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Reusable Launch Vehicle News
Archive: January - March 2000

Other RLV News sites:
RLV Alert at Spacer.com - Space Frontier Society -
Space Access Society Updates - X-33 History Timeline - 2000 -
Highway2Space * Space Transportation Directorate
* NASA Watch Launch System New

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

Note: These articles provide a sampling of developments in RLV technology during this time. Unfortunately, many of the links here will expire over time.

When the the links go dead, an attempt to "relink" them will be made if the pages can be found at a new location. Otherwise, the text will be disconnected but still shown in italics.

If you want to follow up on an interesting but disconnected item, there are a few possiblities:

  • Most of the Yahoo news items are based on press releases from companies, NASA or other agency. If you go to the website of the particular company
  • or institution involved, it may have the PR in its archive. Look for the News or Press Release page.

  • Many online newspapers break their links after a period of time but keep the articles in an archive. However, they often will charge for a search.

  • If all else fails, try Google
  • or other search engine using the title or keywords from the title.

Archives: RLV News Archive Directory

March 30, 2000

X-38 successfully completed the program's highest and longest drop test to date. Carried to a height of nearly 12000 meters by a B-52, the prototype flew over 11mins after deploying a new improved parafoil. This model also included automatic flight control software for the first time.


[CNN.com - Space - Smooth sailing, rough landing for 'space lifeboat' - March 30, 2000 * SpaceViews Article: X-38 Completes Longest Drop Test Yet - Mar.30.00 ]

Check out HASTOL , a combination reusable hypersonic sub-orbital vehicle and orbiting tether system that's under study by a collaboration of Robert Forward's Tether Unlimited , Boeing and Univ. of Maryland. The tether swings down and grabs payloads from the vehicle and lifts them to orbit. The [--Error--]study so far has proven the general feasibility of the concept and is now trying to optimize the design.

News briefs... The VentureStar site posts a [--Error [--Time Out--]--]press release on the recent long duration test. It says that the firing also included the first demonstration of full power thrust vector control.

March 27, 2000

X-33 engine test succeeds on March 22 in a reaching the full 220sec duration that would be required for its missions. Acccording to the item on the Space History site, an even longer test of 250secs will be carried out on April 3 as well.

Ground effect first stage booster for an RLV has been proposed by a Russian group. New Scientist reports that a spaceplane would mount "on the back of a 1500-tonne, rocket-propelled seaplane, known in Russia as an 'ekranoplan' ". To top off this rather eccentric proposal, the spaceplane would land on the back, avoiding the need for landing gear. [Ed. The Soviet Union developed several ground effect prototypes, including a large multi-engine vehicle, but never succeeded in finding a suitable application for them. I guess the Russian inheritors of this technology are hoping space launching could be a winner for it.]

March 21, 2000

News briefs... The OrlandoTimes reports on the X-33 problems in [--Link Dead--]Rocket ship of future still grounded by problems-Mar.19.00 ...

The Aerospace Corporation reports on the test of the huge parafoil for the X-38 program - Space Station Parafoil Unfurls Beautifully in Test ...

The billion dolar question: should NASA continue with the X-38 development of a one way Crew Rescue Vehicle or switch to a two-way Crew Transfer Vehicle - NASA Looking at Alternatives to ISS Crew Return Vehicle -Mar.20.00 - SpaceViews

March 15, 2000

X-33 engine test interrupted 75secs into a planned full-duration 220secs run. No significant damage found. A fuel pump was detected to be out of normal range and so the control computers stopped the test. Corrections should be easily made to allow for tests to resume next week. See NASA Press Release .

Beal Aerospace's BA-2- a partially reusable booster. Beal recently tested the largest rocket engine developed [--Link Dead--]since Apollo 's F-1. ([--Link Dead--]Beal Aerospace Fires Largest Liquid Rocket Engine in 30 Years - Beal Press Release - March 4, 2000.)

The company is funded by banker Andrew Beal who has put together a top rate team that is pursuing new approaches to reducing the cost of launching heavy payloads. The BA-810 engine uses hydrogen peroxide/kerosene, for example, which avoids the cost and complexity of low temperature liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen.

Using helium pressure-fed engines also avoids the weight and reliability problems of high speed pumps. The tanks and structure will make extensive use of light-weight composites filament-wound materials.

The first launch of the the 3-stage [--Link Dead--]BA-1 is planned for mid-2002. The BA-1 appears at first glance to be of a typical expendable design but according to the web site it will use "reusable technologies" for "primary stage recoveries at sea." Beal has also indicated that follow-on vehicles will be fully reusable.

