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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
July 2003

X Prize Trajectory
Copyright ofX PRIZE

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

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

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

RLV News Archive Directory

July 31, 2003

The "I PRIZE"... While most attention is directed towards the 3 person (or equivalent payload) X PRIZE, it should be noted that at least three projects aim to launch a single person to a few kilometers by the end of this year. They are all intended as tests for larger vehicles under development that will go much higher. The single passenger vehicles include

  • Freedom Flyer - American Astronautics, an X PRIZE team, reportedly plans to launch this single passenger vehicle this fall from a location in Mexico. An earlier web page, no longer accessible (see RLV News March 6, 2003), said the vehicle uses a "man-rated, TR-201 rocket engine", which is "an AAC modified version of the Delta configuration derived from the Apollo Lunar Lander descent engine". Note that the team includes the famous rocket designer Robert Truax, who has promoted single passenger vehicles for decades.
  • Half Size Earthstar - "Rocket Guy" Brian Walker plans to launch his Half Size Rocket this fall to about 5 km (3 miles) altitude. It will test technologies intended for his full sized Earthstar One, which will go to 80km (50miles). A compressed air launch system provides an initial boost before the hydrogen peroxide engine fires. The initial velocity also helps with vehicle stability. He will ride in a near standing position and bail out when it reaches apogee. (He discusses this project in the recent interview on the Space Show.) More pictures.
  • Nova 2 - Starchaser leader Steve Bennett will ride the Nova II rocket, which will be powered by five Churchill Mark 2 liquid oxygen/kerosene engines developed by the group. An unmanned Nova I flew in November 2001 using solid rocket motors. The Nova II will initially be tested unmanned. Drop tests for the capsule took place during this July in Arizona.

While Evel Knievel took a brief ride on the X1 Skycycle (designed by Truax by the way) and there have been various rocketplanes since the 1930's, I believe that if one of these projects succeeds, it would be the first privately financed launch of a manned vertical takeoff, unwinged vehicle.

Starchaser capsule test drama ... A reader informs me that during the second drop test of the Starchaser capsule last week there was a brief line twist problem. Pilot Ted Strong nearly had to bail out but the lines eventually untwisted and the rest of the flight and the landing went perfectly.

I had wondered why there was no statement released about a planned third flight in which Starchaser leader Steven Bennett planned to pilot the capsule. Apparently it never happened because of the delay caused by the need to correct the line problems with a minor modification to the capsule and to fit a larger drogue chute.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 30, 2003

News briefs... More about the recent decision to move the OSP target date from 2010 to 2008 : NASA wants space plane to start flying 2 years early - Orlando Sentinel - July.30.03 ...

... More about the Kistler bankruptcy filing : Kistler Aerospace files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy - Kirkland firm more than a half-billion dollars in debt - kingcountyjournal.com [Washington state] -July.30.03 (via spacetoday.net)

July 29, 2003

Interest waiting to be tapped... The steadfast support that the public shows toward space is remarkable - Poll shows continued support for NASA and shuttle program - spacetoday.net - July.29.03. Despite all the disasters, most people maintain a bedrock belief in the validity of space development. Just think how much more interest and support there would be if all those billions going down the Shuttle/OSP drain were instead spent effectively on exciting projects that expanded access to space to a much larger and diverse group of people. There's an enormous reservoir of enthusiasm for space just waiting for private space developers to tap into.

Keeping it in the family... This announcement - NASA Presolicitation Notice: Design, Development, and Delivery of an Orbital Space Plane - MSFC/Spaceref - July.29.03 - makes official what was well known : that NASA will restrict OSP "competition" to the same three contractor groups that had been selected previously for SLI contracts.

Regs, jurisdiction & investment... Jeff Foust reviews the current situation with suborbital regulation and which part of the FAA will have jurisdiction over suborbital RLV operations. He also reports on Tito's statements at last week's Congressional hearing on commercial human spaceflight concerning his investment in a suborbital RLV company: The Space Review: The regulatory hurdles to commercial human spaceflight - Space Review - July.29.03.

Jeff highlights a point of contention within the suborbital RLV community. Those at the hearing expressed a big worry that if Burt Rutan succeeds in flying the SS1 as an experimental aircraft under FAA rules, then the FAA will insist on aircraft type certification of subsequent RLVs intended for commercial passenger carrying operations. Such a certification would be prohibitively expensive. So they hope to convince Burt to work only within the AST (the FAA's Office of Space Transportation) and obtain launch licenses for SS1 flights. Scaled has submitted an application for a launch license but is also pursuing the experimental aircraft route.

