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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
October 2003

White Knight with StarShipOne over a field of windmills
Mojave Desert News Photo via Mojave Airport Website
White Knight with SpaceShipOne

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

The Rocket Company

The story of a rocket company and its struggles to develop a low cost reusable launch vehicle will begin here tomorrow. Be sure to drop by every week to read the latest installment of The Rocket Company by Patrick J. G. Stiennon and Dave M. Hoerr and with illustrations by Doug Birkholz.

Both Stiennon and Hoerr are engineers with real-life experience with rocket startup companies. Their fictional group of billionaire space financiers will try to build a vehicle that will cause the cost of space transportation to spiral rapidly downward as the market for launch services expands. In this context, the authors will explore the marketing, regulatory, and technical problems facing any serious attempt to reduce the cost of space transportation.

October 31, 2003

XCOR's next vehicle will not be the Xerus but one that will test technologies for the Xerus. After I got Dan DeLong's message about XCOR's RLV license application, I asked him what vehicle they were getting a license for. He responded as follows:

Actually, it's for a vehicle that is 'less than' the Xerus. The intention for that vehicle is to test one of the Xerus type pump-fed engines, to reduce XCOR's investment risk, and to show market. As you probably know, potential investors and venture capitalists look at several things before parting with their money. Management risk (will your founders flake out?), technical risk (will it work?), financial risk (is development cost acceptable, and will operations costs be low enough?), market risk (are there customers for this, and will they buy from you?), and regulatory risk (will you be allowed to sell it?). With our limited resources, we decided to lower the regulatory risk to help raise money.

The license application does not yet include passenger rides. That is more difficult and time consuming to get. We plan to have at least a dozen test flights (probably more than 20) before the first passenger ride anyway. Later, we plan to apply to carry passengers and at least defray the marginal flight costs. At that time, we'll have a much better grasp of the market and a much better chance of getting Xerus development money.

Disclaimer: Randall Clague and Jeff Greason are the experts in this area, I'm primarily a hardware developer. They will be back from Washington DC next week with better answers.

More details should appear when the license is issued.

Dan also points out that the license will be for a "mission" that includes multiple flights rather than just one launch as with ELV licenses.

News briefs... Via Chris Hall's Spacecraft blog I came across this Scientific American : Feb 1999 Issue with articles about innovative propulsion schemes including Compact Nuclear Rockets, Space Tethers, Highways of Light, Air-Breathing Engines , and Light Sails ...

... Chris also offers an interesting discussion on potential instabilities of space elevators: Den Beste Takes on the Space Elevator - Spacecraft - Oct.31.03....

... Update on the Australian HyShot scramjet program: Super-hyper-mega scramjet on way - www.theage.com.au - Oct.31.03

October 30, 2003

The first three RLV licenses may be handed out soon according to Dan DeLong, Chief Engineer of XCOR, who passed along this message:

Patricia Grace Smith, FAA Associate Administrator, has made a public statement that there are three organizations with RLV launch licenses in process at AST. They are: Armadillo Aerospace, Scaled Composites, and XCOR Aerospace. Furthermore, she said that XCOR's license application has been deemed "sufficiently complete". This means the FAA now has a maximum of 180 days to either issue a license or report to Congress why they did not.

Notice the change in terminology from "substantially complete" to "sufficiently complete". Also, I do not yet have an on-line reference for her statement. It came to me from Jeff Greason; he and Randall Clague are currently in Washington DC, and were surprised at the speediness of the announcement.

This is great news. What a lot of progress has been made in the past year or so in hardware development, financing, and regulation of suborbital RLVs. The building of the foundation of routine space transportation is almost complete.

(Rand Simberg also got the news. You can post comments there.)

[Oct.31.03: Actually, Dan points out that Smith's statements implied only that XCOR's license will be "soon", no time info was given about the other two applications....

... Jeff Foust also heard Smith's remarks: The clock is ticking for XCOR - spacetoday weblog - Oct.31.03.]

Scaled Composites has posted a photo of their Ford based wind tunnel and also a photo showing mods to the SS1.

Choosing a spaceport for the X PRIZE Cup ... Plans for a follow-on program to the X PRIZE seem to be moving along. This announcement - X P R I Z E Foundation Narrows the Search for Host of Annual International Space Races - X PRIZE - Oct.27.03 - discusses the selection of a spaceport where X PRIZE Cup races among rocket teams will take plane annually:

The X PRIZE Foundation is getting ready to choose the semifinalists in the bid to host the first annual X PRIZE Cup. Four US States, California, Florida, Oklahoma and New Mexico will compete for the venue and the chance to host the first air show for the private space community. Earlier this year, the X PRIZE Foundation released a Request for Proposal (RFP) to all Spaceports in order to select a strategic partner and hosting venue for the X PRIZE CUP...more

A X PRIZE education project by the Canadian da Vinci project has been announced: The Saskatchewan Science Center and da Vinci Project announce a major new partnership. - The da Vinci Project - Oct.28.03

More RLV regulation info has been posted at the FAA Commercial Space Transportation site. The page Info Guidelines - Commercial Space Transportation - FAA / AST now includes this report Guide to RLV Safety Validation and Verification Planning Version 1.0 (pdf).


