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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
September 2002

EZ-Rocket
Copyright of Amadillo Aerospace
(Image captured from video)
Sept. 28, 2002: The first manned flight by an Armadillo Aerospace
"
reusable, four axis stabilized, liquid fueled," rocket powered vehicle.


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


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

RLV News Archive Directory


September 29, 2002

One Giant Hop for Armadillo... An Armadillo Aerospace vertical takeoff and landing vehicle made its first manned flight yesterday (see the image at top, captured from the flight video). The short hop by the hydrogen peroxide powered vehicle (dry weight of 525 pounds plus 50 pounds of peroxide) should be the first of many flights by several different vehicles eventually leading to an X Prize 100km vehicle.

John Carmack notes that though the flight was brief, it shows that:

"most of the systems necessary for much more significant flights are demonstrated. Looked at in the best light, it is a reusable, four axis stabilized, liquid fueled, manned rocket. Our single man suborbital space shot vehicle is expected to only be about twice the dry mass of this vehicle (but with a LOT more propellant, including kerosene), and will not be all that much more complex."

They will focus next on their "tube vehicle" (a streamlined version), which they will fly to a couple of thousand feet. Progress on their bi-propellant 1000lb thrust engine is also proceeding well.

Congratulations to John and his team!

Flometrics Does Rockets & Fuel Pumps... While I've been giving lots of attention to the CSXT and MARS advanced amateur rocket flights, there was another recent launch of a large rocket by a small organization that I was not aware of.

Flometrics resides near San Diego, CA and primarily concentrates on computational fluid dynamics, flow visualization and related areas.

The company also builds "amateur" liquid fueled rockets. They launched a several meter long rocket on September 22, 2002 to 20,000 ft. from the Reaction Rocket Society site in the Mojave desert. (Checkout the launch video.) This is the most recent in a series of rockets that are intended:

"to promote our rocket fuel pump technology. Our eventual goal is to reach an altitude of 100 miles with an amateur rocket. This rocket will be the first amatuer liquid fueled rocket with attitude control."

Development of a cheap but robust and powerful fuel pump has become a major goal for low cost rocket developers. XCOR, for example, displayed a breadboard verison of a piston pump at the Space Access meeting last April.

Flometrics company is developing an innovative dual pistonless pump that has few moving parts yet fulfills the role usually played by expensive turbopumps:

"Rocket turbopumps typically cost $1M or more and this type of pump could easily be produced for under $50K. The weight would be the same as a turbopump (about 10 hp/lb) it would be more reliable and easier to start up and shut down. The design can be easily scaled for different applications." - Flometrics

So far the rockets have not flown with one of these pumps but that is the goal of a collaboration with students at San Diego State University..

(My thanks to Andrew Case for informing me about the Flometrics launch.)

September 27, 2002

Another Beltway Pessimist... Space News reports this week (Sept.23.02 issue, p.16) that Robert Dickman, deputy to the undersecretary of the Air Force, doesn't believe a military RLV is viable for at least 20 years. Instead of building any prototypes, he is recommending that the USAF and NASA do technology development projects - hydrocarbon/LOX engines, thermal protection, etc. - with the AF kicking in $50 to $100 million per year.

The failure of the X-33 is held up several times as proof that the technology not only is currently inadequate for an operational RLV but that it's not useful even to build a sub-orbital prototype for 10 years or so.

As shown by recent remarks from an Orbital Sciences exec, it appears that within the military-NASA-industrial complex, everyone is confirming each other's prejudices against RLVs. After the flurry of joint NASA -AF meetings, workshops and talk of a National Aerospace Initiative, it looks like we are back to RLV non-development as usual.

As mentioned earlier, these grand proclaimations that RLVs are currently impossible blithely ignore a proof of principle, the Kistler K-1. This two stage fully reusable vehicle is 75% finished and just laying in pieces in a warehouse awaiting a few hundred million dollars to start flying.