The RLV proponents who have worked with the AST believe that it understands far better than the aviation wing of the FAA that at this early stage in suborbital RLV development, aircraft level certification of the vehicles is not feasible or desirable. A proposal at the meeting, in fact, was to move the AST out of the FAA.

News Briefs... The FAA Space Transportation Office (AST) has posted various presentations (ppt files) about RLV regulations from the recent COMSTAC meeting :COMSTAC (Commercial Space Transporation Advisory Committee) - FAA / AST - May 2003 RLV Meetings. There are also some videos from Scaled Composites and Armadillo....

... Space Future has posted this interesting talk - Space Tourism Market Demand and the Transportation Infrastructure by Patrick Collins - Space Future - July.17.03 - presented at the recent ICAS Symposium "The Next 100 Years" in honour of the Wright Brothers' First Flight, July 17, 2003, Dayton Ohio....

... Also you should checkout this paper submitted to the same symposium : The First 100 Years of Public Space Travel by Derek Webber - Space Future - July.03 ...

... The Planetary Society debuts a section of the Cosmos 1 solar sail : Cosmos 1 Solar Sail Unfurls One of its 47-Foot Blades at Centenial of Flight in NY : Cosmos 1 at Rockefeller Center - Planetary Society - July.28.03

July 28, 2003

Convenient myopia.. Jeff Foust notes that NASA forgot about Dennis Tito when it recently claimed that two of its astronauts were the first Americans to land in a foreign country in a Russian spacecraft : Forgetting Tito - spacetoday.net - July.27.03.

NASA and the big time aerospace firms, however, often display this kind of obtuseness when it comes to giving proper credit to participants in alt.space, using the term coined by Rick Tumlinson for the alternative private space movement.

For example, on June 3, 2000 Microcosm and Garvey Spacecraft launched a sounding rocket with a composite LOX tank (launch summary at Garvey and picture of tanks at Microcosm.) So not only did they built a composite LOX tank of significant size but they actually launched one successfully.

A year later, though, we find NASA and Lockheed-Martin claiming that they had developed "the first sub-scale cryogenic composite tank that is compatible with liquid oxygen" in this article from Aug.30, 2001. (This is doubly odd, because I believe at least some of Microcosm's funding came from NASA.)

Similarly, Boeing claimed on January 28, 2002 that its RS-68 for the Delta IV, which began test firings in early 2001, was the first large liquid fueled rocket developed in the US since the shuttle main engine. Yet this ignores the event on March 4, 2000 when "Beal Aerospace fired the largest liquid rocket engine built since the Apollo program." (Beal BA-2 and BA-3200 at Astronautix.) There is more than a little irony in this since the government's heavy funding of the EELV program was one of the main reasons Andrew Beal canceled his project.

While one can argue these are unintended oversights of poorly informed public relations staffs, I think they illustrate the culture and mindset within NASA and its main contractors who disregard any accomplishments by those outside their club. Thus it's hardly surprising that when one proposes to them that a small private space company can develop a low cost RLV or, in the case of Kistler's K-1, point to one all but sitting right in front of their eyes, they continue right along as always, blindly oblivious to any alternatives to their own well publicised and protected projects.

News briefs... NASA to fly hypersonic prototype by November : X-43A: High Hopes For Return to Flight By Leonard David - Space.com - July.28.03...

... Starchaser has posted an update on its two recent capsule drop tests (the third test with Steve Bennet in the capsule apparently didn't happen) ...

... The latest Armadillo Aerospace update is on line.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 27, 2003

Somebody's almost funded ... Jeff Foust reports on the recent Congressional hearing on commercial human spaceflight : Space entrepreneurs seek regulatory relief by Jeff Foust - Spaceflight Now - July.26.03. Note that he says

"Tito mentioned he was willing to invest in a suborbital RLV company; sources later said that he has already selected a company to invest in, and is waiting for improvements in the regulatory environment before taking the plunge."

I wonder who the lucky (almost) company is?

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 26, 2003

News briefs ... Starchaser posts pictures of the recent drop tests of a piloted capsule, which lands with a steerable canopy. ...

... MiG-31 piggyback rides to 20km for a dozen people in a glass pod - EADS May Put Tourists in Stratosphere - Moscow Times - July.22.03 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... Team Encounter to unveil solar sail built by L'Garde with help from NASA Langley. Microsat Systems is building the spacecraft bus. Humanity's First Starship Brings Science Fiction into Science Reality - Team Encounter PR/Spaceref - July.25.03

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 25, 2003

My condolences go to the family and friends of Dave Thompson who died recently during the first flight of his airplane. He was in charge of rocket engine development for the SpaceShipOne. See the notice at Scaled Composites and the article at Newsday.