I watched C-SPAN on cable TV tonight and saw the part of yesterday's Senate Hearing on the "Future of NASA" in which Zubrin and Tumlinson made their presentations and then got into discussions with Senator McCain and Senator Brownback. They really got in a lot of good points. Great to see the alt.spacers finally slipping past the gates and getting the attention of those who can really make a difference in the NASA program.

If you have a chance to catch the streamed version of the hearing at the C-SPAN site (link suggested to me by Fred Becker), I strongly encourage you to do so. (Note that the C-SPAN videos only seem to hang around for a month or so.)

[Nov.2.03 - Link to C-SPAN video of the hearing. Note that the entry will shift over time to one of the "next pages" until if finally disappears. C-SPAN seems to keep videos of hearings for a few months at most.]

Rand Simberg reviews the hearing in his weekly column: Congressional Space Hearings: Signs of Intelligent Life? - FOXNews.com/ Transterrestrial Musings - Oct.29.03.

October 29, 2003

Defining suborbital ... This message was distributed today by Michelle Murray of the Commercial Space Transportation at the Federal Aviation Administration:

AST would like to update you of the status of the suborbital definitions:

The FAA Administrator sent a letter to Congressional leaders reflecting the Agency consensus

The definitions were published in a Federal Register Notice on 10/20/03 and corrected on 10/27/03

The complete notice is attached below, and is available on AST's website http://ast.faa.gov/

The Definitions are as follows:

Suborbital Rocket: A rocket propelled vehicle intended for flight on a suborbital trajectory whose thrust is greater than its lift for the majority of the powered portion of its flight.

Suborbital Trajectory: The intentional flight path of a launch vehicle, reentry vehicle, or any portion thereof whose vacuum instantaneous impact point does not leave the surface of the earth.

See ...FAA_Suborbital_Definitions.pdf.

Rocket Guy update... Leonard David reports on Brian Walker and his plans for a manned rocket launcher: Brian 'Rocket Guy' Walker Sets the Record Straight by Leonard David - Space.com - Oct.20.03.

The Half-sized Test Rocket, which will fly to an altitude of 15k ft (4.6km), is nearly completed. Over the years his goal has shifted from a one time stunt to developing rocket vehicles as platforms for skydivers. I mentioned back in September that other rocket companies are pursuing this idea. (Some, like Canadian Arrow, are thinking of jumps from very high altitudes.) Walker, who has done skydiving himself, believes the costs of a reusble H2O2 powered rocket could be competitive with planes and certainly offer a very exciting experience.


Senate Hearing: "Future of NASA"

Video at CSPAN

Written testimonies:

Rand Simberg reviews the presentations.

October 28, 2003

FAA suborbital regs posting... The FAA-AST office has posted this file - Notice and request for comments - Commercial Space Transportation Suborbital Rocket Launch - October 2003 (64KB pdf) - that holds a copy of their notice in the Federal Register. The notice begins with:

...The FAA is issuing this Notice to clarify the applicability of FAA licensing requirements to suborbital rocket launches, in general, and suborbital RLVs, in particular so that a vehicle operator can determine, in advance of consultation with the FAA, whether it must obtain a launch license. Some suborbital RLVs currently under development use traditional aviation technology and components, including wings, for lift and glide capability, as well as rocket propulsion for thrust to maintain their trajectory. These vehicles may be termed ‘‘hybrid’’ in nature, because a single vehicle system uses aviation and aerospace technology during different portions of flight. This Notice advises an operator of a hybrid suborbital RLV that a proposed mission may require other FAA flight authorization, specifically an experimental airworthiness certificate (EAC), as a condition of a launch license, to operate in the National Airspace System (NAS)....

Second RVT-9 flight... The Japan Space Agency has a brief report stating that the second hop of the RVT-9 took place yesterday. It consisted of a 17 sec flight to 30 m and back down. The first flight in this series occurred on Oct.25th.

Suborbital Action Day took place yesterday on Capitol Hill. Four teams of volunteers and members of the Suborbital Institute briefed staffers of about 30 House members and Senators on the status of the suborbital industry and its legislative priorities. These priorities include full staffing of the Space Commercialization Office in the Commerce Department and passage of HR 3245 - The Commercial Space Act of 2003.

A luncheon overflowed with more staffers who heard statements about the promise of suborbital spaceflight from Pat Bahn (TGV Rockets), Randall Clague (XCOR), Ed Wright (X Rocket), and others involved in suborbital companies and space activism.

I participated in the morning briefings and the luncheon and I was quite encouraged by the positive responses from the staffers. Unlike a similar campaign last February, this time there were some staffers who were quite familiar with suborbital spaceflight already.

More briefings will continue through Tuesday.

News brief ... Alan Boyle at MSNBC comments on the growing competition in both governmental and private spaceflight: Places for the space race - Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log - Oct.27.03


October 27, 2003

Latest SS1 test flight... According to the Scaled Composites test flights page, the SpaceShipOne was dropped from the White Knight on Oct.17th at 46,200 feet. The goal of the test was to check on "the effects of horizontal tail modifications at both forward and mid-range CG locations (obtained by dumping water from an aft ballast tank between test points)." The previous flight on September 23 saw "un-commanded nose rise" and the pilot had difficulty in recovering control.