Lack of technology did not stop its development but lack of investment after the Iridium/Globalstar/etc. failures pulled the rug out from under the launch market. Northrop-Grumman, one of Kistler's major contractors, could have stepped up to the plate and funded the vehicle's completion. We would then have an RLV flying routinely today and Northrop would dominate all discussions on RLV programs. Instead, in typical take-no-risks aerospace industry fashion, Northrop quickly declared a total loss on the components it built.

A K-1 might not provide every capability on a Pentagon wish-list - the laser cannons, shields, and Spacetrooper transport will have to wait - it could do a heck of a lot when combined at first with the Active Dispenser (pdf) and later with an orbital servicing system like DARPA's Orbital Express or even an unmanned SMV spaceplane.

SLI Contractors in Limbo... It is looking increasingly likely that O'Keefe will move NASA move away from development of a full RLV system and towards a Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle (CCTV) spaceplane that can be launched on top of an expendable booster initially (the new Atlas V and Delta 4 would be the obvious candidates), and later on a reusable booster. (See earlier report.)

Space News reports (Sept.23.02 issue, p.16) that this is putting the three teams that won the SLI study contracts in an awkward situation. They are currently working towards an SLI review in November that will reduce the contest to two teams. Until they are officially told to do otherwise, they will continue to develop their proposals for a complete shuttle replacement system.

Members of the design teams don't sound thrilled by the CCTV approach. They say that separating booster and second stage development will cost more in the long run. But, of course, they will do whatever NASA demands.

Boeing is proposing that its X-37 vehicle become the basis for a CCTV by 2008. The other teams will modify their current crew/cargo second stage designs to fulfill the CCTV requirements. Northop-Grumman, however, unlike Boeing and Lockheed-Martin doesn't have an expendable launcher of its own, so it will be at a distinct disadvantage.

September 24, 2002

SLI Stirrings... According to Keith Cowing at NASA Watch, the CCTV (Crew/Cargo Transfer Vehicle) will no longer be a SLI program but will become a separate project on its own. Also, he says that the Pratt & Whitney COBRA Liquid Hydrogen/LOX engine project will be canceled and SLI will concentrate on the kerosene engine projects. (No mention of Boeing's RS-83 LH/LOX engine.)

Beating Those Ol'Expendable Rocket Blues... As you may have heard, CSXT lost its chance to set the amateur rocket altitude record last Thursday when its rocket blew up at around 3000ft. They obviously put a huge amount of work into the project and seemed very optimistic and confident going in. I'm sure they are all very devastated by the failure.

(Others were more lucky. Congrats to the MARS group for the successful launch of their latest hybrid motor powered rocket.)

To me this kind of incident reinforces the arguments that John Carmack made for why he decided to pursue vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) vehicles. At the Space Access meeting in 2001, he said that he had funded a couple of projects to win the CATS Prize and then caught the rocket bug himself. From the experience with expendables, though, he decided that waiting long periods in between launches, which would often result in disappointing failures, would take all the fun out of it.

Instead, with VTOL vehicles, he could test them often, even in the parking lot initially, without the need for long trips to remote testing grounds. They can easily be refueled and reflown repeatedly. The incremental approach would provide lots of feedback and by starting with cheap prototypes it would be OK to lose a few as experience was gained.

(I'm over-simplifying a bit. Many of the components of rockets like those launched by CSXT and MARS can be refurbished and reflown if not damaged, so they aren't really expendables. But, nevertheless, their reusablity is limited.)

It should be clear to anyone following the progress of Armadillo Aerospace that they have, in fact, made great strides in both rocket engine and vehicle development and have had a great time as well. While their videos show some spectacular flops, these seem to occur as a natural part of the learning process rather than as dramatic catastrophes.

The current update at Armadillo, for example, reports on some fuel tests and 5 lander hops with a pilot-capable vehicle flown by remote control. Carmack reports on what each hop taught them and the adjustments made. These flight tests were made over a 5 day period.

I really hope more of the advanced amateur rocketry groups move to VTOL vehicles. There's certainly no reason an ambitious operation like CSXT could not build them. Despite his personal resources, Carmack is doing everything as cheaply as possible - that is part of the challenge. The Armadillo web site is open and provides a great database for others to build on. So no one has to start from scratch.