More about the commercial space hearing... Here are some follow up comments on the hearing yesterday:

News briefs ... Boeing & NASA finish X-37 structure tests : X-37 Technology Demonstrator Completes Structural Tests in Preparation for Atmospheric Flight Text Program - MSFC/Spaceref - July.24.03 ...

... We can hope so : Space Elevators Maybe Closer To Reality Than Imagined by Richard Daily - Spacedaily - July.25.03 ...

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 24, 2003

Tito ready to invest if ... From Dennis Tito's testimony (pdf) given today at the Congressional hearing on Commercial Human Spaceflight :

"...Two years ago, when I testified before the House Science Committee, I was asked if I would invest in a reusable launch vehicle company. At the time I said 'no', and that was the right answer… then. But today, after talking to thousands of people who want to fly into space and seeing the progress that’s been made, my answer would be different. Today I would say 'quite possibly.'

"There is, however, one barrier that keeps me – and probably many others – from writing out a check to fund the development of a commercial suborbital RLV. This stumbling block can only be overcome by people who work in this city, because the problem itself is located here. ..."

Dennis Tito Ready to Invest in Suborbital Rocket, But Wary of Gov't. Regulations - Space.com - July.24.03

X PRIZE forum.. The X PRIZE site has opened a Message Board if you want to discuss various topics related to the competition.

Congress to discuss suborbital space travel... The hearing today on commercial human spaceflight (see previous item) will focus on regulations affecting the nascent suborbital industry. See the committee hearing charter (pdf, 48kb), which provides a nice overview of the state of the suborbital projects and the regulatory problems that could inhibit their development.

Update: Statements to the Commercial Human Spaceflight hearing are now available on line:

I can't find it yet but the video of the hearing should come on line eventually.

Kistler press release... This PR is dated July 15th but was only posted on their site today : Kistler Aerospace Corporation Restructures its Finances to Achieve the Reusable Launch Vehicles First Flight - Kistler - July.15.03.

News briefs ... Rand Simberg gives his take on the suborbital RLV regulations situation: Certifiable - Transterrestrial Musings - July.24.03 or at Fox News ...

... A report from the propulsion conference taking place this week in Huntsville : Rocket scientists want to launch 2nd space age: Propulsion meeting here helps experts compare notes - Huntsville Times - July.23.03 ...

... Jeff Foust reviews the recent panel discussion (see previous item) on Capitol Hill on the OSP: Two options emerge for NASA's Orbital Space Plane by Jeff Foust - Spaceflight Now - July.23.03.... See also the Space.com article: Debate Intensifies for Simple Vs. Advanced OSP Design - Space.com - July.24.03 ...

... NASA releases official report on the X-43a failure - NASA Mishap Board Identifies Cause Of X-43a Failure - NASA - July.23.03 ....

... Space.com on the Starchaser Nova 2 capsule test mentioned here earlier : X Prize Entry Starchaser Successfully Test Drops Piloted Capsule - Space.com - July.24.03

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

 July 23, 2003

SpaceDev launcher... Based on the hybrid propulsion technology that it developed for the SpaceShipOne, SpaceDev recently won an Air Force contract to design and begin development of a small a launcher called the Streaker™. It would put 1000lb (455kg) into low earth orbit - SpaceDev Wins Small Launch Vehicle Contract - SpaceDev - July.18.03.

This would be the first hybrid powered vehicle to reach orbit. Note that the payload is similar to that of the SpaceX Falcon.

News briefs ... This article provides a good accounting (at least for a mainstream paper) of NASA vehicle development fiascos : Failures leave NASA lacking new way to fly - HoustonChronicle - July.23.03 ...

... The SpaceNews article on Kistler has gone on line - Kistler Aerospace Files for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Protection - Space.com - July.23.03 ...

... Space.com reviews the military's hypersonic missile plans - Going Hypersonic: Flying FALCON for Defense - Space.com - July.23.03 ...

... and interviews Robert Godwin about the Dyna-Soar project and his new book about it - Dyna-Soar: Hypersonic Strategic Weapons System - Space.com - July.23.03 - interview with Robert Godwin

OSP panel discussion video is available temporarily (~15 days) at CSPAN in this RealMedia file. The Capitol Hill panel discussion was hosted by the U.S. House Aerospace Caucus and sponsored by the National Space Society, the Space Foundation, and Women in Aerospace.