The new configuration seems to have fixed the problem:

"No vehicle pitch up tendency was noted as the main wing now stalls first. Real time video of the tufted tails fed back down to mission control helped considerably in assessing the performance of these aerodynamic improvements. More aggressive maneuvering in the feather made it evident that the pilot could readily point the vehicle's nose where desired and all rocket motor functionality tests were satisfactory."

The fixes were first tested with ground tests that included "full-scale 'wind tunnel' tests of the SS1 boom-tail using a modified Ford-250 pickup truck to provide the necessary flow field." (Maybe this technique should be called "testing with the Bubba tunnel.")

Sounds like the SS1 project is back on track (or the road).

News brief ... The Robust Scramjet program continues in the Air Force: U.S. Air Force Moves Ahead With Studies On Air-Breathing Engines - Space News - Oct.27.03


October 26, 2003

RVT-9 in flight on Oct.25,2003
The Japanese RVT-9 in flight on Oct. 25, 2003

A flight of the Japanese RVT took place yesterday. I cannot currently find a page in English about the event at JAXA or ISAS but this page shows a photo of the LH2/LOX powered vehicle during the flight. This translator indicates that the flight lasted just 17 seconds and consisted of lifting to about 10m, hovering, and then landing. More flights will follow.

Apparently, for each set of tests, whether in flight or on the ground, the vehicle number is incremented. In 2001 the vehicle was label RVT-6 in these photos, whereas this report on static engine tests back in April shows the label RVT-8 on the vehicle. Now it is labeled RVT-9. Other RVT links.

News brief... This week's Armadillo update reports on further progress with the mixed propellant engines: Engine improvements, Mixture ratios - Armadillo Aerospace - Oct.25.03

October 25, 2003

News briefs... Rand Simberg reports on the recent House Science Committtee hearing on human spaceflight: The Usual Suspects - FOXNews.com - Oct.24.03...

... A quiet space investor is studying propulsion: What Jeff Bezos is reading - spacetoday.net weblog - Oct.23.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 24, 2003

Support for space bill... The NSS and several other companies and organizations (and Dennis Tito) released this PR in support of the Commercial Space Act. They emphasize the bill's importance to the development of a suborbital spaceflight industry: Space Coalition Urges Swift Passage of Commercial Space Act of 2003 (HR 3245) - SpaceRef - Oct.23.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 23, 2003

Suborbital Action ... If you would like to participate in Suborbital Action Day this Monday on Capitol Hill, contact the organizers at the Suborbital Institute.

News briefs... Utilizing private launcher development: China's space challenge By Edward Hudgins - The Washington Times: Commentary - Oct.23.03 (via Curmudgeons Corner.)....

... More about Elon Musk and his private launcher company SpaceX: Sky is No Limit for Rocket Man Elon Musk - allAfrica.com - Oct.22.03 (via spacetoday.net)

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 22, 2003

News briefs ... Interesting thermal protection material in development: Ultra-High-Temperature Ceramics To Withstand 2000 Degrees Celsius - ScienceDaily - Oct.21.03 ...

... This long interview with Burt Rutan apparently took place pre-SS1 rollout but he still has some interesting things to say about space exploration and launch vehicle development: Burt Rutan Interview - Masters of Technology at Scientific American. (Via an ERPS posting.)

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 21, 2003

Aircraft vs suborbital rocket compromise... Randall Clague of XCOR has posted the message below on the sci.space.policy newsgroup. He says that AVR (the aviation part of the FAA) and AST (the rocket launch regulators at the FAA) have reached a compromise on how to classify suborbital vehicles, such as Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne:

"The AST/AVR turf war is over. Patti Grace Smith and Nick Sabitini have jointly published a Notice in the Federal Register, 68 FR 59977, that divides up the pie very evenly. Launch vehicles are AST, airplanes are AVR, and hybrid vehicles - those which share characteristics of launch vehicles and aircraft - are both. The dividing line is clear and unambiguous, is the same as what AST pre-announced at Space Access in April, and is trajectory dependent." [My emphasis]

"What this means is that the same vehicle can be an experimental aircraft on Monday, a launch vehicle on Tuesday, and an experimental aircraft again on Wednesday. Which it is depends on how you fly it. If you fly it so it meets the definition of a suborbital rocket, it's a launch vehicle, and you need a launch license. If you fly it so it doesn't meet the definition, it's an experimental aircraft, and you need a pink slip. "

"This is good news for pretty much everyone. Flight test paperwork is a whole lot easier, but when we need to start charging for flights, we can - we just have to get a launch license. This is WAAAY easier than the equivalent route for airplanes, which is type certification. AST and AVR did a really good job on this compromise."

October 20, 2003

Starchaser engine tests ... The Starchaser X PRIZE project has carried out a series of tests this month of its Churchill Mk 2 LOX/Kerosene engine. On October 15th the engine ran for 53 secs. Earlier tests on October 7th and 13th were for 16secs each and reached up to 2.5 tonnes of thrust. The success of these tests allows them to begin construction of the Mk 3 engine with 15 tonne thrust.

News briefs ... Contract for the SS1 propulsion finalized: SpaceDev Finalizes Contract for Human Space Flight Propulsion Monday: Agreement Establishes Exclusive Relationship for Supply of Propulsion System for SpaceShipOne - Spacedev PR - Oct.20.03 ...