Come on rocketeers, give up those ELV heartbreakers and have some VTOL fun!

[Sept.29.02 - John Carmack verifies my paraphrase of his remarks and he believes the experience with Armadillo so far confirms that the path he chose to purue was the right one. He does say, though, that reaching 100km with a VTOL will probably cost 2 to 3 times that of developing an ELV to reach that same altitude. ]

September 23, 2002

O'Keefe Trys to Get an Old Elephant to Dance... Graig Couvalt writes in the current issue of Aviation Week - Shuttle Shakeup Eyed For Cost, Safety Goals Craig Couvalt- Aviation Week - Sept.22.02 - that Sean O'Keefe has plans for major changes in the way Shuttle program is run and also in the SLI program. It could mean that the United Space Alliance (Boeing & Lockheed-Martin) contract could be dropped and replaced with multiple competitive outsourcing.

The shakeup follows a RAND study into how to deal with "[d]ecaying infrastructure and shuttle component obsolescence", while maintaining safe operations. Disputing the NASA contention of that not moving along with the current privatization plan would jeopardize safety, one of the RAND group members said "All the Johnson team data was skewed toward NASA's current culture--and a cultural change in NASA is required." [My emphasis.]

The report says that "shuttle reform would be highly synergistic to the course of SLI." The RAND group is currently working with a team at Langley to examine the SLI program and they are reportedly "concerned about the accuracy of NASA's current SLI cost estimates". These concerns may lead to "management and contractor changes in SLI. "

[NASA Reveals New Plan for the Moon, Mars & Outward - Space.com - Sept.26.02]

... Frank Sietzen also reports - Spacelift Washington: On E Street, it's the Restoration of Exploration by Frank Sietzen - Spaceref - Sept.22.02 - that O'Keefe is planning to move NASA away from its LEO fixation for human spaceflight and turn towards a deep space exploration emphasis. This would, for example, re-orient ISS away from micro-gravity research for its own sake and towards learning how to send people safely on long space voyages.

September 20, 2002

Flight Demonstration...
Japanese reusable RVT series of vertical takeoff & landing
sub-orbital rocket vehicles.

The Next Japanese RVT...Space Future has posted an interesting paper - Flight Demonstration and a Concept for Readiness of Fully Reusable Rocket Vehicles by Yoshifumi Inatani - Space Future - presented at a conference in November 2001. He reviews the history of the RVT (reusable vehicle test) program and the plans for the future. Results from the flights of the RVT #1 and #2 shown in the above figure are presented.

The next vehicle (RVT#3 in the above figure) is proposed as a "reusable sounding rocket" that could reach 300km on a ballistic flight with a 100kg payload. Four LOX/LH2 engines provide the thrust for vertical takeoff and landing.

The main goal of the program is not to lower the costs for sounding rockets, which would be great, but to prove out a host of reusability and operational techniques.

I don't know if the funding for the third vehicle has been approved. The RVT program was developed in the ISAS, which was renowned for doing a lot on a small amount of money. As I understand it, the ISAS and the much larger, more bureaucratic NASDA have been merged. I hope that the resourcefulness of the ISAS is not smothered by this new arrangement. The RVT is very similar to the DC-X not only in purpose but also in that it's a small program easily crushed by large programs that feel threatened by it.

September 18, 2002

Who Says Space is Expensive...Wired magazine this month has an article about the America's Cup sailing competition: Billionaire Boys Cup -Wired - Oct.2002 issue. Serious money is put up by these people:

"the defender and nine challengers will drop a total of about $700 million, with each team spending almost seven times what Conner's spent 15 years ago. For some teams, R&D alone will cost $30 million to $40 million, ten times what it takes to build the boats themselves,"

The average outlay of about $78 million for a boat to win a trophy (I don't believer there is prize money for the Cup) should be compared to the money needed to build a X Prize sub-orbital.

Many of the X Prize entrants claim they will build their vehicle for less than the $10 million prize and the highest I've hear is in the few tens of millions range. Even the commerical sub-orbital companies (TGV, Pioneer Rocketplane, etc.) say they can get into the air with $30-50 million. The Russian Cosmopolis 21 space tourist vehicle reportedly needs $70 million to build a fleet of vehicles.