The discussion was entitled The Orbital Space Plane: How Did We Get Here & Where Are We Going? Panelists included former Congressman Bob Walker (Chairman of the Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry), former astronaut Dr. Sam Durrance (currently Executive Director of the Florida Space Research Institute) and leading space analyst Phil McAlister (Director, Space & Telecommunications, Futron Corporation).

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 22, 2003

Starchaser capsule drop test successful... The Starchaser X PRIZE project reports on the success of the first of the test drops of its Nova 2 space capsule from a Fairchild C123K aircraft flying from Kingman, Arizona. The capsule was released at 10k ft (~3km) and used a drogue chute and then a steerable canopy to land.

This capsule will not be used for the X PRIZE attempt but for a one person flight on the Starchaser 4 rocket this fall that will take the capsule to 30k ft (~10km).

Hearing on Commercial Human Spaceflight... The Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space and the House Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics will hold a joint hearing on Commercial Human Spaceflight starting at 10am on July 24th. Invited guests include Elon Musk of SpaceX, Jeff Greason of XCOR, and Dennis Tito of space tourist fame. (Item submitted by a reader).

X Cup developments... Plans for a post-X PRIZE program of rocket competitions (see earlier item) seems to be getting firmer : X Prize Looks to Spaceports for Rocket Races By Leonard David - Space.com - July.22.03 . (Note the sub-section in the Future Space section about Rocket Racing.)

More info in this PR - X PRIZE Cup Seeks Spaceport Partnership - X PRIZE - July.22.03 (link via a reader).

Armadillo's mixed success ... In the latest Armadillo Aerospace update, John Carmack reports on several successful engine tests using a "mixed mono-propellant" of hydrogen peroxide and methanol combined in the same fuel tank.

This could provide a solution to the fuel shortage they ran into during the past year. As reported before, obtaining 90% H2O2 has become very difficult for amateur rocketry groups and small companies like Armadillo due to the liability concerns of the few remaining companies that sell it. The mixed technique, however, uses "food grade" 50% H2O2, which is readily available.

The H2O2 and methanol both decompose on a platinum catalyst and provide an Isp "a good deal better than anything we have seen with 90% peroxide alone, and the Isp will go up more when we get full 50%, tweak the mixture ratio, and increase the chamber pressure." (The H2O2 they obtained was nominally rated at 50% but measurements showed it closer to 40%.)

In response to an email question, he said that they probably will go with the mixed monoprop for the X PRIZE vehicle: "We may do a full duration (100+ seconds) burn test this weekend, and we are getting quotes for the catalyst for 5,000 lbf engines."

As discussed in the update, the catalyst needs pre-heating by propane for proper performance but this is not a big problem:

"It will be necessary as part of the ground support equipment, but it
doesn't fly on the rocket. The catalyst will not autoignite the propellant
unless it is raised to a high temperature first. If you just flow the
mixture over a room temperature catalyst, the peroxide still decomposes,
but at 50% concentration, the temperature is only just at the boiling point
of water, so the free oxygen and methanol do not burn. With the catalyst
heated up in the 1400+ degree range, the oxygen and methanol ignite, which
raises the bulk mixture temperature to 1800 F or so, giving the high

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 21, 2003

Kistler enters Chapter 11... This week's issue of SpaceNews reports that Kistler Aerospace has entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company has $600 million in debts and still no funding to finish the K-1. The collapse of the LEO comsat constellation projects, which were to have been the K-1's main market, led to a halt in construction several years ago after about 75% of the vehicle was completed.

Private investors kept the company afloat while it sought funding. Kistler did get a SLI contract from NASA for a study of cargo delivery to the ISS with the K-1. However, most of the money in the $135 million contract would only appear after the vehicle began operations.

The company says it will continue operations under Ch. 11 protection from its creditors and focus on working with NASA to use the K-1 for the ISS cargo role.

Note: With NASA trying to convince Congress to spend several billion dollars for the OSP, I think the last thing the agency wants to hear about is a fully reusable vehicle, even an unmanned one in the K-1 case, that could be available within 2 years for just a few hundred million dollars. I expect that it was NASA's decision to cancel the Alternate Access to Space program that convinced the Kistler investor's finally to give up on the company.

