Review - Apr.28.03 ...

... Elon gets more press: Way Out There: Elon Musk made a fortune from the Internet. Now he wants to deliver payloads into space--and save mankind by colonizing Mars. - Forbes/Yahoo - Apr.24.03 ...

... Funny how entrepreneurial launch companies don't exist in Republican Dave Weldon's universe : Speech by Rep. Dave Weldon at the 2003 Space Congress - Apr.28.03 ...

... Rutan's SS1 and regulation questions : Private Innovation, Public Stagnation by Rand Simberg - FOXNews.com - Apr.25.03 ...

... The da Vinci Project home page indicates that they have gotten 90% of the five million Canadian dollars they need for the project....

... Brad Stone of Newsweek will discuss on line his article about Jeff Bezos's rocket company this Friday, May 2, at noon ET....

... More about SS1 and SpaceDev : A quest to bring space within reach: Designer betting a reusable winged rocket just the vehicle - SignOnSanDiego - Apr.29.03.

Columbia/Shuttle links...

April 29, 2003

Back from Space Access ... Henry Vanderbilt threw another great Space Access Society Conference last week. I'll be posting my review and synopses of the talks later in the day. In the meantime, here are some reviews already online:

More billionare spacers ... I guess everybody has allready seen the news about Jeff Bezos and his rocket company : Bezos in Space: Amazon.com’s founder and a few other high-tech high rollers are spending millions on a shared dream: to re-ignite the exploration of space - Newsweek/MSNBC - May.5.03 issue. I knew he was a physics major but I also heard a rumor that he was in SEDS while in college. If true that certainly indicates this space venture is no lark but something he is deeply dedicated to.

April 24, 2003

Off to Space Access ... No updates till next the 29th. Going to the Space Access Society'03 Conference in Arizona. Hope to see you there.

April 23, 2003

Environmental Aerosciences - SS1 Propulsion Development
SS1 Test Stand Trailer
Test Stand Trailer
White Knight takes off
Test firing Jan.16.03

The White Knight lands
eAC team with Burt Rutan

Photos courtesty eAc
More photos in eAc gallery

Environmental Aerosciences press release:

Environmental Aeroscience Corporation (eAc) announces selection as a team member providing the hybrid rocket propulsion system for
Burt Rutan’s Manned Space Program
Miami Florida - April 22, 2003

Founded in 1994, eAc has pioneered the development of nitrous oxide hybrid propulsion including the first ever sounding rocket flight of such a system from a NASA launch facility. eAc has been designing, testing, and flying hybrid rocket motors for tactical missiles, sounding rockets, and satellite launch applications; and with this announcement, space tourism. After two years of secret development with Scaled Composites, we are proud to announce our involvement as a vendor for the propulsion system for SpaceShipOne.

We are excited to have participated in the unveiling of this historic program on Friday, April 18, 2003. “Even though they are a tiny company … they’ve fired over a thousand hybrid motors, and that’s why they were selected,” said Burt Rutan at the event. Korey Kline, eAc Director of R&D was quoted as saying “These are the Wright Brothers days of Civilian Space Flight”.

Several developmental firings at our test facility in Miami were conducted in support of the SpaceShipOne propulsion system. The experiences of the South Florida testing allowed eAc to bring to Scaled a functional and proven system resulting in the efficient execution of the first successful static test in Mojave. eAc’s forward bulkhead with the SpaceShipOne oxidizer filling and vent systems was selected and qualified thru a competition with another vendor and will be used for all ground and flight testing. The hybrid rocket design represents the state of the art in low recurring cost nitrous oxide hybrid propulsion for space tourism applications.

eAc is currently working on advanced hybrid propulsion developments with AFRL and DARPA, including the world's smallest orbital launch vehicle, the MuLV. The MuLV is a safe, responsive, and affordable launch system that will carry 350-1200lb payloads into low earth orbit. A turbo-pump fed 30,000 lb thrust common-core booster design is used to lower development costs. A single motor system is designed and used for the central booster motor, with a variety of combinations of strap-on boosters of the same design. The lifting capacity is determined by this first stage configuration. Developmental firings include a 16” diameter nitrous hybrid that has produced 11,000 lbs thrust levels. The first series of nine test firings on this scale have been very successful allowing us to fine-tune the fuel grain geometry and injector design..

SpaceShipOne simulations... An Aviation Week reporter takes the SS1 to space and back in this detailed account of his simulator piloting : Flying Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne Simulator - Aviation Week - Apr.21.03 ...

... Scaled apparently uses the X-Plane simulator. See the White Knight X-Plane simulation at X-Plane.org....

... A somewhat more modest SS1 simulation is included in this Java applet at SpaceTethers.com.

Columbia/Shuttle links...

April 22, 2003

Time to contact Congress to save rocketry - Space Log

More SS1 info ... Jeff Foust writes more about the SS1 rollout- Rutan aims for space: A look at SpaceShipOne - The Space Review - Apr.21.03 ...

... In his latest update, John Carmack comments on the SS1 and how it will affect (or not) the plans at Armadillo Aerospace for the X PRIZE competition.