...Nice review of the X-43A & C program: U.S. Breathes Life into Hypersonic Rocket Endeavor - Space Com - Oct.20.03 ...

... Prospace on Shenzhou launch: Launch should spur U.S. by Marc Shlather of Prospace - Florida Today - Oct.20.03 ...

... Though I'm sure the complete Shenzhou-5 capsule will go to a museum, it sounds as if at least some parts of the Shenzhou capsule are reusable : China Studies Returned Space Capsule - Space.com - Oct.19.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 19, 2003

Armadillo engine progress... The latest update from John Carmack reports that a test engine with the mixed methanol/hydrogen peroxide (50%) propellant achieved a burn time exceeding that needed for an X PRIZE flight: Self-Preheating, 125 second burn time (!!!) - Armadillo - Oct.18.03. With four units of this version of the engine they can do low altitude testing of the big vehicle. A larger (12") version will be needed for the high altitude flights.

News brief ... Alan Boyle at MSNBC hears from Charles Lurio about the Commercial Space Act: Space policy postings - Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log - Oct.17.03

Summaries of the Congressional hearing on human spaceflight last week:

October 17, 2003

SpaceX update... The latest news on the SpaceX Falcon development just came out. Highlights include:

  • TacSat-1 announcement - as noted yesterday, the payload on the first Falcon launch will be a the Navy TacSat-1. The funding came, however, from the Office of Force Transformation. According to Elon:

    "Falcon was one of only a few technologies that the Defense Department felt was sufficiently important to receive funding outside of the normal federal budgetary cycle, which is quite an honor. It is decisions like this that really help move the space program forward."

  • DC unveiling - the Falcon will be brought to Washington DC in December for an official unveiling as part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight.

  • Propulsion tests looked at "erosion rates of [the first stage engine] Merlin’s composite ablative chamber & nozzle under various film cooling scenarios. Erosion rates so far are within the predicted range." Some seal problems seen in previous tests were fixed.

  • Avionics - most of the rocket control electonics have been condensed into a FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) chip on a small board.

    "..with the addition of ram and a boot rom, this one little board will perform all avionics and vehicle control functions, apart from the ring laser gyroscopes, GPS and radios, which is really amazing. The Saturn V Moon rocket had substantially less capability and the avionics were the size of a house"

  • First stage tank fabrication has overcome various challenges, especially those dealing with the "double-walled, liquid oxygen feed tunnel that goes from the common bulkhead to the turbo-pump inlet through the center of the kerosene tank." This involves "multiple sets of aluminum bellows to take out the differential expansion caused by liquid oxygen at -300F on the one hand and room temperature kerosene at 70F on the other."

  • Booster recovery - contractor chosen to recover the first stage after it splashes down 600 miles off the Baja California coast.

Political space action ... XCOR and several other space companies and activist organizations announce their support for the Commercial Space Act. Space Coalition Urges Swift Passage of Commercial Space Act of 2003 (HR 3245) - XCOR - Oct.14.03:

WASHINGTON, DC - October 14, 2003 - A coalition of space policy organizations and aerospace companies today urged the Congress to pass the Commercial Space Act of 2003 (HR 3245) in an expeditious manner. This bill, introduced in the House by a bipartisan group, will clarify and streamline a muddled and uncertain regulatory regime faced by the emerging American suborbital space flight industry.

"The suborbital launch industry offers tremendous promise," said Brian Chase, Executive Director of the National Space Society. "The tourism component alone could be worth billions of dollars per year, and has the real potential to jump-start our stagnant aerospace sector. The United States has the opportunity to be the leader in this exciting market, but without steps like this legislation we may see it move to other countries."

The bill, introduced by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Rep. Ralph Hall (D-TX) and Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN), directs the Secretary of Transportation to set up an enabling regulatory regime for commercial human space flight, separate from that under which the FAA governs commercial aviation.

Most important, the bill confirms the FAA's Office of Commercial Space Transportation (AST) as the sole authority to license suborbital launch vehicles, and provides clear guidance that its primary mission is to aid this new industry with reasonable regulation that will help develop suborbital vehicles and companies. This will end the confusion within FAA about which bureau has jurisdiction over these vehicles.

"The most effective way to make suborbital flight safe is to allow innovative ideas," said XCOR Aerospace CEO Jeff Greason. "By resolving regulatory uncertainty, this bill creates an environment that will attract investment to an industry that has the potential to produce quality, high-paying jobs."

"This legislation protects the safety of the general public while allowing entrepreneurs and adventure travelers to pursue their dream of participating in human spaceflight," said James Muncy of PoliSpace, a space policy consultant working for several suborbital RLV-interested companies.

The coalition is made up of major space policy organizations, aerospace companies and consultants. They are joined by Mr. Dennis Tito, the first private citizen to pay his own way into space. Their joint aim is to assist the suborbital industry in its development and to assure American leadership in this important emerging industry.

If you believe the Commercial Space Act can help to create a suborbital space industry, then contact your representatives and ask them to support this bill. And come to Capitol Hill on October 27th to participate in Suborbital Action Day.

October 16, 2003

The suborbital RVT-3 (Reusable Vehicle Test)
will begin flights later this month.