Note also that many proposed designs of low cost RLVs have involved hydrogen peroxide. Validation of this approach could have a big positive spin-off effect on other projects.

March 14, 2000

News briefs... Florida Today Space Online reports about the status of the X-33 hydrogen tank failures. Fuel tanks latest problem for X-33-Mar.9.00 ....Also, see Boeing pushes AirLaunch as answer to rapid deployment problems ...

Space News - Feb.28 - reported that Lockheed Martin has promised that it will absorb the extra cost for the aluminum hydrogen tank replacements for the failed composite tanks if NASA will send them the remaining $113 million in the program funding....

The smaller of the two payloads returned with the IRDT inflatable re-entry system was successfully protected from the intense heat. However, there was some impact damage due to the failure of a second-stage full deployment that was to act as a drag chute. The other entry payload, the Fregat upper stage, has not yet been found due to the severe weather at the time of the landing that probably left it buried in snow. The search is apparently postponed till Spring after the snow melts.

Ed. Note that successful development of such a lightweight inflatable reentry system could be a big plus for RLV development as well. Several of the proposed systems, such as Kelly's Eclipse and Pioneer's RocketPlane , involve only reusable first stages. They plan to use expendable upper-stages to deliver payloads to orbit. With an IRDT type system, the whole system would become reusable.

March 8, 2000

News briefs... Boeing may develop a 3 stage air-launched rocket to launch reusable spaceplanes. The all solid expendable booster system would be mounted atop a 747 and could launch up to 3000kg to LEO. It is being considered as the launcher for the X-37 and Air Force SMV (Space Maneuvering Vehicle) reuseable spaceplanes. See SpaceViews Article: Boeing Considers Air-Launched Rocket-Mar.3.00 ...

A drop test of the X-38 was scheduled for Feb.26 but was postponed due to computer problems - [--Error--]Space Station Return Vehicle Test Postponed To March 29 - AviationNow - Mar.3.00 ...

Aerojet continues development of its Strutjet that combines rocket and scramjet propulsion into a single engine - Aerojet Conducts Successful Strutjet Rocket Tests at New Facility in Sacramento- Press Release Mar 6.00

February 25, 2000

News briefs... Japan continues with plans for its unmanned HOPE-X - [--Link Dead--]Japan Plans Shuttle Runway on Kiribati Island - SpaceDaily - Feb.23.00

February 18, 2000

News briefs... According to the History Timeline the Red Team review of the X-33 will praise the progress of the project. They found "no obvious showstoppers" but made some recommendations on improvements....

More articles on the recent aerospike tests: [--Error [--Time Out--]--] VentureStar . Mission Updates . Press Releases * SpaceViews Article: X-33 Engine Passes Test, But Project Schedule Uncertain-Feb.14.00

February 11, 2000

X-33 Linear Aerospike Engine fires for 120secs at 100% power during the latest test. According to the NASA Press Release - X-33 Linear Aerospike Engine Reaches Significant Milestone Reaches Significant Milestone - vectoring with +/-15% thrust control was also successful. See photos of recent tests .

The [--Error [--Time Out--]--]engine test program will eventually reach full power runs of a maximum of 250secs in duration that matches the time needed for a X-33 flight. A total of 41 tests on 4 engines - 2 test engines and 2 flight engines - are planned through next summer. [ed.: Although with the failure of the oxygen tanks, there will be plenty of time for further tests...]

News briefs...Check out the Air Force study from 1991 Single Stage to Orbit Vertical Takeoff and Landing Concept Technology Challenges - Daniel A. Heald, Thomas L. Kessler - (posted by Marcus Landroos) that proposed something similar to what later was attempted with the DC-X program...See also the article [--Link Dead--]FAA Traces 'Reusable' Rocket Revolution - Space.com - Feb.10.00 about a FAA report on the state of RLV development.

February 10, 2000

News briefs...Check out Space Access Update #91 2/7/00 . Henry Vanderbilt gives his views on why cheap access is essential to our future, reviews the mistakes NASA made in its RLV projects over the past 5 years, and what priorities the organization will have in the next year....

...Don't forget to register for Space Access 2000 Conference , April 27-29, 2000, in Scottsdale Arizona. Hear all the inside RLV info in a relaxed, informal atmosphere, with presentations intended for an audience with a wide range of technical and not-so-technical backgrounds....

...NASA's new budget increase funds for RLV technology development in general. These include support for the on-going X projects. The grand plan is to develop the technology so that in 5 years NASA can recommend how to replace the shuttle. [Didn't we hear that 5 years ago?] See Aviation Weeks [--Error--]NASA Budget Funds Research On Shuttle Successor ...