SpaceX update... The latest SpaceX update, covering events through June, just arrived. Jonathan Goff, a student at BYU, again provides a nice summary of the highlights:

  • As I guessed, they're looking at $10M for their Falcon Heavy, and about 4000lbs to LEO (with some GTO/GEO, and even earth escape capabilities).
  • Their first customer is making an upgrade to their satellite, which will push the first launch to January, but they plan on unveiling a completed rocket at the Smithsonian in DC this year (if they can get all the needed permits to bring a 60-70' rocket into DC!).
  • They've tested the flight-weight ablative chamber, and while they had some issues with the inner O-ring on the flange between the headend dome and the ablative chamber (which they're fixing with a metal O-ring), everything is within spec so far.
  • Turbopump issues are moving along, with the pump up to 90% capacity now, and they've startedrunning it with the gas generator. They've even had a full 60 second run.
  • Their avionics system had some issues with how the gyros sent their data, but they have a solution to the problem that may help them test out a new piece of computer hardware that they wanted to test out anyhow.
  • They've submitted flight trajectory info to the Air Force (in a nice set of volumes thicker than two LA phone directories.....), including worst-case turns analyses.
  • Their range safety system is coming along, with the explosives locations now determined, and the approved hardware now in, but as they point out "it is a bit sad to spend so much money and effort on a system that we hope will never be used."
  • Their TVC system uses an innovative trick (tapping off a little from the high pressure kerosene line in the turbopump and then discharging that into the low-pressure inlet line) that should avoid the problem that killed a Delta III a few years back.
  • High pressure Helium tanks are in, and according to the manufacturer's data, should be able to withstand much higher impact forces then they'll see during first stage water recovery (but SpaceX plans to verify that themselves).
  • Environmental reports have been submitted to the Air Force (and the long list of other state, local, and federal government agencies that require copies).

The SpaceX update page includes some pictures and a video of an engine test.

More on suborbital rules confusion... Leonard David provides some background - Freedom to Fly? Civilian Rocketeers Face Regulatory Roadblocks by Leonard David - Space.com - July.21.03 - to the recent announcement from a group of suborbital RLV supporters requesting clarification from the FAA on a regulatory framework.

News briefs ... The Buran approach might be the way to go according to this editorial - On Wings Of...? Or A Giant Leap Ballistic - Spacedaily - July.21.03. ...

... Just about every type of propulsion under the sun, including solar sails, will be discussed at this week's 39th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference - Huntsville Ala. - July.20-23.03 - Agenda.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 20, 2003

News briefs ... The Advanced Rocketry section now includes a sub-section with links to various open source rocketry projects in both software and hardware areas....

... The Canadian Arrow XPRIZE team now lists 40 sponsors and the da Vinci project lists 24. The British Starchaser lists 12 sponsors. I've not done a systematic study but I don't believe any of the US projects come close to these teams in attracting sponsorships.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 19, 2003

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 18, 2003

News briefs ... The reason the X-43 failed has been determined : Cause of X-43A Hyper-X Crash Identified By Leonard David - Space.com - July.18.03 ...

... The design of the reusable kerosene-fueled RS-84 engine from Rocketdyne (Boeing) passes a review - One step closer to next-generation spaceflight: RS-84 engine passes preliminary design milestone - NASA - July.15.03. First full scale prototype test in 2007....

... Rand Simberg reviews the state of space development, government vs private, in light of the 34th year anniversary this Sunday of the Apollo 11 landing - Celebrate the Future - FOXNews.com - July.17.03 ...

... Perhaps it's just my imagination but the job listing at Blue Origin looks longer than the last time I checked.

Space added value... At the Space Access ' 03 meeting, Laurie Wiggins of TOSPACE offered to pay good money to any launch company that could take payloads of various types of memorabilia to 100km or higher. Many of the companies present seemed quite surprised by this offer. She said that her firm had a number of deals with space toy makers and others who believe a certificate showing that an item has actually been in space will considerably enhance its value.

Don't know if they contracted with TOSPACE but Interorbital Systems looks to be doing such a business. It will send dolls and other toys to space and back on a sounding rocket this September. It also is offering an ocean cruise to watch the launch of the Neutrino rocket.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 17, 2003

SpaceshipOne-24th scale... Find tips on scratch modeling a SS1 at this Rocketry Forum thread.

Formula X... Peter Diamandis is planning for a X PRIZE follown on program of bi-annual competitions at spaceports among rocket teams for cash prizes in events such as "Highest altitude reached; time-to-climb; time between reflight; total number of people carried" - Rocketeers…Start Your Engines! X Prize Cup Planned - Space.com astronotes - July.17.03. Note that Peter briefly mentioned the X PRIZE Cup concept in my interview with him.