Test flights soon for Japan's RVT ... The flight of the Shenzhou got me to thinking about what Japan's response will be and then I remembered to check in at the ISAS site to see if there was any news about the RVT. (I've been checking occasionally since I knew the third generation vehicle was supposed to fly sometime this year.) Sure enough they had a "front" page story: Reusable Vehicle Test at Noshiro Testing Center - ISAS/JAXA - Oct.15.03.

The RVT is smaller than the DC-X but the approach of the program is similar: incremental development of a fully reusable vertical-takeoff-and-landing LH2/LOX rocket. Each version will extend not just the performance envelope but, more importantly, the knowledge base on the robustness of various systems and materials under the stress and strain of repeated flight operations.

According to the story, the RVT-3 will test the:

  1. "design and verification of propulsion systems for repeated flight and its turnaround";
  2. "automatic vertical landing by engine throttling";
  3. "composite cryogenic tank for light weight materials."

I'm very happy for the Chinese and their tremendous accomplishment but I actually find this little can-do vehicle much more interesting with regards to the development of practical spaceflight. I just hope the Japanese government will also come to see it that way and give this program sufficient funding to fulfill its potential. It's certainly more useful than a crash program to put a Japanese fighter pilot into orbit.

PS: Note that the ISAS has been folded, along with NASDA, into the new giant JAXA super-duper space agency. The ISAS, though much smaller, has been much more effective and productive pound for pound than NASDA. In gov-think, it therefore follows that combining the two into one big agency will make for a wonderful synergetic combination. I doubt it. Projects like the RVT will probably be suffocated and snuffed out the way the DC-X and the DC-X approach to RLV development were when taken over by NASA. Breaking up NASDA into small pieces that each emulated ISAS would have been anathema to the bureaucratic mindset but probably would have resulted in a tsunami of spaceflight innovation.

News briefs ... First reported by Space News back in September, SpaceX today confirmed officially that the Navy's TacSat-1 spacecraft will ride on the first Falcon launch: SpaceX Announces Defense Department Launch Customer - SpaceX PR/SpaceRef - Oct.16.03. ...

...Rand Simberg condenses his previous discussion of the Commercial Space Act in this week's Fox column: Permission To Fly - FOXNews.com - Oct.15.03. ...

... No alt.spacers in this lineup. The usual suspects will give their usual testimony for and against human spaceflight: House Science Committee Hearing Charter: "The Future of Human Space Flight" - SpaceRef - Oct.15.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 15, 2003

The China card... It will be interesting to see if the Chinese manned spaceflight development does or does not make a big impact on US space policy. The fact that everyone knows that everyone will try to use it to push their particular agenda will tend to dilute the impact.

NASA, of course, will use the Shenzhou launch to push for more funding for its programs, especially for the OSP. I hope, though, that it inspires new approachs such as that proposed by the SFF - Foundation Says Chinese Launch Heralds New Space Race - Space Frontier Foundation - Oct.15 - or at least the one advocated by Greg Easterbrook who proposes to cancel the shuttle and use the money saved to develop a new vehicle: Commander Bond, the Chi-Com Spacecraft is about to Launch - Greg Easterbrook's blog - Oct.14.03.

Alternate cancellation... This week's Space News includes a report on the new approach NASA has taken with the Alternate Access to Station program (see an earlier entry.) The article says that NASA's plans "remain a mystery" but recent instructions given to the contractors indicate a major change in the direction of the program.

Initially the program aimed to "generate ideas for making the occasional one-way delivery" of supplies to the ISS. Now NASA wants the capability to move large amounts of cargo in both directions. This will require a vehicle that goes "way beyond the capabilities of the Russian, European and Japanese supply ships."

As previously noted, it looks like they want an unpiloted vehicle to compliment the OSP and thus replace all of the shuttle's capabilities. The article, however, also quotes unnamed "industry sources" who say that the program "is being set up to fail". The extra $4M for this study, which came after several Congresspersons complained about NASA's decision to cancel the program, will just result in finding that such a vehicle cannot be built simultaneously with the OSP within the time and funding available.

See these links and the interview with Gary Hudson for additional background to the AAS program.

News brief ... Space Frontier Foundation lauds the Commercial Space Act: Foundation Lauds Rohrabacher Bill on Commercial Space; Astronaut Says Private Spacecraft May Beat Shuttle to Space - Space Frontier Foundation - Oct.15.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 14, 2003

Orbital joins Lockheed-Martin & Northrop ... Orbital Sciences follows Northrop into the Lockheed OSP collaboration: Lockheed Martin's Orbital Space Plane Team Now Includes Orbital Sciences Corporation: Three aerospace innovators Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Orbital Sciences Combine strengths to design and build NASA's Orbital Space Plane - Orbital - Oct.14.03

October 13, 2003

New X PRIZE competitor... Jeff Foust reports on the annnouncement during last weekend's Space Frontier Society conference of a new suborbital launcher project: Enter the Liberator - The Space Review - Oct.13.03. The project participants include Greg Allison of HARC Space and Tim Pickens of Orion Propulsion. The system will use a considerable amount of equipment already developed for an unmanned orbital proejct - Space America - that went defunct following the collapse of the launch market from the Iridium/Globalstar/Teledesic failures.