Spacedev launcher... SpaceDev has announced that it will begin development of a small launcher - 1000lb to orbit - based on the hybrid propulsion system developed for the SpaceShipOne program - SpaceDev Announces Streaker Launch Vehicle : SpaceDev Propulsion Technology Spin-offs from SpaceShipOne Program - SpaceDev - Apr.22.03.

SpaceDev's hybrid development began after it purchased the rights to the AMROC technology. The company is also developing an orbital transfer “space tug” for the Air Force called the Maneuvering and Transfer Vehicle (MTV™) that also uses hybrid propulsion.

More SpaceX articles... Elon Musk's launcher project keeps getting noticed - Can Net Whiz Kid Conquer Space? - Wired - Apr.22.03 * Entrepreneur Tries His Midas Touch in Space - LA Times - Apr.22.03

Columbia/Shuttle links...

Good press for the SS1... Jon Bonné at MSNBC has written a couple of excellent articles about Rutan's spaceship (found the links via Transterrestrial Musings). The article - Flying to space: A cockpit view : A trip 62 miles high and back down, all in 90 minutes - MSNBC - Apr.21.03 - gives a nice overview of what a flight would be like.

The other article - Private space race, public hurdles : Regulations may hampter efforts to prove technology - MSNBC - Apr.21.03 - discusses potential regulatory roadblocks for suborbital tourism and possible solutions.

Note: I exchanged some emails with Mr. Bonné a couple of months ago, first about the Kistler K-1 and then about private suborbital rocket development and the X PRIZE. He was very skeptical and indicated that he didn't think there had been much progress since the competition was first announced back in 1996. He now seems to be much more positive.

April 21, 2003

White Knight on cover of Aviation Week... AW&ST gives extensive coverage this week to the White Knight and the SpaceShipOne rollout. Thankfully, they put the long and detailed article online - Affordable Spaceship - Aviation Week - Apr.21.03.

Some of the items from the article include:

  • The project funding comes from an undisclosed source. AW&ST estimates the project cost at $20-30 million.

  • Project development started as far back as 1996 and the designs went through a number of modifications over the years. Serious development started when full funding arrived in April of 2001. They hoped to be flying by now but development has been slower than expected.

    Ed. Note: A common proposition on the space newsgroups and other forums has been that Rutan was waiting for the X PRIZE to obtain full funding before he would start building his vehicle. However, it turns out that he had started the hardware development long before the purse reached the $10 million.

  • Outside of the atmosphere attitude, control of the SS1 will come from a "redundant set of pitch, roll and yaw thrusters powered by 6,000 psi. bottles of dry air in the cabin." The pressurized air will also power the feather actuator, defog the windows (fogging has been a serious problem in ground tests), and maintain the cabin pressure.

  • No pressure suits for the pilot and passengers. "Rutan believes the overbuilt structure of the cabin provides the same safety backup as a spacesuit." There are no ejection seats. The crew will need to crank open the hatch and parachute out.

  • They will carry out a number of test flights that gradually build up to the 100km altitude. Once the funded test flight phase is done, Rutan would like to do one flight a week for a few months to determine operational issues. He estimates an eventual cost of $80k per flight.

Rutan only recently talked with the FAA about the project. He makes a guess of $100-300 million to certify a craft for regular tourist service. So he is pessimistic about using the system for space tourism.

Ed. note : I think Burt should talk with Jeff Greason of XCOR and others involved in the recent Suborbital Institute campaign on Capitol Hill - Feb.11.03 (see also Jeff Foust's article : Suborbital activists go to Washington - Spaceflight Now - Feb.22.03) The issues of licensing and certification for suborbital vehicles were at the top of the agenda. Comments from the AST representatives indicated they were quite aware of how the costs of unrealistic certification demands might kill the infant industry in the cradle.

There seemed a general recognition by regulators and the Congressional staff with whom we talked that this brand new flight service can't instantly meet the same level of safety and reliability that the mature aviation industry reached after many decades in business. I'm fairly optimistic that some compromise can be reached. Perhaps the "Accredited Passenger" concept discussed by Peter Diamandis will become the basis of such a compromise.

More articles... Two more steps to space - Popular Science - Apr.21.03 ... Rutan unveils reusable suborbital spacecraft - Spacetoday.net - Apr.19.03

Demonstration flight of the White Knight
The White Knight prepares for a demo flight
White Knight takes off
Taking off

The White Knight lands

Photos by Aleta Jackson

April 20, 2003

More SpaceShipOne info... Funtech Systems of Altamonte Springs, Florida developed the FTS - Flight Navigation Unit for the White Knight & SpaceShipOne. Note that Funtech is also a X PRIZE entry but has not announced any vehicle development progress....