Gee whiz, NOW they start catching on ... Coming a day after Loral declared bankruptcy, this article At Sea or on Safari, Satellite Phones Hook Users - NY Times - July.17.03 gushes irony. Debt from its Globalstar investment led directly to Loral's Chapter 11 predicament.

The article inspires a lot of "what if's" with regard to the satellite phone business. If the LEO constellations had launched in the early or mid-90s, they might very well have competed with cell phones, just as satellite TV does effectively today with cable. Low prices and worldwide availability of cell phones did not happen until the late 1990s. By that time their lead was too great for the first generation sat phones to compete in the mass market with the 2nd gen cell phones.

Launch availability and costs were not the crucial factors in the sat phone business failures, but certainly if cheap and frequent RLV flights had been available at the time, it definitely would have speeded up development. The spacecraft, for example, could have been built with a lot less redundancy and gold plating since those that went bad could be replaced quickly.

Oh well, I just hope the current sat phone systems can prosper in these niche markets. I definitely think there is a market LEO mini-constellation satellite based messaging and tracking services.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 16, 2003

NASA sure got rules ... NASA lays out what human-rated spacecraft need to prove before they fly : Human-Rating Requirements and Guidelines for Space Flight Systems (via Spaceref).

[Update : Chris Hall informs me that he has converted the above file to pdf and posted it along with a large number of other NASA Space Design Guidelines in pdf format at www.aoe.vt.edu/~cdhall/courses/aoe4065/NASADesignSPs.]

Suborbital Needs Rules ... A group of rocketeers, space activists and policy analysts issued a call today for the FAA to make clear that the AST alone has jurisdiction over suborbital RLVs : Rocket Industry Leaders Look to Congress to Solve Regulatory Logjam at FAA - XCOR - July.16.03.

Apparently there is growing fear that the battles between AST and the aviation side of the agency could continue indefinitely and stall the development of the industry. Those signing the statement include John Carmack, Dennis Tito, Brian Chase of the NSS, Eric Anderson of Space Adventures, Jeff Greason and several other notables.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 15, 2003

OSP sooner ... O'Keefe commands his troops to produce the OSP for crew rescue duty by 2008 instead of 2010 : NASA to Accelerate Orbital Space Plane Schedule - Space.com - July.15.03.

Scuttle the old ways of thinking ... For most of us who have closely followed the "alternate" private space developments of the past decade or so, there are a few issues that are "settled" :

  • Development of space transportation can be pursued far more cheaply than the way the government agencies and large aerospace conglomerates are doing it.

  • Small companies such as Kistler, SpaceX, XCOR, Scaled Composites, and others have proven that they can build sophisticated space hardware and for lower cost than the government agencies and conglomerates.

  • The only thing slowing down the development of robust and low cost orbital space vehicles by these companies is a lack of funding, not technology. If the LEO comsat constellation companies had not collapsed, a diverse fleet of privately built RLVs would have reached orbit by now. If the government needs space transportation, it's obvious it should just offer these companies the modest funding they need to build (or finish in Kistler's case) their RLVs and start flying them.

  • High flight rates bring low costs and safety, not exotic new technologies yet to be discovered.

So, like Rand Simberg, I find some nits to pick in this announcement- Scuttle the Shuttle! Foundation Urges - Space Frontier Foundation PR/SpaceRef - July.14.03 - but generally it seems a perfectly reasonable set of recommendations in the context of the above "truisms".

However, when Keith Cowing reads it, he finds it "full of contradictions and nutty conclusions". His statements remind us that the world views (or space views) of most people remain far from the above description. However, just as space tourism went overnight from a nutty fantasy to a $20 million reality, the flights of SS1, FalconX and other private vehicles may finally prove to the broader aerospace community that private spaceflight doesn't require any "magic", just some funding.

News briefs ... The Air Force HyTech project completes testing on its kerosene fueled scramjet - Flight-Type Scramjet Completes Historic Test Series - Pratt & Whitney - July.14.03 (via spacetoday.net). Next they will build and test a completely self-contained engine. Then a version will power the X-43C later in the decade. ...

... Via Transterrestrial Musings I found this excellent new Spacecraft Weblog by Prof. Chris Hall of Virginia Tech that will focus on Spacecraft Design, Dynamics & Control, & News (Must be an excellent site since he links to HobbySpace!)

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 14, 2003

Jordin Kare on the radio on Tuesday at The Space Show for Tuesday, July 15, 2003 features Dr. Jordin Kare discussing the technology and facts of laser launch.