If we can't get the billionaire boys interested in sub-orbitals, maybe they would be attracted to a solar sail race : The Wind From the Sun.

September 17, 2002

No Hope but Japan's Spaceplane Development Goes On...Inspired by Aviation Week's review (Sept. 16.02 issue, pp.63-64) of Japan's spaceplane program, I'll give an overview here.

In the late 1980's Japan formed plans to build the Hope (H-II Orbital Plane Experiment) vehicle that would ride atop the expendable H-II rocket to take crews and cargo to the ISS for the Japan Experiment Module (JEM). A sequence of prototypes would be build to test technologies and techniques for the vehicle.

After various problems and overruns of both programs, the Hope program was scaled back and instead the unmanned Hope-X prototype would be developed for ISS cargo resupply. (The H-II evolved into the H-IIA, which recently had a successful launch.)

But the Hope-X also exceeded its budget and the project was "frozen", though not officially canceled. Despite this, the spaceplane proponents were able to convince the government to continue with basic technology development. The budgets are fairly small and off-the-shelf technology is used as much as possible.

The Japanese space agency NASDA and the National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) work together on the High Speed Flight Demonstration (HSFD) program:

So far the prototype projects include:

  • OREX (Orbital Re-entry Experiment) - this capsule was intended to test various re-entry technologies such as thermal protection materials and GPS tracking. In Feb. 1994 it was successfully launched on an H-II and after one orbit re-entered the atmosphere and provided significant telemetry during its descent.
  • HYFLEX (Hypersonic Flight Experiment) - tested various technologies for hypersonic flight such as thermal protection, atitude control, etc. Was successfully launched on a J-I rocket in February 1996 but after landing safely at sea it sank due to a failed floatation device and was not recovered.
  • ALFLEX (Automatic Landing Flight Experiment) - in summer of 1996 the ALFLEX vehicle carried out 13 sucessful autonomous landings after drops from a helicopter.

Currently, there are two new vehicles in development. As mentioned below, flight tests of the Phase I vehicle (not yet given a more interesting name) will take place this month on Christmas Island. Instead of dropping from a helicopter, this vehicle, which has a refined Hope design, has its own jet engine for autonomous takeoff and landing. The flight will follow a 50km course at a top speed no higher than Mach 0.7 and stay below 8000m altitude. The goal is to prove out the autonomous systems.

The Phase II vehicle will test supersonic behavior of the Hope design. Next year tests of the vehicle will take place at the Esrange center in northern Sweden. The vehicle will be taken by balloon up to 30km and dropped. When its speed reaches Mach 1.2 it will flare to maintain that speed for about 10 secs and then it will come in for a landing with the aid of parachutes and airbags.

The agencies hope (no pun intended) that if these program are successful, they will be able to build support for development of orbital RLVs.

September 13, 2002

Crew Rescue Vehicle Rescued (Maybe)... If Congress provides the money, NASA hopes to restore the crew rescue vehicle (CRV) and advanced life support development (needed for a full 6 member ISS crew) cut last year after the revelation of big overruns : NASA would restore cuts to space station: Agency hopes Congress will fund 3 programs worked on at Marshall - Huntsville Times - Sept.13.02 (Thanks to Jeff Foust's Spacetoday.net for pointing out this story)

Not clear how this will jive with O'Keefe's preference for SLI to develop a vehicle that serves as both a CRV and crew taxi. Why ask for new money if SLI is going to build it anyway out of its budget?

Military RLV Showdown...NASA Watch is reporting (Sept.12) that a special meeting will be held on September 16th with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld to "decide the future of NAI (National Aerospace Initiative)". The NAI is a proposal within DOD to expand its RLV and other space efforts and could include a merger with NASA's SLI. (See related entries on May.21.02 & Apr.19.02)

Boeing's BIG MOTHERship... Boeing is studying the possibility of developing a gigantic plane that would fly via ground effect at altitudes as low as 7m while over the ocean and at more normal altitudes while over land.