Allison has also been active in the Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5) High Altitude Lift-Off (HALO) Program and Pickens helped with the SpaceShipOne propulsion design. You can hear an interview with Pickens on the Space Show from Sept.30th and an interview with Greg Allison from July 29th.

DARPA quick launchers... Jeff Foust also reviews the FALCON project that seeks a system to launch small payloads on short notice: Operationally Responsive Spacelift: A solution seeking a problem? - The Space Review - Oct.13.03

Space legislation ... The Space Exploration Act of 2003 gets a dedicated site to promote it: Space Exploration Act of 2003: Petition Congress to Support Human Exploration of Space! (link via Martian Soil) ... T

... Rand Simberg updates his analysis of the Commercial Space Act after discussions during the Space Frontier Society conference.

RocketMan examines the Ascender... The Rocket Man Blog reviews the Ascender X PRIZE design from Bristol Spaceplanes. Previous reviews included Len Cormier's SabreRocket and John Carmack's Black Armadillo.

I also recommend The Space Show interview with David Ashford, Managing Director of Bristol Spaceplanes. He has been in aerospace since the early 1960s and offers many insights into the challenges facing private space development. For example, I liked his comment that ELVs are to spaceflight today as balloons were to airflight before the Wright Brothers came along.

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 12, 2003

News briefs ... A good article about Armadillo, X PRIZE, XCOR, etc at Armadillo Aerospace in $10 million rocket race - MSNBC - Oct.11.03 (via Mike Massee) ...

... The next meeting of COMSTAC (Commercial Space Transportation Advisory Committee) will include a "Suborbital Definitions Presentation/Discussion" and a report from Michael Kelly (Kelly Space) on the RLV Working Group in the day long event: COMSTAC Meeting - Oct.30.03 - Commercial Space Transportation - FAA / AST ...

... Latest newsletter from the California Space Authority is now available: CSA: SpotBeam California - October 10, 2003 (The CSA supports various space & rocketry related initiatives in the state).

October 10, 2003

Elon Musk on "Entrepreneurial Thought" and space ... Elon Musk of SpaceX gave a talk at Stanford on Wednesday in which he discussed SpaceX and briefly mentions some of his long range plans. (Haven't watch the talk that Jeff Bezos gave last week as part of this lecture series but I expect we would have heard already if he revealed anything about Blue Origin.)

Commercial Space Act discussions... Rand Simberg examines the Commercial Space Act of 2003: Interesting New Legislation - Transterrestrial Musings - Oct.9.03... Find also more discussion of the act at sci.space.policy.

News brief ... Keith Cowing updates and corrects his article mentioned here earlier: NASA Changes The Focus Of Future ISS Cargo Delivery Plans - SpaceRef - Oct.9.03 ...

... X PRIZE publicity in Scotland: Who'll be first with star ship Private Enterprise? - Scotsman.com News - Oct.10.03 (via Spacetoday.net)

October 9,2003

Suborbital Action Day... Ed Wright posted this announcement at sci.space.policy:

On October 27, the Suborbital Institute will hold its third Suborbital Action Day on Capitol Hill. Executives of suborbital spaceflight companies and interested members of the public will meet with House and Senate offices to discuss upcoming legislation and regulatory issues affecting commercial suborbital spaceflight.

In past visits to the Hill, the Suborbital Institute has been successful in influencing Congress to revitalize the Office of Space Commercialization and add language on suborbital vehicles to Senate Resolution 1260. This time, the Suborbital Institute will be following up on those successes while adding a new agenda item: support for the recently introduced HR 3245, the Commercial Space Act of 2003. HR 3245 contains many positive items, in the view of Suborbital Institute, and will help enable the development of a commercial human spaceflight industry in the United States.

If you want to speak to lawmakers about the development of commercial human spaceflight and help promote the opportunity for ordinary Americans to fly in space, here is your chance to do so. We invite interested parties to get in touch as soon as possible, so that we may add you to our scheduling. We are making appointments with Congressional offices right now, so please do not delay. Email edwright2000@hotmail.com with your name, contact information, and a brief bio. We will get in touch to provide you with more information.

News briefs ... Comments from Gary Hudson and Rand Simberg on the Commercial Space Act and the role of FAA-AST in suborbital regulation....

... Leonard David reports on the recent SS1 test: X-Prize Update: SpaceShipOne's Third Drop Test - Space.com - Oct.9.03 ...

.... The Canadian da Vinci X PRIZE project has done well at attracting sponsors and now lands another big one: Sun Microsystems of Canada and da Vinci Project Team up to Take on the Final Frontier - da Vinci Project - Oct.1.03. ...

... Gordon R. Woodcock and others proposed various space transportation schemes at the recent International Astronautical Congress in Bremen: Local man pitches reusable spacecraft that 'flies like an airplane': Retired engineer says vehicle could replace shuttle - Huntsville News - Oct.8.03 (via Spacetoday.net)

Hypersonics ... NASA awards X-43C contract: NASA Selects Allied Team To Provide Hypersonic Vehicles - NASA - Oct.9.03. The company Allied Aerospace offers more info about its hypersonics program on its web site. Besides the X-Vehicles projects, it also pursues development of Hypersonic Missile Demonstrators and has flown Sramjet Projectiles in ground tests. This Movie of First Successful Scramjet [Projectile] Flight looks like a sequence from the old Flash Gordon serial.

