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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
December 2002

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.

Other RLV News Sources
Space Frontier Society * Space Access Society Updates *
NASA SLI News * NASA SpaceTransportation *
NASA Watch Launch System News * OrbiReport - Space Transportation News *
Spacetoday.net (Jeff Foust): Launch Vehicles

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

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

RLV News Archive Directory

December 27, 2002

The holiday period slowdown will continue for another week or so but I'll post the occasional item. Today, I've posted the page Climbing a Commercial Stairway to Space: A Plausible Timeline?, which outlines a plausible sequence of incremental steps that would lead to development of low cost space transport and private orbital facilities within a decade or so.

December 23, 2002

News briefs... Florida Today posted a couple of articles on NASA's Orbital Space Plane program : NASA's new challenge : Space plane plan will test limits of agency's budget - Florida Today - Dec.21.02 * Launch initiative scrapped over cost: Shuttle replacement could cost $35 billion - Florida Today - Dec.21.02 ...

... On the sci.space.policy, Dave Salt posted a response to a discussion about the capabilities of small RLVs including the possibility of carrying modules to assemble GEO comsats in LEO. This paper with Marcus Lindroos for the 12th European Aerospace Conference in 1998 looks at the business case for such a scheme - The Business Case for Small Reusable Launchers by D.J. Sale & M. Lindroos.

December 20, 2002

News briefs...The latest Wired magazine includes a short blurb about John Carmack and Armadillo Aerospace - The Rocketeer - Wired - Jan.03 issue ...

...Air & Space magazine includes an article about the X-37 - Will the Air Force Finally Get a Spaceplane? : If Boeing's X-37 can maneuver politically as well as in space. - Smithsonian Air & Space Magazine - Dec. 2002/Jan. 2003 issue (written before NASA's switch to the Orbital Space Plane emphasis and the decision to push for an orbital version of the X-37.). There's also an article about the sad history of the Soviet Buran shuttle vehicle. ...

... Using a new sounding rocket with hybrid propulsion, NASA launched the Suborbital Aerodynamic Reentry Experiments (SOREX-2) on Wednesday. The experiments included tests of a wave rider that is shaped like a flying wedge and a "linear aerobrake (or hypersonic parachute)". The waverider wedge "is about 50 inches (127 centimeters) long and was to free fly like a glider after deployment." NASA Tests Future Flight Vehicle Concepts - NASA Ames - Dec.20.02 * images

December 19, 2002

X-pecting a busy year... Former NASA administrator Dan Goldin once promised that the sky would soon be filled with NASA X rocket test vehicles. Well, I think he was right except for the NASA part.

While most of NASA's efforts resulted in EX-projects, I believe we will see an increasing number of X Prize test launches as 2003 proceeds and then peak in 2004 when most of the teams will start flying. The funding for the prize will be withdrawn at the start of 2005 so that will certainly focus the minds of the contestants. (Even after one team wins, though, I'm sure that most of the other projects that have made significant progress will continue anyway.)

For example, this article - Rocket man prepares himself for 2003 launch: Leasider Brian Feeney is heading to outer space - Town Crier Online - Dec.18.02 (found via Spacetoday.net) - reports on progress in the Canadian da Vinci project, which

  • involves around 200 volunteers.
  • has " flown their engines twice, reaching an altitude of 120,000 from the ground"
  • is " looking at launching at the end of summer 2003. The group will launch the da Vinci rocket from an old military range outside of Moose Jaw, Sask."

Here is a list of other projects that have indicated they will carry out test flights in the coming year:

  • Armadillo Aerospace - will continue its Design-as-We-Build approach that involves many prototype vehicles, each greater in capability.
  • A launch of a half scale version of Pablo de Leon's Gauchito is planned for May 2003.
  • Canadian Arrow - a full scale test flight is scheduled for "mid-2003".
  • Starchaser says an unmanned test of the Thunderbird will take place in August 2003 (the first manned flight in October 2004.)

These are only the projects that have made public announcements on launches. I assume several of the other projects are planning launches in 2003 as well.

Ticket to Investment ... Interorbital, a Mojave, California company that has developed sounding rockets, plans to enter the X Prize contest with its Solaris-X vehicle. (The Solaris is also the 2nd stage of their two stage orbital Neptune system.)

The company is pursuing an innovative funding approach. The first ten people to purchase a ticket to ride on the Solaris-X "at the special promotional fare of $250,000 (regularly priced at $2 million) [will] get a full rebate two years after" their flight. While other projects are using ticket sales to help raise funding, this is the first time I've seen a rebate incentive offered.

December 16, 2002

News briefs...The Australian HyShot hypersonics project makes the New York Times Magazine's top ideas list for 2003: The Scramjet - NY Times Magazine - Year in Ideas...

... Meanwhile, less regal newspapers begin to pick up on local happenings in private launcher development such as : Bethesda man reaches for the stars - Gazette.net - Nov.6.02.

If you come across similar articles in local papers about X Prize and other private RLV efforts, please forward the links to me and I'll post them here.

December 13, 2002

News brief...Henry Vanderbilt has posted the latest Space Access Society Update that includes comments on SAS policy towards the OSP and other space transportation issues plus info about the next SAS meeting in April 2003

December 12, 2002

News brief...Marshall Space Flight Center starts on OSP design - Marshall to lead orbital space plane project, NASA says: Designers of America's newest spacecraft will begin with blank slate - Huntsville Times - Dec.12.02

December 11, 2002

X Prize entry updates... A couple more of the X Prize teams have posted their specification sheets:

December 9, 2002

Updated the RLV Projects Table using info mostly from the Commerce Department report mentioned below.