... Lots of articles in various newspapers about the rollout but most are rehashes of the AP article or the press release. This one from the LA Daily News provides extra background info: Rutan unveils privately funded spacecraft - L.A. Daily News - Apr.18.03

April 19, 2003

SpaceShipOne SpaceShipOne The White Knight & SpaceShipOne attached

Photos taken by Jeff Foust during the rollout of the White Knight & SpaceShipOne

Rutan shoots for the stars with SpaceShipOne
by Jeff Foust

Famous aircraft designer Burt Rutan ended months of speculation Friday when he publicly unveiled an aircraft and a spacecraft that together offer what his company calls "the first private manned space program."

At an event attended by several hundred journalists and invited guests at the headquarters of Rutan's company, Scaled Composites, in Mojave, California, Rutan displayed for the first time both the SpaceShipOne rocket-powered suborbital vehicle and the White Knight aircraft that will carry it aloft. Guests of the event ranged from Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Apollo-era spacecraft designer Max Faget to space tourist Dennis Tito and balloonist Steve Fossett.

Rutan, fighting laryngitis during his speech, said he is developing this private spacecraft now in the hopes of igniting a "renaissance" in spacecraft development similar to the one seen in aviation between 1909-1912. While by 1908 only the pilots had flown, by the end of this three-year aviation renaissance hundreds of aircraft types had been developed and thousands of pilots had flown. The development of a private suborbital spacecraft could create a similar renaissance in spaceflight to end the decades of stagnation in government-run programs, Rutan said.

Work on the concept started back in April 1996, inspired in large part by the X Prize. Design work started about three and a half years ago, and full development of both vehicles commenced in April 2001. The first test flight of the White Knight aircraft took place on August 1, 2002; photos of that were published by Aviation Week shortly thereafter, leading to speculation about Rutan's plans, but the veil of secrecy surrounding the program remained largely in place until Friday's event.

As currently planned, SpaceShipOne will be carried aloft attached to the underside of the White Knight. At an altitude of 15,000 meters, SpaceShipOne will separate, ignite its rocket motor, and go into a steep climb. The vehicle would achieve a peak speed of about Mach 3 and climb to an altitude of 100 kilometers. SpaceShipOne would make a similarly-steep descent before leveling out at about 24,000 meters and gliding to a runway landing, less than 70 kilometers downrange from the launch point.

An unusual design feature of SpaceShipOne reduces the heating loads of the vehicle on reentry. Before reentry begins, the vehicle raises the trailing edge of its wing, along with its twin tails, to more than a 60-degree angle to the horizontal. This "carefree" reentry mode, Rutan said, is designed to put the spacecraft into a "superstable" configuration that is far more forgiving to trajectory errors than the space shuttle or the X-15. The wing and tail sections are rotated back to the horizontal position at 24,000 meters to allow the vehicle to glide to a landing.

SpaceShipOne will be powered by a single hybrid-propellant rocket engine, using nitrous oxide oxidizer and rubber fuel. Much of the propulsion system will not be developed by Scaled; as Rutan noted, "we're not rocket scientists here." With propulsion systems from major engine developers too expensive, and concerned about putting such a critical system in the hands of a single, small company, Scaled is instead running a competition. Two companies, Environmental Aerosciences Corporation and SpaceDev, are each developing and testing engines, one of which will be selected for use on SpaceShipOne. Rutan would not disclose when he would select a winning design, but a source with one of the competing companies said that a decision would likely come late this year.

The timeline for the whole SpaceShipOne flight test program is also shrouded in secrecy. Rutan hinted that the first phase of the flight test program, captive carry test flights where SpaceShipOne is carried aloft under White Knight but not released, would begin in the very near future, with glide tests taking place afterwards in the next few months. However, Rutan refused to disclose any schedule for later flight tests, or even when the first rocket-powered flight or first flight into space would take place. Part of that reticence to disclose information, Rutan explained, is because "we just don't know yet" how many test flights will be required.

Indeed, the shroud of secrecy that has surrounded this program prior to Friday's event will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future. "We're not going to have any press conferences during the test regime," Rutan said. Instead, Scaled will post a monthly summary of the events that took place in the last month of the test program, but not what is scheduled to take place in the next month. "We'll tell what we have done, not what we're going to do," he said.

Rutan also left open questions about the long-term status of the SpaceShipOne program. He made it clear that SpaceShipOne is not a commercial vehicle, and even though it is an X Prize competitor there are no plans to sell seats on flights to paying passengers, or use it for other commercial purposes. Rutan said he plans to flight test the vehicle to determine what the cost is to operate it, and possibly use that as the basis for other vehicles.

Rutan also declined to discuss the cost of the program, although when asked he said that winning the $10 million X Prize would not allow SpaceShipOne to pay for itself. Scaled documents provided at the event state that the cost of the program is projected to be "close to a Soyuz ride", suggesting something on the order of $20 million. Rutan didn't disclose the source of his funding, only to say that when he went out to look for money shortly after starting the program two years ago he "immediately found it."

Overall, while White Knight and SpaceShipOne are definitely private vehicles, the overall feel for the venture was one that was far more research and development oriented than commercial. "Fun is more important that profit," Rutan quipped at one point. He said his chief motivation was not winning the X Prize but laying claim to the title of the first private manned spaceflight, a feat that he hoped would inspire others to develop vehicles that would inaugurate a renaissance in space flight similar to the one in aviation. "Even if there's only a tiny bit of what we did that inspires others," he said, "then that's everything."