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 8, 2003

Space legislation update... The Commercial Space Act and three other space related bills got approved today in a House subcommittee: House Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee Approves Four Bills - SpaceRef - Oct.8.03. This is just the first hurdle of many but looks good so far.

NASA wants assured not alternate access... Keith Cowing reports in NASA Changes The Focus Of Future ISS Cargo Delivery Plans - SpaceRef - Oct.7.03 that NASA told the four Alternate Access contractors (Andrews, Boeing, CSI and LockMart) that it wants to move the program in the direction of "Assured Access". This apparently means that by 2011 they want something that can replace the entire shuttle cargo bay rather than a more modestly sized ISS cargo delivery system.

Why they need such a large amount of space isn't clear. Apparently, there are various missions under discussion with the White House but nothing in writing. It looks increasingly likely that NASA is becoming reconciled to the fact that the shuttle will stop flying in a few years and so they want something to replace all its capabilities. Since the OSP will provide the transportation for people, they now want a large lifter to make up for the loss of the shuttle's cargo capacity.

Unfortunately, this means the loss of the original goal of the Alt. Access program, which, as I understood it, was to exploit the ability of private firms, especially the small startups, to develop low cost alternatives to the shuttle for delivering supplies to the ISS. A big lifter that flies a couple of times a year will mean yet another ten billion dollar vehicle that costs at least a couple of hundred million dollars per mission.

Opening space for supply siders... With regard to the proposed Zero Gravity, Zero Tax Act of 2003, a clever RLV News reader invented this new slogan for space activists: No taxation without gravitation!

October 7, 2003

Save Rocketry Now campaign... see the Space Log.

SS1 updates... The latest issue of Aviation Week contains an article about the recent drop test "hiccups" of the SpaceShipOne. Some of the items of note include:

  • The pitchup problem occurred at 85kts, 15kts above the stall speed in the previous test.
  • The 20 degree pitchup could not be corrected "despite full nose down elevator and nose down trim". Only by "rolling to the left with the rudder", causing the "nose to slice toward the ground", did the pilot Michael Melvill regain control.
  • Even with the ballast added during this flight, which moved the center of gravity aft, the operational configuration with fully loaded propellants would double the weight, making "pitchup and recovery much more dangerous".
  • Scaled doesn't yet know if the fix will be big or small.
  • The landing also caused a surprise. Forward doors had been added to the rear legs since the last flight and their drag turned out to be about twice what was expected. So when he extended the gear the SS1 "sank like a rock". He came in about a 1000ft short of the original aim point.
  • The goal of a 100km flight by the end of the year will be tough to meet if the fix takes a while. They had planned "big jumps in performance" from one test flight to the next. Now they may have to move in smaller increments.

....The SpaceShipOne photos page has some new entries.

Spaceshow rocket guest...

The Space Show today at 7 PM - 8 PM Pacific Time, features Dr. Al Differ, an active partner with JP Aerospace where he serves as the Director of Analysis. JP Aerospace is a privately held company with a large volunteer force with the objective of revolutionizing space access and making it affordable to everyone. Dr. Differ also serves on the Board of Directors for the Space Frontier Foundation and as Project Manager for their Frontier Files Online project. In addition, Dr. Differ runs an independent project under Interworld Transport with the purpose of creating a detailed solar sail simulation application for use by enthusiasts, scientists, and technology developers in studying designs and flights of real solar sails in the inner solar system. Dr Differ's. degree is from the Department of Physics at the University of California at Davis.

Available on line via www.live365.com

News brief ... Brian Walker, aka RocketGuy, will appear on the TechTV InventThis program: Brian Walker - TechTV - Oct.6.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 6, 2003

Space action inside the Beltway... Keith Cowing reports that the Alternate Access to Space contractors will meet with NASA tomorrow. They recently got an extra $4M split among them.

He also mentions that the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will act soon on a couple of space bills include the Zero Gravity, Zero Tax Act of 2003, which would provide tax incentives for commercial space activities.

Finally, he has heard that there is a study within NASA on the ramifications of ending the shuttle program three years from now, just as soon as the ISS construction is finished.

Space legislation ... A reader pointed me to the Commercial Space Act of 2003 [H.R.3245] introduced in the House of Representatives on October 2nd by Rep.Dana Rohrabacher. It authorizes funding for the FAA's Office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation and for the Office of Space Commerce.

It also changes the Commercial Space Launch Activities Act. It lists various modifications of the provisions but unfortunately I can't find any set pages showing the text after the changes. But several items that stand out include:

  • A definition for suborbital spaceflight:
    • (17) suborbital rocket means a rocket-propelled vehicle intended for flight on a suborbital trajectory whose thrust is greater than its lift for the majority of the powered portion of its flight.
    • (18) suborbital trajectory' means the intentional flight path of a launch vehicle, reentry vehicle, or any portion thereof, whose vacuum instantaneous impact point does not leave the surface of the Earth.'