The Pelican Ultra Large Transport Aircraft (ULTRA) would be about 100m long and have a wingspan over 150m and could carry 1400 tons of payload. It's range would be "10,000 nautical miles over water and 6,500 nautical miles over land."

The main target market is long range heavy cargo delivery, which is currently being done mostly by container ships. However, the Boeing spokesman also says that the vehicle "...is attracting interest as a potential first-stage platform for piggybacking reusable space vehicles to an appropriate launch altitude."

September 11, 2002

Sir Martin Rees Sees Private Space Approaching...The BBC reports on a speech made by the famous astronomer Martin Rees at a science meeting in England in which he predicts that progress in space may actually be led by non-government groups:

Privateers to push space frontier - BBC - Sept.11.02

He says that the examples of Tito and Shuttleworth show that there are lots of people willing to pay to go into space and this will lead to lower cost technology as companies seek to serve this market.

"What may then happen as costs come down is that space exploration ceases to be something done as national and international programmes but becomes something that is done in more boisterous and disorganised ways by private consortia and even individuals.

"If that is the case, it will be done even more cheaply because risks could be taken that could not be taken by a national or international body." - Sir Marin Rees [My emphasis.]

MARS Goes for the Record... Later this month the British MARS amateur rocketry group will try to break the amateur rocketry high altitude record with their Deimos Odyssey, "a reuseable off-the-shelf sounding rocket" :

London rocket team ready to make bid for new record... next stop space - MARS PR/HobbySpace - Sept. 10, 2002

The Odyssey is made of aluminium and carbon fiber and stands over 24ft (7.3m) tall. It uses a hybrid motor with nitric oxide and solid polyethylene propellants that will provide 500lb thrust for 25secs. This should send the rocket far above their previous record of 35k ft (10.7km).

If this flight is a success, they will attempt to break the 100km border with their next rocket, Deimos 3, and become the first amateur group to reach space.

The team plans to launch the Odyssey at an unnamed remote desert site in California on September 20th or 21st.

[All-British rocket goes for record - BBC - Sept.12.02]

Busy month for amateur rocketry... As mentioned here earlier, Ky Michaelson's Civilian Space Exploration Team will also be going for the amateur altitude record this month and the 100km threshold. Amateur rocket [CSXT] to attempt space record - CNN.com - Sept.11.02. The competition in advanced amateur rocketry is heating up.

September 10, 2002

HyperSoar on the Upswing?...HyperSoar seemed to be one of those vaporware vehicle designs that occasionally leaps out of a government lab PR department to make a splash in Aviation Week (Sept.7, 1998) and then soon disappears into a file cabinet in a nether room of said lab.

In this case, though, AvWeek (Sept.9,2002, p.81) reports that the HyperSoar concept from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory is getting renewed interest from DARPA as a fast transport to anywhere in the world.

The vehicle is not intended for orbit but skips repeatedly along the top of the atmosphere at speeds ranging from Mach 5 to Mach 12. [It could, of course, release a second stage that goes to orbit.]

This approach is said to be very efficient with a rocket/turbojet combined cycle engine firing briefly only during the low altitude periods (~35km) in the sinusoidal trajectory. The vehicle would take off from a conventional runway and reach anywhere in the world in two hours. It is not exactly a waverider but would have a similar design. (photos)

While DARPA is currently only exploring the concept for possible development, it can only help that the primary HyperSoar designer, Preston Carter (yes, the same Carter who gave the RASCAL presentation discussed below), is a manager at DARPA's Tactical Technology Office that is in charge of the study.

Sub-orbital Space Tourism Study... Robert Goehlich is doing graduate work in Berlin on space tourism and has recently published the book Space Tourism: Economic & Technical Evaluation of Suborbital Space Flight for Tourism. Unfortunately for us Yanks, it's currently only available in Europe, e.g. Amazon.de. I hope to get my hands on a copy soon. (If you want to buy his book and are attending the WSC meeting in Houston, you can look him up. He says he is bringing some copies with him.)