More SpaceShipOne info... eAc has posted more info now on their work to win the hybrid motor contract : eAc - Environmental Aeroscience - Tier I ...

... In the Slashdot posting about the rollout, John Carmack responds to the news.

... other articles:

News briefs... Even after Friday's rollout, I doubt NASA will change its collective mind about whether other companies besides the big guys can develop space hardware : NASA Should Re-start Alternative Access to Space Station ASAP! Secret Decision to Kill Program a Mistake - Space Frontier Foundation - Apr.16.03 ...

... Major Columbia disaster clue: Shuttle Doomed at Takeoff: Telltale Heat Spike Was Recorded After Debris Strike - ABCNEWS - Apr.18.03

April 18, 2003
Burt Rutan rolls out

"History's First Private Manned Space Program"

The White Knight airborne launcher in a test flight.

Today in Mojave, California Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites company rolls out their two stage suborbital transportation system to compete for the X PRIZE and to serve the space tourism market. According to the company:

Top photo shows the rocket powered second stage -
- slung below the launcher.
Lower photo shows a
cockpit view.

"This event will show not just dreams or mockups in search of funding, but an extensive two-year-old research program including all new hardware: airborne launcher, spaceship, rocket propulsion, avionics, simulator and ground support elements."

"Scaled Composites, the most prolific research aircraft development company in the world, is tired of waiting for others to provide affordable human space access. Active and hidden for two years, an aggressive, manned sub-orbital space program has been in work in the Mojave, CA desert.

"The event is not about dreams, predictions or mockups. We will show actual flight hardware: an aircraft for high-altitude airborne launch, a flight-ready manned spaceship, a new, ground-tested rocket propulsion system and much more. This is not just the development of another research aircraft, but a complete manned space program with all its support elements.

"The unveiling is not a marketing event. We are not seeking funding and are not selling anything. We are in the middle of an important research program - to see if manned space access can be done by other than the expensive government programs. After the unveiling, we will go back into hiding to complete the flight tests and conduct the space flights."

"The event will include a flight demonstration and opportunity to inspect and photograph a new, never-seen spaceship" and present "unique rocket propulsion hardware, conduct interviews, and [...] a technical Q & A session." Cliff Robertson will be the MC.

Editors note 1: I received an invitation to this event (thanks Burt!!) but unfortunately I could not attend. Instead Jeff Foust of spacetoday.net took my invitation and will post a report here over the weekend.

Editors note 2: With this debut of a privately developed suborbital passenger transportation system and with the launch by the end of the year of a privately developed unmanned orbital system at SpaceX, are we really so far from low cost commercial passenger transportation to orbit?? Looks like construction of the stairway to orbit is well underway.

Update: The Scaled site provides a lot of info but it's hard to reach at the moment due to the posting at Slashdot about the rollout. However, here are some miscellaneous items from what I was able to download:

  • * The SpaceShipOne "wings are folded up to provide a shuttle-cock or "feather" effect to help stabilize the vehicle for reentry." The "'Care-Free' configuration allows a 'hands-off reentry and greatly reduces aero/thermal loads.
  • * Everything reusable except they will "replace the fuel casing and nozzle between high altitude flights."
  • SpaceShipOne uses hybrid propulsion with nitrous oxide and rubber propellent and an ablative nozzle.
  • Thiolol and AAE Aerospace are assisting Scaled in making the composite nitrous tank and case/throat/nozzle.
  • Spacedev, which entered hybrid development after buying rights to the technology of AMROC a few years ago, and Environmental Aerosciences (parent of Hypertech, which makes high power rocketry hybirds) are "being competed" to develop the motor and plumbing components.
  • One picture shows a ground test of the motor system so it seems fairly far along even though its still "being competed".
  • Winged design allows for glide landing.
  • "Designed for a 'shirt-sleeve' environment, the 60" [~1.8m] diameter cabin has a space-qualified ECS [Environmental Control System] and dualpane windows."
  • The White Knight and SpaceShipOne have identical cockpit and systems "allowing component flight-qualification testing and realistic pilot training."

Other articles & sites:

Big news in suborbital space development... Full story at 1:00pm EST. (This guy cheated.)

XCOR moving on up to Hangar 61. XCOR Aerospace is relocating this weekend to a much larger building on the Mojave Airport grounds. Looks like there's plenty of room for lots more rocketplanes now. (Thanks go to Aleta Jackson for the photos.)

News briefs ... Boeing blurb on its OSP contract : Boeing Launches Orbital Space Plane Design - Boeing PR - Apr.18.03 - includes this image. of their design....

... Short article on a test microwave beam propulsion : Researchers develop 'microwave rocket' - Daily Yomiuri - Apr.15.03

Columbia/Shuttle links...