  • The term 'spaceflight participant" is added and intended to mean an informed passenger who is not just a paying customer but someone who "has received training and met medical or other standards specified in the license;" and who has been "informed of the safety record of the launch or reentry vehicle type;"

  • The Secretary of Transporation is instructed "to create a streamlined, cost-effective, and enabling regulatory framework for the United States commercial human spaceflight industry."

  • It orders a "study on the liability risk-sharing regime" for commercial space transportation.

I believe this House bill could be reconciled with the Senate bill introduced by Sen. John McCain back in June.

News briefs ... The Romanian X PRIZE ARCA team held an event on September 27th to celebrate the rollout of its Demonstrator2, a 1:2.5 scale version of their Orizont X PRIZE vehicle. They also displayed the launch-complex for the demonstrator....

... The latest Armadillo Aerospace update reports on continued experiments with the mixed monopropellant propulsion system particularly with regard to preheating the catalyst.

October 5, 2003

Support your local X PRIZE team... To make articles relevant to their readers, newspaper reporters like to find some local connection when writing on most any topic. As this article shows - For this space race, the X factor is money - The Seattle Times - Oct.5.03 (Link via spacetoday.net) - finding a local X PRIZE team really helps when talking about the rocket competition. In this case the Canyon Space Team brings in a connection to the Seattle area. California newspaper articles talk about the SS1 and other projects there. Similarly, Canadian and British newspaper articles often discuss the contest in terms of their "local" teams.

This kind of vicarous identification with a favorite team could really boost public involvement. Even if the contest is won early, there will be increasing support and interest in seeing a local team get its vehicle flying since the concept will have been proven.

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 3, 2003

$12B just for CRV... According to Keith Cowing at NASA Watch, "Dennis Smith has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill. He is telling staff that the cost of getting to a CRV (crew return) capability for the OSP - by 2008 - will cost between $11-12 billion. The cost to get the OSP to have a CTV (crew transport) capability atop an EELV is still not known - at least Smith has not been able to prove those numbers to Congress."

LEO competition ... Perhaps the SpaceX entry into the launcher game is starting to have an impact. The SpaceX Falcon will put 1400lbs( ~635kg) into LEO for about $6M (see interview with Elon Musk). Yesterday there came news that Orbital Sciences will provide a ride for a [Navy] payload on its Minotaur rocket to LEO for $11M. As Jeff Foust points out, this is considerably less than the previous estimates for a Minotaur of around $19M.

As noted earlier,the [Navy] will be the first customer for the Falcon. I'm sure the AF let Orbital know this during their negotiations for a launch. [Correction: I've been told that the TacSat-1 payload comes from the Navy not the Air Force as originally reported and it is "funded directly by the Secretary of Defense' Office of Force Transformation." Still, the AF probably told Orbital about the low price the Navy got.]

According to Astronautix, the Minotaur payload capability to LEO is similar to the Falcon's at 640kg.

News briefs... Russian air launch system plans: Russians Set to Develop HOTOL-Style Space System - RIA Novosti - Oct.3.03....

... I can see why some rocket builders such as Scaled Composites like to keep a low profile during development. This article - Space: Tourism's next frontier - Minneapolis Star Tribune - Oct.3.03 - for example, uses the recent SS1 drop test problems as proof of the inherent danger in spaceflight. [In fact, one of the main benefits of the suborbitals is that they will prove that rocket and space flight can be done safely and routinely, though there will obviously be problems during early development.]

October 2, 2003

TGV jobs ... TGV Rockets has expanded hiring of engineers for its Noman, Oklahoma facility. See their contact info page if you are interested.

The company is also supporting graduate student research at the School of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. See this doc (pdf).

Escape systems ... Andrew Case pointed out this article Get Out Now! - Popular Science - Oct.03 issue, which discusses Shuttle ejection seat & pod schemes. He also notes the section on the same page about the challenges of escaping from submarines trapped in deep waters and the Exosuit designed by Phil Nuytten of Vancouver. His company, Nuytco Research, happens to be a sponsor of the X PRIZE da Vinci project and according to this Space.com article the company is building a $250k spacesuit for the project. Andrew thinks there is "probably going to be a serious market for escape systems for suborbital vehicles in the next few years. Nuytco is well placed to take advantage of it."

NASA/Shuttle Program...

October 1 , 2003

White Knight/SS1 test flight reports... The SpaceShipOne flight tests page now has entries for the recent SS1 drop test and for some flights without a drop test.

Corrections... Regarding my original comments below about the MSNBC/AP X PRIZE article, Randall Clague of XCOR notes that the Mojave Spaceport application is for a license to launch horizontal takeoff and landing vehicles, not just air launched. (XCOR, for example, plans to launch the XERUS from there.) Also, I didn't make it clear that Armadillo, which flies vertical-takeoff-and-landing vehicles, would not use Mojave regardless of whether its spaceport application was approved.

Finally, Armadillo has not had any interaction with FAA-AVR, which is suppose to regulate only airplanes. According to Randall, even if AVR wanted to regulate all suborbital space traffic, they would have trouble extending their reach beyond winged vehicles. The Black Armadillo is a "vehicle that doesn't use wings, and doesn't so much fly in the NAS [National Airspace System] as through it - it's a manned sounding rocket, and they would have a real hard time claiming otherwise."

NASA/Shuttle Program...

Continue to September 2003

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