Dr. Kare received his Ph.D. in Astrophysics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1984. From 1985 to 1996 he was a member of the Special Projects Group at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. At Livermore, he became involved in a number of space-related projects, ranging from mission planning for the Clementine lunar mapping mission to designing Mockingbird, a miniature reusable launch vehicle with a dry weight of 150 lbs.

Since 1997, he has operated an independent consulting service, Kare Technical Consulting, providing technical support to large and small aerospace companies interested in applying new technology to space missions.

In 1986, while at Livermore, Dr. Kare became interested in the concept of laser launch ( the main subject of our program today). In 1986, he organized a national Workshop on Laser Propulsion, and from 1987 to 1991 he ran the Laser Propulsion Program for the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO). Since then he has continued to work on laser propulsion, and recently served on the Program Committee of the First International Symposium on Beamed Energy Propulsion.

Dr. Kare is also a writer and performer of songs about space, science, and science fiction; his song, "Fire In The Sky" was quoted by Buzz Aldrin on national television in the wake of the Columbia disaster.

Listeners can talk to Dr. Kare or send him e-mail during the program by calling at toll free 1-866-687-7223 or by using dmlivings@yahoo.com or drspace@thespaceshow.com. You can also use AOL IM by using the ScreenName "spaceshowchat."

Hear the show online at http://www.live365.com/stations/dlivingston?site=dlivingston and in the Seattle area at KKNW 1150AM in Seattle and their live internet streaming of the program at http://www.newschannel1150.com/.

See the Filk section for some of the space music albums that include songs written by Dr. Kare such as Fire in the Sky (mp3 at MP3.com ) and Fly Columbia (mp3 at Jerry Pournelle's site).

News briefs ... Space.com reports on space tourism and suborbital rides as the steppingstone to orbital excursions: Space Entrepreneurs Starry-Eyed Over Potential of Space Tourism - Space News - July.14.03 ...

... They also report on the military's plans for new launchers: U.S. Air Force Sees Quick and Frequent Launches in its Future - Space News - July.14.03 ...

... Northrop Grumman announces progress on construction of large lightweight composite fuel tanks without the need for an autoclave : Northrop Grumman Moves Composite Fuel Tanks Closer to Launch Pad with New Award:New Manufacturing Approach Promises Larger Payloads, Reduced Operating Costs - Northrop Grumman - July.14.03 (via spacetoday.net)

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 13, 2003

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 12, 2003

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 11, 2003

Second SS1 captive carry... The "Test Updates" section at the SpaceShipOne site reports that a second captive carry flight took place successfully on July 3rd. It also reports that from June 24 to July 3rd they completed tests of the landing gear, flight control system and structural qualification. (Via a reader.)

[ July.14.03 - Correction - the SS1 news page has changed to show that this flight actually involved only the White Knight and the goal was to test glide flight profiles. There were also some more WK flights recently. (Via a reader)].

Buying an X-37 ... NASA says it will sole source the X-37 from Boeing - NASA Presolicitation Notice: X-37 Long Duration Orbital Vehicle - SpaceRef - July.11.03. In the latest issue of Aviation Week, an article described a serious design flaw where the wing spar attached to the fuselage. A structural weakness at a step in the thickness would have resulted in strength below the expected load. Extra layers of carbon fiber bonded to the area fixed the problem.

The same article said the first B-52 drop test will occur in 2004 (a 3 year slip from the original plans) and first orbital test in 2006 (a 4 year slip). It will be launched on an ELV, but whether it's a Delta 4 or Atlas 5 has yet to be decided. NASA switched the contract in 2002 to a cost-plus arrangement so the agency will pay extra for the above fix, the delays, and other problems.

News briefs ... Starchaser has posted new pictures of its Churchhill II engine ...

... Space.com reports on IL Aerospace : Israeli X Prize Entry Has High Altitude Hopes - Space.com - July.10.03 (via a reader) ...

... Space.com has also posted various X PRIZE pictures in its gallery. (via a reader) ...

... More hypersonic dreaming - .Pentagon Dreams: 'Two Hours to Any Target' - ABCNEWS.com - July.11.03

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 10, 2003

Announcements from two X PRIZE contestants:

Private space gets a royal endorsement... Surprisingly, one of the strongest endorsements from a high visibility public figure for private space development has been coming from Martin Rees, Britain's official Astronomer Royal. As in this article - This mission is brought to you by... : Forget Nasa. Only private money can fuel a new space age. by Martin Rees - Guardian - July.10.03 - he promotes the view that space tourism and other commerical ventures will lead the way to low cost manned missions to the Moon and Mars. He highlights the investments of moguls like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk in new vehicles.