April 17, 2003

Open source space... Michael Mealling talks about the possibilities of applying the open source software approach to space project development : From Buck and Wernher to Erik Raymond and Linus Torvalds - RocketForge - Apr.16.03.

Space Access'03 - latest update :

"Book your flights and rooms now - it's just one week till Space Access Society's eleventh annual conference on the business, politics, and technology of radically cheaper access to space, Space Access '03, Thursday evening April 24th through Saturday night April 26th, 2003, at the Old Town Hotel & Conference Center in Scottsdale, Arizona.

"Our conference will once again be a cross-section of who's who in the emerging low-cost launch industry, presenting an informal snapshot of where things are this spring of 2003. Be there or miss out - part of our relaxed atmosphere and up-to-the-second inside information is that we don't ask for formal papers and we don't do proceedings.

"Confirmed presentations:

  • Brian "Rocket Guy" Walker, on Plans & Progress
  • Dave Salt, "Small RLVs And On-Orbit Assembly: The Business Case Revisited"
  • Ed Wright, X-Rocket LLC
  • Experimental Rocket Propulsion Society
  • George Herbert, Retro Aerospace, "Orbital Space Plain: Low-Cost Approach To OSP"
  • Henry Spencer, "Orbits and Approaches" plus a short special presentation Saturday
  • Henry Vanderbilt, SAS, "Markets & Finance Open Forum" and "Interesting Projects"
  • Jeff Greason, XCOR, "Reusable Rocket Design Considerations & Tradeoffs"
  • Jess Sponable, AFRL, "Military Spaceplane Technology & Planning"
  • John Carmack, Armadillo Aerospace
  • John M Jurist PhD, CRM Inc, "Biomedical Aspects Of Commercial Suborbital Flight"
  • Jonathan Goff, "Brief Report On A Work In Progress: Pintle Injector Product Design Generator"
  • Jordin Kare, "Laser Launch - A Quick Review Of The Field"and "An Economic Approach"
  • Laurie Wiggins, TOSPACE Company Inc, "TOSPACE Launch Requirements"
  • Len Cormier, "Bear Cub"
  • Pat Bahn, TGV Rockets
  • Pat Kelley, Vela Technology, on Low Wing-Loading Launch Assist
  • Peter Diamandis, X-Prize
  • Wes Kelly, Triton Systems, "The Stellar J: Should You Build Your Own
    Orbital Space Plane - Observations On A Slippery Slope"
  • XCOR Aerospace, "Xerus Spaceplane & Other Developments"

"Panel Discussions:

  • Reusable Launch Regulatory Considerations & Developments
    - Randall Clague (XCOR), Jay Garvin (FAA AST), Neil Milburn (Armadillo),
    Michelle Murray (FAA AST), Brian Walker
  • NASA And Orbital Space Plane: Revolution, Evolution, Or Business As Usual?
    - George Herbert, Rand Simberg, Henry Vanderbilt, others TBA
  • Cheap Access Politics: DC Doings And Activism's Role
    - Pat Bahn (Suborbital Institute), Frank Sietzen (Space Transportation
    Association), Henry Vanderbilt (SAS), others TBA
  • Reentry & Risks: Technical Lessons From The Loss Of Columbia
    - Jeff Greason, Henry Spencer, Wes Kelly, others TBA

"We may yet add one or two talks. (Speakers with specific scheduling requirements, please contact us.) "

Continue to the update at SAS for more information...

Columbia/Shuttle links...

April 16, 2003

Big news soon with regard to private space development. Stay tuned....

Suborbital respect... Jeff Foust looks at the increasing interest in suborbital rocket flight : Suborbital’s ascending trajectory: Once dismissed as a dead end, reusable suborbital spacecraft are finally getting respect - Space Review - Apr.14.03

Technology Review looks at rocket planes... Just came across this article : Countdown for Rocket Planes: In the wake of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, a new generation of rocket-powered launch technologies gets a closer look - Technology Review - Feb.7.03 (free registration required.) It looks at the various private companies like XCOR and the X PRIZE competitors who are developing low cost rocket technology.

SpaceX article... Leonard David interviews Elon Musk in the article Internet Entrepreneur Sets His Sights on the Satellite Launch Market - Space.com - Apr.16.03:

"'So far it has gone quite smoothly…much better than I thought,' Musk reported. "So far I can't really complain. It has been smooth sailing."

Falcon's reusable first stage is nearly built. The rocket's second stage is in fabrication. The nose fairing is nearly complete. Propulsion system goals are being met.

"I think we've got the risks pretty well characterized," Musk said, although the rocketeer admitted he might feel differently three months from now.

If all goes as planned, Falcon is to fly in the fourth quarter of this year .."

... And yet another SpaceX article : Taking a cheap shot at space -USA TODAY/SpaceX reprint - Apr.15.03

XCOR raises equity investment... XCOR Secures $187,500 Equity Investment - XCOR PR - Apr.16.03 : " XCOR Aerospace announced today it has successfully acquired an additional $187,500 in equity investments. This round of investment qualifies the company for a Department of Defense program that matches private capital four to one up to $750,000. The funds will be used for development of rocket engine pump technology."