September 9, 2002

Students Learning Reusable Rocketry...The Aerospace Engineering department at Cal State University at Long Beach is collaborating with Garvey Spacecraft Corporation to develop reusable rockets and supporting technology, while also training students for careers in rocketry. The program receives funding from the state-funded California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative (CALVEIN):

The Kimbo VI / Prospector 1 completed a successful flight in June 2001. The vehicle flew to 8000ft on an ethanol/LOX 1000 lbf-thrust engine developed by the students of CSULB. All components of the rocket were recovered undamaged.

The Prospector 2 flew in February 2002 and was also recovered undamage. It will be refurbrished for a second flight in the fall. In fact, the announcement said the vehicle "could have been flown the same day".

A Prospector-3 vehicle is now under development that will use a student developed thrust vectoring system.

In addition, an aerospike engine development program is underway. Aerospike Engine Engine Runs for 200 ms Before Plug Breaks-off - CalState Long Beach/Garvey Spacecraft - Apr.28.02.

Note that the group also works with the Reaction Rocket Society and uses the Society's facilities for engine tests and rocket flights.

RASCAL


RASCAL: Rapid Access, Small Cargo, Affordable Launch - Preston H. Carter II, DARPA/TTO (pdf)
A launch with the two stage RASCAL system begins with a ZOOM maneuver
in which the aircraft goes from ~10km and Mach ~1 to greater than
30km and Mach 2.5 before releasing its ELV.

More RASCAL info...At last Spring's NASA National University Satellite Program Workshop - April 4-5, 2002 a detailed presentation was made on DARPA's RASCAL program:

RASCAL: Rapid Access, Small Cargo, Affordable Launch - Preston H. Carter, DARPA/TTO

As mentioned here in April, the program seeks to develop a partially reusable system for delivering small payloads to orbit. The first stage consists of a reusable aircraft that can reach greater than Mach 2.5 and 30km altitude before releasing its expendable rocket to take at least 50kg to LEO.

The ZOOM maneuver, see above, sends the aircraft above most of the atmosphere. Staging occurs at a considerably higher altitude and speed than similar systems such as the Pegasus and ASAT. Exo-atmospheric release offers a number of advantages including smoother staging, smaller ELV mass, no ELV faring needed, etc.

The presentation discusses the mass-injection and pre-cooling techniques for augmenting an existing turbojet to provide much greater short term thrust for higher speed and higher altitude flight.

Six teams were selected for the first stage study period. A down select to two teams will occur in 2003 and then a winner chosen in 2004, leading to first flight in 2006.

Lots of smallsats awaiting...The conference site NASA National University Satellite Program Workshop - April 4-5, 2002 mentioned above also provides a number of presentations on small satellites built by students and others. This meeting and the yearly Utah State Annual AAIA Small Satellite Conference indicate that there are dozens of small satellites needing rides to space but that they have great difficulty finding a suitable launch at a reasonable price.

Even smallsats reserved for the huge shuttle payload can get bumped for long periods. The Starshine 4 student satellite will be delayed by as much as 3 years. (NASA should justify this to the thousands of kids who helped polish the mirrors on the spacecraft.)

Many students, who are absolutely thrilled to be working on something that will actually go into space, find that they must graduate before they can see their handiwork fly. There would probably be hundreds of student nanosats each year if there were cheap flights available.

While waiting for RASCAL and other low cost orbital systems to arrive, sub-orbital rockets and even high altitude balloons could offer a low cost alternative (e.g. see the Near Space section.) The student smallsat market won't be huge but it will offer yet another income stream for the private sub-orbital RLV companies.

September 5, 2002

Program for X-43 Variants...The X-43 program actually encompasses several vehicles that vary considerably in size, design and performance. They are tied together by the common goal of developing hypersonic technology.

Here is a listing of the projects:

** The X-43A, or Hyper-X, program led by NASA has recieved the most publicity. The primary goals are to reach Mach 7 and Mach 10 speeds on successive flights of the one-use test vehicles, which are lost at sea. The first launch attempt failed due to a malfunction in its Orbital Science's Pegasus booster.