December 5, 2002

Suborbital Markets Report... The US Commerce Department just released a study of possible markets for reusable suborbital launch vehicles:

The 114 page report examines current markets, such those carried out by sounding rockets for microgravity and high altitude research, and emerging markets, such as high altitude imaging, fast package delivery and space tourism. The report also reviews a wide array of suborbital vehicle designs.

(Thanks to Jared Martin for sending me word about this publication. He and Glenn Law at the Aerospace Corporation wrote the report.)

[Dec.6.2002 : You might also check out the reports on Fast Package Delivery with suborbital vehicles that Jared worked on while at MIT.]

Suborbital Lobby ... A group is being formed to influence government decisions that affect the development of a reusable sub-orbital launch vehicle industry. Pat Bahn of TGV Rockets recently posted this announcement:

The SubOrbital Institute (SOI) is meant to serve as a forum for interested individuals, corporations, and associations to represent their needs, wishes and desires before the policy making establishment of Washington DC.

Our first activity is planned for February 10th. In coordination with the FAA Forecast Conference, which will be the 11th and 12th. The planned event is a walk around with members of Congress to discuss the impacts of

  • FAA Regulatory Reform for Piloted Suborbital Vehicles,
  • ITARS Impacts on Small Suborbital Reusables
  • Federal support to suborbital spaceports particularly inland or in rural zones.
  • Insurance Impacts on suborbital vehicles since 9/11.

If you are concerned about the effect of ITARS on aerospace or wish to see a spaceport in your community, you are invited to join with us on February 9th for training and February 10th for our Congressional/Executive branch tour.

Our tentative steering committee includes Jeff Greason XCOR Aerospace, Bob Werb of the Space Frontier Foundation, John Carmack Armadilo Aerospace, Ed Wright Rocket Racing Inc, Patrick Bahn TGV, and Trent Telenko (Former Prospace Treasurer).

Financial Contributions can be made to Treasurer Telenko at trent_telenko@hotmail.com. Trent lives in Sealy TX and manages our checking account from there.

We have begun enlisting interested individuals, this is a chance to participate in our democracy and to make changes in an industry we care about.

RLV Software ... Universal Space Lines, founded by the late Pete Conrad and some other DC-X alumni, has posted a report on its Integrated Development and Operations System (IDOS) (pdf in a 1.2MB zip file), a study funded by SLI. The goal of the system is to provide a unified set of tools for a RLV operator "to develop and analyze flight mechanics designs; generate and validate software; and plan and support operational missions." This includes flight control software for navigation, guidance and controls.

The software package grew out of the system originally developed for the DC-X. One of the big surprises of that project was that the software was created in just 14 months by a relatively small group, was delivered on time, and worked very successfully.

Note that USL originally sought to develop a launch vehicle (hence the name). See the Space Futures vehicles page for information on one of their designs called the Space Clipper. (A graphic of it is shown on the USL homepage but not discussed anywhere that I can find on their site.) While not yet building a vehicle, the company continues to survive in RLV related niches such as this software project. Also, Universal Space Network, a spinoff company from USL, has been quite successful in offering low cost ground systems.

December 2, 2002

Hypersonics Papers ... The web site for the recent Hypersonics 2002 conference - 11th AIAA / AAAF Int. Conf. on Space Planes and Hypersonic Systems and Technologies - Sept.29-Oct.4.2002 - Orleans, France - offers a host of interesting papers.

For example, The Quest for Single Stage Earth-to-Orbit: TAV, NASP, DC-X and X-33 Accomplishments, Deficiencies, and Why They Did Not Fly by Ramon Chase (ANSER) and Ming Tang (NASA) - pdf, 90kb which gives an interesting review of SSTO projects and why they failed.

University RLVs: I especially like the paper Development Study at University Laboratories on Small Scale Reusable Launch Systems by K. Mizobata et al, pdf 542kb It describes projects at several Japanese universities to develop small, low cost reusable sub-orbital vehicles to serve as both technological testbeds and educational tools for training students in aerospace.

The first part of the paper describes efforts to develop a series of enhanced hybrid motors of thrusts 0.2 tonf, 1 tonf, and 10 tonf. Hybrids offer a lot of advantages for university and amateur groups including a high degree of safety and simplicity compared to liquid fueled engines.

The last half of the paper describes the program to develop a "reliable, reusable, and affordable sounding rocket system". Beginning with the 0.2 tonf thrust motor, they will build lifting body style vehicles and launch and land them at a site in northern Japan. Tests of autonomous navigation and guidance systems and parafoil landing systems have been carried out so far.

The incremental advantage: While I previously lauded the benefits of VTOL vehicles, such as those of Armadillo Aerospace, for low cost rocketry programs, I think its clear that any reusable system that can be tested frequently in an incremental approach has huge advantages over expendables for student and amateur rocketry. The Japanese students involved in the above projects will actually see their efforts get off the ground before they graduate, probably many times in fact.

News briefs... A general news media take on the OSP : NASA takes a practical approach in its next spaceship - U.S. News - Dec.2.02 ...

... I know of one satellite company that wishes a satellite rescue company was up and running - Stranded satellite may be write-off - BBC - Dec.2.02 ...

... A highly reliable EELV would also be useful for future launches while waiting for a highly reliable RLV : Futron says Human-Rated EELV Could Be A Formidable Commercial Competitor - Aviation Week - Dec.2.02


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