Prize incentives... This report Private Stages To Orbit by Adrian Tymes, Michael Wallis, and Randall Clague of ERPS will be presented at the ISDC 2003 meeting in May. It outlines a federally funded program of prizes for specific milestone accomplishments patterned after the X PRIZE. A set of 5 competitions, with prizes for runners-up instead of winner-take-all, would generate incremental development going from low altitude rocket vehicle flights to orbit. (Thanks go to Kaido Kert for a newsgroup posting about this report.)

European RLV status... The April 14th issue of Aviation Week offers an article on the status of RLV development in Europe: More RLV Delays: Europe's space managers fear Ariane problems could slow efforts to restart an RLV Program. Some of the items in the article include:

  • ESA has not had a RLV development program since the Festip initiative ended in 1998.
  • ESA is proposing to start the Future Launcher Preparatory Program (FLPP). They are seeking 145M euro ($155M) to build one demonstrator to test thermal protection systems and another for testing general RLV technology.
  • However, the Ariane 5 problems threaten to eat up all of ESA's funding and the FLPP will have difficulty obtaining the funding.
  • There is strong interest in getting involved with the OSP program, provided there is some protection against another unilateral cancellation as with the X-38.
  • A couple of national programs continue:
    • The German Astra Phoenix lander demonstrator will begin test flights next year.
    • Italy's Prora program will develop a 1.3 metric tone Unmanned Space Vehicle (USV) demonstrator under development. It will carry out suborbital reentry tests in the 2004-2005 timeframe. An orbital flight test program might be part of the FLPP program in 2006-2008.

News brief ... The X PRIZE article in this month's Popular Science is not online but this other launcher article is: Space Shuttle: The Next Generation - Popular Science - May.03 ...

Columbia/Shuttle links...

April 15, 2003

Popular Rockets... Not seen it yet but the May issue of Popular Science has the article "A Few Dreamers Building Rockets in Workshops: X Prize contenders aim for space and $10 million." Includes pictures from Armadillo Aerospace and other projects.

Shroud decision shrouded... This week's Space News (April 14,2003) includes the article "Decision to Shroud X-37 Launch Puzzles OSP Hopefuls". An item on March 26th discussed the decision to move the X-37 to an EELV launcher and the issue of whether to shroud the vehicle. Apparently, NASA decided on its own to do that and the OSP teams are wondering why. The OSP will almost certainly not be shrouded since this would seriously complicate crew rescue during a launch failure.

Some OSP designers think they could learn something from an unshrouded X-37 about the structural effects of a winged or lifting body on an ELV. NASA, however, claims that its aerodynamacists report that an unshrouded X-37, whose size and shape significantly differ from the proposed OSP designs, would not provide useful data. NASA is more interested in the re-entry and landing performance and wants to avoid dealing with the question of the bending forces on the launcher.

News brief ... The April 6th Space Show interview with Henry Vanderbilt of the Space Access Society is now available in the Space Show archives.

April 14, 2003

News brief ... Armadillo's latest update reports on progress but serious problems with availability of high purity hydrogen peroxide. Hover test of subscale vehicle delayed....

... Here Buzz Aldrin and others discuss a commercial approach to space development via a webcast of the Cato Institute's meeting: Space: The Free-Market Frontier on Wed. Apr.16.03 - 12:00pm.....

... Futron uses a conservative approach in a NASA commissioned study to predict the future for launch rates, new space markets, elasticity of demand to launch costs, and how a 2nd gen RLV in 2012 time frame would affect launch market - Futron Reviews Our Orbital ASCENT- Futron/SpaceDaily - Apr.14.03 - The “Top Ten” Things We Learned During the ASCENT Study -pdf report (265kb)

Columbia/Shuttle links...

April 10, 2003

Starchaser engine test ... Starchaser successfully tested on April 9th a bi-propellant liquid rocket engine. "The liquid oxygen/kerosene powered system generated some 2,200 kilos[4.84k lb] of thrust for 15 seconds." The tests will continue for increasingly longer periods and will eventually reach "a full 3 tonnes of thrust". They will install five of these engines in the Nova vehicle, which they plan to use to launch a single passenger late this year to 10km (see the crew capsule item below). These engines will also power their Thunderbird X PRIZE vehicle.

The Canadian da Vinci X PRIZE Project gets another sponsor - Ramius Corporation- and software design support from CFD Research Corporation. The project is also seeking volunteer engineers to help with the design of the vehicle.

Columbia/Shuttle links...

April 9, 2003

News briefs ... OSP speedup? HoustonChronicle.com - NASA chief vows to speed development of space plane - Apr.9.03 ...

... Hypersonics hope lives on -Hypersonics Work Speeds Ahead - Space.com - Apr.8.03

Columbia/Shuttle links...

April 8, 2003

News briefs ... Latest Armadillo Aerospace update reports on the delivery of a full sized prototype fuel tank for the X PRIZE vehicle (photo of tank and crew cabin), the examination of alternate propellents if large quantities of 90% peroxide become unavailable, and continued efforts to attain stable hover of the subscale prototype. ...