** The X-43ALS & BLS are scaled down (~3m) models of the X-43 vehicles for investigating low speed (LS) flight conditions. Accurate Automation's HyFLYTE program, funded under SBIR grants from NASA, builds and flies the models to develop neural network adaptive controls and other technologies for autonomous operations. (An earlier LoFLYTE project investigated waverider technology.)

** X-43B will test NASA's ISTAR (also called "strutjet") rocket-based-combined-cycle (RBCC) engine. The initial acceleration comes from hydrocarben liquid rocket propulsion. After reaching Mach 2.5, ramjet propulsion accelerates the vehicle to Mach 5 when scramjet action then begins and pushes the craft to Mach 7. The vehicle, which would be considerably larger than the X-43A, could make its first flight late this decade.

** X-43C will test the Air Force's HyTech hydrocarbon fueled scramjet. First flight could occur in 2008.

** X-43D, assuming the previous programs are successful, this vehicle would aim to reach Mach 15 with a hydrogen scramjet.

Other resources:

News Briefs... The High Speed Flight Demonstration (HSFD) program at Japan's NASDA/National Aerospace Lab will begin tests next month of autonomous takeoffs and landings by an unmanned sub-scale HOPE-X vehicle. The flights will take place on Christmas Island in the Republic of Kiribati, about 2,000km south of the Hawaiian Islands. Japan to Test Shuttle Technology - LA Times/AP - Sept.5.02 * [Japan to test shuttle technology - CNN.com - Sept.7.02].

...Although the HOPE-X project is officially on hold, other basic RLV technology development work continues : Development of HOPE-X All-Composite Prototype Structure - NAL Newsletter - Spring.02

... More about the SLI-funded COBRA engine (LH2/LOX) at COBRA Engine Could Power the Next Generation Shuttle - Space.com - Sept.4.02 ...

... SLI has posted a fact sheet comparing the four candidate engines - COBRA, RS-83, RS-84, TR107 - for the next-gen RLV: Main Engine Candidates for a Second Generation Reusable Launch Vehicle - SLI - Sept.02 (pdf)

September 3, 2002

Re-using Geosats... Orbital Recovery Corporation has announced the development of a satellite "tugboat" that will dock with aging comsats in geostationary orbit that are running out of fuel and extend their useful life for several more years:

The definition phase for the Geosynch Spacecraft Life Extension System (SLES) has been completed and the company is now organizing a team of contractors to build it for initial deployment in 2004. The company has "identified more than 40 telecommunications satellites currently in orbit that are candidates for life extension using the SLES. "

The company was formed by Dennis Wingo and Walt Anderson. Wingo also runs Skycorp that aims to assemble low cost satellites on the ISS for a communications satellite constellation. This effort, however, has apparently been dropped for the time being after failing to attract investors. Anderson previously funded Rotary Rocket and MirCorp.

More Hypersonics... The latest issue of Aviation Week provides additional info about the hypersonic programs in the Air Force and Navy that were mentioned here earlier:

New Powerplant Key To Missile Demonstrator - Aviation Week - Sept.3.02.

The DARPA/Navy/Boeing HyFly program is pursuing a dual combustion engine approach. Air enters one port and in ramjet fashion is slowed to subsonic speeds and ignited. Supersonic air travels through a second port and mixes with the combustion products from the output of the other chamber and the fuel is then completely burned. This approach overcomes the drop in thrust in normal ramjets at around Mach 5. The HyFly technology is intended just for one-time use, i.e. missiles only.

The Air Force HyTech program seeks to provide scramjet engine technology useful for both missiles and reusable vehicles. Usually only hydrogen is considered as a fuel for scramjets due to the brief time available for combustion (~1millisec). This program, however, uses conventional jet fuel (e.g. JP7) but takes advantage of the heat generated in the walls of the combustion chamber to "crack" the fuel into lighter and more volatile elements that enter the supersonic flow and burn quickly enough to generate positive thrust at Mach 6 and higher.

News brief... Check out the progress made over at Armadillo with their engines and VTVL prototype: Armadillo Aerospace News Archive - Aug.31.02

 

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