...The [--Link Dead--]Space Launch Intitiative spells out NASA's plans for RLV development over the next 30 years or so...

...NASA continues work on a maglev launch catapult with a new 22 foot track - [--Link Dead--]Second magnetic levitation track installed at NASA Marshall ...

...While Rotary Rocket and its collaborators successfully developed composite liquid oxygen tanks a couple of years ago, NASA and others continue their own independent development. See the news about the X-34 tank at NASA/Industry Completes First Component For Experimental X-34 Composite Oxygen Tank -ScienceDaily-Feb.9.00...

...The reusable Fregat upper stage was successfully launched but whether the inflatable heat shield and landing system worked as well is not yet known. Contact was lost after it entered the atmosphere and bad weather was hamper attempts fo locate it. [[--Link Dead--]Revolutionary Russian Reentry Device Takes a Lickin' But Keeps On Tickin' - Space.com - Feb.16.00 * SpaceViews Article: Russia Recovers Fregat Upper Stage - Feb.15.00 * Lost Russian Spacecraft Is Recovered - Space.com - Feb.15.00 ]

...Space.com reports today that the smaller payload module that also used an inflatable shield was found but no details yet on its condition.

February 6, 2000

News brief...The test of an inflatable heat shield system scheduled this week on a Soyuz rocket could lead to reuse of upper stages. After several orbits, a test payload and the new Fregat upper stage will use inflatable shields for reentry and for cushioning their landings.

See SpaceViews Article: Upcoming Launch to Test New Rocket, Reentry Technology - Feb.4.00 and other links for the Inflatable Reentry and Descent Technology (IRDT) .

February 4, 2000

Japan's HOPE-X unmanned test vehicle is a testbed for reusable technology that will support development later of a manned shuttle. The lifting body HOPE-X will be launched on an expendable launcher, Japan's HIIA, and then glide back to a runway after reentry. A launch in 2004 is the goal.

Recent news includes completion by Aerojet of development of the orbital maneuvering engines - [--Link Dead--]New Aerojet Main Engine Ready for Japanese Orbiter - Yahoo - Jan.31.00. * Aerojet Press Release .

Also, France has begun collaborating with Japan. See [--Link Dead--]Japan Teams Up With France For Space Truck - SpaceDaily - Feb.1.00 * Japan to cooperate with France for space shuttle test - Yahoo -- Feb.1.00 .

X-34 first powered flight is postponed to the fall according to the Aviation Week Jan. 31, 2000 issue. More static firing tests of the Fastrac engine were deemed necessary to reduce risks with an untried engine. The current plans go something like this:

  • Early Spring - high speed tow tests with the A-1 vehicle. The A-1 was originally intended only for captive carry tests but has now been upgraded to include all flight systems and structures as the A-2 & A-3 except for a dummy engine. It will serve as a backup if there are accidents with the other two vehicles.
  • Late Spring - unpowered drop tests of the A-1 from an L-1011 at 35,000ft.
  • Late Fall - A-2 will begin a series of 8 powered flights at Dryden Center at Edwards AFB. Speed will be increased from Mach 2.2 up to Mach 5 by the last flight.
  • 2001 - the A-2 will be moved to Kennedy Space Center where over the course of seven tests it will seek to prove turnaround capabilites as short as 24 hours between flights.
  • 2001-2002 - the A-3 will attempt to reach Mach 8 and 250k ft altitude during tests at Dryden.

News briefs..Aviation Week also reports that X-38 program successfully tested the largest parafoil ever. This parafoil spans 7500sq-ft and is a full-scale man-rated design [Large Parafoil test - NASA Space News Roundup - Feb.00 ] ....

There was also further information on the Hyper-X program's study of whether to recover the vehicles in the second and third flights by flying over Alaska and landing on the polar ice caps.

The first flight should occur this summer over the Pacific. This vehicle will be dropped from a B-52. After a kick by a Pegasus booster to reach Mach 7 at 95,000ft, the scramjet will fire for 7 seconds. It will then be lost at sea.

The second and third flights would occur in late 2000 and 2001 with the latter flight reaching Mach 10.

January 28, 2000

X-33 progress. The X-33 Timeline reports some good news for the project:

  • Jan 21 - an aerospike engine successfully ran a 60sec test. The test included vectoring, varied thrust levels, and varied hydrogen and oxygen mixture ratios. Next test will be for 120secs.

  • Jan 20 - aluminum hydrogen tank fabrication has officially been approved to replace the damaged composite tanks.
    - communications established for first time among the control and health monitoring computers and power systems.
    - thermal tile installation is proceeding on schedule.

  • Jan 19 - a review team started a 3 day technical examination of the X-33 and VentureStar programs.