... PR about the SLI/OSP study contracts : Northrop Grumman, Orbital Sciences Join Forces to Refine Requirements for Orbital Space Plane - Northrop Grumman PR - Apr.8.03

Columbia/Shuttle links...

F-15 Hot Rod to Launch Satellites ... Both Aviation Week and Space News report on a new Air Force project to use a modified F-15E fighter to launch a 100kg payload to orbit on a 3 stage booster. This month an F-15 with an souped-up engine and stripped of bomb racks and other non-essential equipment will carry out a practice run of a supersonic zoom maneuver that will send the plane to an altitude of 12km and a speed of Mach 1.7.

The F-15 will carry a dummy payload to represent the rocket that will be built by Orbital Sciences. If all goes well, a real launch could occur within 6 months.

The goal of this microsatellite launch vehicle (MSLV) project is to provide LEO access for 100-200kg payloads for around $5M. Currently the Orbital Sciences Pegasus is the only US vehicle dedicated to launching small payloads (~450kg to LEO) and it charges around $25M. This is usually too much for the various R&D microsatellite projects that typically cost less than $5M to build.

Note that the DARPA RASCAL project aims to put 100kg payloads to 500km while the F-15 project is going for 225km.

More rapid launchers... The F-15 project is part of the Air Force's push to obtain fast access to space for small payloads such as a "pop-up" imager satellite that on short notice could be placed in an orbit that provides good views of a crisis area. The Rapid Response - Aviation Week - Apr.7.03 article mentioned below describes the various ideas that will be studied in the coming year as part of the Operationally Responsive Spacelift and Analysis of Alternatives (ORS/AOA) program.

The same Aviation Week issue includes the article Quick Cheap Launch: Year-long USAF study aims for new launchers by 2014, which discusses projects at the Air Force that are examining designs for low cost launchers for small payloads. One such program seeks to carry out a demonstration launch in 2007.

Microcosm and SpaceX are looking to provide this low cost launch capability and the article describes both projects. Microcosm has been developing composite carbon fiber LOX tanks and very low cost pressure fed engines. The company claims that after it has launched 10 times the cost of the Scorpius system would reach as low as $1.8M for placing 320kg to a 167km (100 nautical mi.) orbit. The next test of the Scorpious will be a suborbital launch in 2004.

SpaceX will use aluminum tanks and turbopumped first stage engine and a pressure fed second stage. The company claims it will send 454kg to the same orbit for $6M. The first flight could occur by the end of this year.

Another Aviation Week article in this issue call Space Shell Game: The right launch vehicle and payload matchup will allow some on-orbit sleight of hand discusses how rapid, low-cost delivery of microsatellites to orbit could provide very interesting capabilities when combined with in orbit refueling systems. This would allow for frequent orbit changes so that, for example, an imaging satellite could move to a more favorable orbit for viewing a particular area.

Boeing and ATK Thiokol are studying a multi-stage booster air-launched from atop a 747. They are looking at whether a space maneuvering vehicle (SMV), for which the X-37 is a prototype, could be launched with such a system. The reusable SMV could release payloads, carryout rendezvous tasks, and carryou out other on-orbit missions.

April 7, 2003

Not giving up on Alternate Access to Space ... Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) asks NASA to support and continue the AAS program, which NASA consistently undercut and now wants to kill officially so as to shift funds to the OSP - Letter [March 14] from Rep. Rohrabacher to NASA OET AA Creedon regarding Alternate Access to Station funding - SpaceRef - Apr.7.03

Quick launchings... The military wants the capabilty of launching payloads on the order of hours rather than months - Rapid Response - Aviation Week - Apr.7.03 . Except for the partially reusable RASCAL approach [and the F-15 launcher above - Apr.8.03], however, they will not push for a near term RLV system.

April 6, 2003

SpaceCub memories ... Geoffrey Landis has posted a page - Remembering SpaceCub - Geoffrey A. Landis - about the SpaceCub suborbital rocket design project that he, David L. Burkhead and others developed in the 1994. The vertical-takeoff-vertical-landing vehicle, inspired by the success of the DC-X project, was one of the first proposed for suborbital tourism.

Ironically, on the very same day at the 1995 International Space Development Conference that they presented their design, Peter Diamandis announced the X PRIZE competition. Unfortunately, the Spacecub team did not have the time or resources to take the design into hardware development for the contest.

As we approach a major step in the X PRIZE competition, it is interesting to reflect on the history of the suborbital passenger rocket idea and how more and more people gradually came to see suborbital as the logical first step for public access to space.

News briefs ... Orlando Sentinel looks at the X PRIZE - Private sector might open space to public, some say - Orlando Sentinel - Apr.6.03 - while still claiming that lower cost space travel will only arrive in a few decades from NASA technology development - Abandon ship - Orlando Sentinel - Apr.6.03....

... At least there is one country with a spaceship available: After Heated Debate, Russia Agrees To Fund ISS Flights - SpaceDaily - Apr.3.03 ...