January 27, 2000

Buzz Aldrin's StarBooster web site is now online. The proposed reusable first stage booster employs two jet engines to fly back to the launch site. The booster can be combined in[--Error--] different configurations with expendable upper stages to launch a variety of payloads to LEO and GEO. Two StarBoosters can be flow together to lift large payloads.

Flyback boosters, vertically launched first stages with wings attached to return to the launch site, are getting increasing attention these days. They are seen by some as a more realistic intermediate step to reducing launch costs rather than going directly to more dramatic technology like the SSTO VentureStar.

Besides the StarBooster, here are some other proposed flyback systems:

News briefs..David Burkhead's SpaceCub is also back online. This proposed X-Prize suborbital vehicle has been a popular object of discussion on the space newsgroups. It is ".. a manned, suborbital rocket meant to be built, operated and flown by individual hobbyists."...

Flight tests of X-33 avionics have been completed by NASA using a the ER-2, a version of the Air Force U-2. See [--Link Dead--]ER-2 Plane Tests Out X-33 On The Range - SpaceDaily - Jan.24.00

January 20, 2000

News brief... The Russian government has given the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center authorization to begin development of its Angara launch vehicle system to replace the aging Proton. Upgrades to add partial reusability are being studied such as the use of flyback boosters - [--Link Dead--]Russia Moves Forward with Proton's Successor - Space.com -Jan.18.00 ...

The article Who Needs NASA? - Wired - Jan.00 discusses the new startup space businesses, including the various RLV companies, as well as activist efforts like the X-Prize organization, that are trying to develop the space frontier.

January 16, 2000

News briefs... LockMart says X-33 launch delay could be up to 18months if aluminum tanks are chosen to replace the current composite design: SpaceViews Article: Report: X-33 May Be Delayed 18 Months - Jan.14.00 - CNN - Leaky fuel tanks delay X-33 space plane - January 14, 2000 ... Utah's Alliant Techsystems was paid $60 million for the graphite-epoxy composite hydrogen tanks. No word on whether the NASA/LockMart team will get its money back ... Aerospace Daily reports that X-33 Program Manager Gary Payton has decided to leave NASA. [NASA's Top Rocket Executive to Leave Agency - Space.com - Jan.17.00 ]

January 14, 2000

News briefs... LockMart confirms that the X-33 will be delayed due to the composite hydrogen tank failure and that they may switch to alumimum tanks - Tests of Space Plane Delayed - Yahoo - Jan.14.00

January 12, 2000

X-33 may switch to aluminum hydrogen tanks. After the failure of the composite tanks during tests last fall there has been speculation that the project might switch to aluminum tanks. The VentureStar, for which the X-33 is supposed to develop technology for, is already being designed with such tanks anyway. A Space.com article - Lockheed May Give Up On Composite Tanks in X-33 - Jan.7.00 - indicates that this approach is in fact being seriously considered. Lockheed-Martin's [--Link Dead--]Michoud center developed the new lightweight shuttle external tanks that use an advanced aluminum-lithium alloy and is apparently looking at building the X-33 tank.

Other developments include further development of the design of the Venturestar, whose payload now rides as a piggyback module. Lockheed Unveils Images of Revised Venturestar - Space.com - Jan.5.00

News briefs... Kelly Space wins NASA contract to continue investigating cheaper launch technologies - [--Link Dead--]Kelly Space Wins $1.2 Million NASA Contract - Yahoo Jan.7.00 & [--Link Dead--]Kelly Space Wins $1.2 Million NASA Contract - SpaceDaily Jan7..00 ... More info on X-34 status at [--Link Dead--]NASA's X-34 Rolls Along - Space.com - Jan.6.99

January 1, 2000

X-33 aerospike engine completes first full power test. The 18sec test on Dec. 18 resulted in some minor erosion well within tolerance levels. Further tests will continue in January. See [--Time Out--]Press Release .

Second X-34 vehicle construction advances. The wing section was attached to the fuselage of the A-2 in late Dec. The A-1 vehicle completed carry tests on a L-1011 last September. It will undergo unpowered drop tests this Spring. Then A-2 will carry out the first powered flights. A third vehicle is also in an early construction stage. See the article at SpaceViews . [Second NASA X-34 Rocket Plane Reaches Assembly Milestone - NASA PR - Dec.29.99 ]

See previous articles in the archives:

  September-December 1999
  April-August 1999



The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey






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The Rocket Company

Fictionalized account of the challenges faced by a group of seven investors and their engineering team in developing a low-cost, reusable, Earth-to-orbit launch vehicle. Forward by Peter Diamandis
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