Columbia/Shuttle Program links ...

April 5, 2003

OSP study money ... The funding flows to the usual suspects : The NASA awards $135 million to continue Space Launch Initiative work - NASA - Apr.5.03

April 4, 2003

Advanced Rocketry News... will report on the latest developments in the world of advanced amateur and student rocketry, experimental rocketry, and small entrepreneurial rocket companies. I often come across or receive items sent to me about advancements in these areas but they don't quite fit into this section or the Space Log. So I decided to open a news page dedicated to these areas.

Note that advanced rocketry news items seem to fall in between the interests of the general rocketry news sites and the major space news sites that focus on NASA and large commercial companies. So I'm hoping this provides a useful service to those working in these areas.

I'm certainly not an expert in advanced rocketry but I only intend to post items and not provide commentary or original work. (I'm not an expert on RLV's either and that didn't stop me opening this section!) Also, Andrew Case, who does participate seriously in advanced rocketry, will provide me expert advice.

Links and background information about Advanced Rocketry can be found in the Rocketry section.

Star Chasing Billions... The Starchaser capsule debut has attracted several articles - see collection of links at SpaceToday.net. Nice to see the Starchaser group making steady progress. However, some of the articles leave one wondering about the diligence of certain news reporters. For example, the Daily Telegraph says Starchaser seeks to claim " the X-Prize: a $10 billion (£6.5 billion) bounty..." and the Times of London reports on the "launch of Nova, the world’s first reusable passenger rocket, over Morecambe Bay..."

The X PRIZE, of course, actually promises a more modest $10 million to the winner and the Nova has so far had only a single, unmanned flight. I would think the X-1, X-15, Shuttle, EZ- Rocket, etc. would take umbrage other vehicles claiming to be the first reusable passenger rocket.

April 3, 2003

News briefs ... Brian Chase, executive director of the National Space Society, gives testimony to Congress on space transportation issues : Testimony of Brian Chase before the Science, Technology, and Space Subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation - SpaceRef - Apr.2.03 ...

... Register now for the Second International Symposium on Beamed Energy Propulsion in Sendai, Japan on Oct.20-23, 2003. The Proceedings of the First International Symposium on Beamed Energy Propulsion: Huntsville, AL, November 5 - 7, 2002 now available....

... As mentioned below, StarChaser unveiled its one seater capsule for a low altitude rocket launcher : X-Prize Competitor Unveils Manned Space Capsule - Space.com - Apr.3.03.

Columbia/Shuttle Program links..

April 2, 2003

News brief ... Orbital Sciences in the lead for the X-43C booster - Presolicitation Notice: X-43C Booster and Launch Services - MSFC/SpaceRef - Mar.31.03

Columbia/Shuttle Program links...

April 1, 2003

Henry Vanderbilt interview... The latest announcement from the Space Show:

Sunday, March 30, 2003: Henry Vanderbilt, 4-5:15PM Pacific Daylight Time on www.live365.com. [This interview is now in the Space Show archives - April 15.03]

The Space Show for Sunday, April 6, 2003 will feature Henry Vanderbilt. Mr. Vanderbilt founded the Space Access Society in 1992 for the sole purpose of promoting radically cheaper practical space transportation. Henry publishes a semi-regular Space Access Update newsletter and political alerts. In addition, he has been running the annual "Space Access" conference which is best described as "Hackers" for rocket people. Mr. Vanderbilt will be discussing the coming conference scheduled for April 24-26 in Scottsdale Arizona, among other issues.

At the early age of six, while watching John Glenn's historic flight on black and white T.V., Henry Vanderbilt figured out nobody was going to pay for him to go to space and he wanted to go! At the time, someone mentioned that the rocket cost ten million dollars and they throw it away each flight. Henry's ongoing intense amateur interest in spaceflight caused him to jump laterally out of a techno career into successive opportunities to write online about space and then to work in space politics. Vanderbilt immediately discovered that everybody had grand schemes about what to do in space, none of which first solved how to get there affordably. As a result, Vanderbilt committed himself to solving the space transportation problem. Vanderbilt discovered early on "that the ball was being dropped through lack of continuous focus." This is what prompted him to establish the Space Access Society.

Listeners can talk to Mr. Vanderbilt or send him e-mail during the program by calling at toll free 1-866-687-7223 or using dmlivings@yahoo.com or drspace@thespaceshow.com for e-mail.

News briefs ... Jeff Foust examines the extremes of pessimism and optimism with regard to space tourism and sees a modest ramp up of suborbital tourism as the most likely scenario : Space tourism: managing expectations in uncertain times by Jeff Foust - The Space Review - Mar.31.03 ...

... Starchaser to debut the Nova II passenger capsule. The 200kg, 3m long, single seater vehicle will undergo parachute drop tests and then unmanned flights. The plan is then to launch a person to 30k ft on their Nova rocket....

... Joel Anderson continues to make updates to his educational simulator - Joyride! Spaceship Designer Sketchpad.

Continue to March 2003

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