As is required for mainstream scientists, he discounts the need for humans to carry out science in space and finds little use for the current government manned programs. However, in his new book Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How Terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future In This Century--On Earth and Beyond (Amazon commission link) he proposes that settlement of space offers a haven for humanity and civilisation if and when disasters threaten their existence on earth.

It's a bit odd that a left of center Britain believes far more strongly in the capabilities of private space companies than many Republican "conservative" Congresspersons from places like Texas and Florida...

Other Rees articles:

Rutans' Ez Birthday ... Over 100 canard aircraft converged on Mojave Airport on June 28th for the Rutan Birthday Bash - Contact Magazine - June.03. (Dick is approaching 65 and Burt 60.) The event included lots of discussion of the White Knight/SS1 and even an "air show" by a "tissue paper and balsa R/C model of SpaceShipOne, powered by an electric motor." (Link via a reader.)

News brief ... John Carmack discussed the plans for Armadillo in this posting at sci.space.policy - July.8.03. ...

... This long editorial piece focuses on the flaws of the OSP program and urges a simple Apollo style capsule approach instead - The End Of US Manned Spaceflight Looms Ever Closer - SpaceDaily - July.10.03 ...

... But the OSP will probably continue regardless for reasons like those illustrated in these two links: Lockheed in $10B race: Spacecraft [OSP] deal would bring at least 200 jobs to state - Rocky Mountain News - July.10.03 * NASA's orbital space plane [contracts] - Rocky Mountain News - July.10.03 (links via spacetoday.net)

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 9, 2003

Science in near space... This article - Rocket Telescope Gest Closest Look at the Sun - GSFC - July.9.03 (via spacetoday.net) - illustrates the kind of top quality scientific research provided by sounding rockets. I'm sure this group and others like it would jump at the chance to fly every month on a reliable suborbital RLV instead of an unreliable sounding rocket every few years. I think they would also appreciate the opportunity to accompany their telescope or other instrument and to monitor and adjust it for maximum performance.

I can't prove it yet but I believe there is a substantial market of scientific applications for suborbital RLVs in areas such as solar physics, magnetospherics, astronomy, atmospheric sciences, remote sensing, and, of course, microgravity. (See the earlier item about the recommendation of the National Academy of Science that NASA revitalize its sounding rocket program.)

Those damn imperialist parachutes... The French praise the flight but blame the bad landing on the "dysfunction of the american parachute" - Japanese flight demonstrator undergoes drop tests from CNES balloons - CNES July.7.03 (via spacetoday.net)

News briefs ... I'm told by a reader that in addition to the XCOR report mentioned previously, the National Geographic Today television program will focus on X PRIZE contenders all week. ...

... and the latest report is Mercury 13's Wally Funk Fights for Her Place in Space - Nat. Geo. - July.9.03, which discusses Wally Funk's struggles to become an astronaut. It also talks about Funk becoming the pilot for the Solaris X, which is Interorbital Systems X PRIZE entry. ...

... This SpaceX article - Falcon rocket may save money - Florida Today - July.9.03 - indicates the vehicle may attract another 3 payloads in addition to the two missions already announced .

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 8, 2003

News briefs ... The National Geographic Today television program has now posted an article dealing with the report mentioned earlier about XCOR and the X PRIZE - Edge-of-Space Ship Designers Vie for Sky-High Prize - National Geographic Today - July.7.03. However, it doesn't appear that they offer a streamed video of the segement.

[Update: XCOR tells me that "the rocket engine the reporter is holding [in the show] IS NOT AN EZ-ROCKET ENGINE, which he said it was[.] It's a real LOX/kerosene engine that was fired but wasn't used on the EZ-Rocket: the EZ-Rocket's engines are LOX/alcohol. And the bell on that engine is a mock-up, not real."] ...

... USA Today backs the OSP as an economical (sigh...) alternative to the shuttle - Simpler plan would let NASA move forward - USATODAY.com - July.7.03. In response, Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas) says the X-38 should be brought back to life - Too far over the horizon by By Nick Lampson - USATODAY.com - July.7.03 ...

... Leonard David on the Armadillo test - X Prize Entry Undergoes Drop Test - Space.com - July.7.03 ...

... The drop tests for the Starchaser Nova 2 capsule are scheduled for July 21-25 in Arizona. ...

... The new Vanguard X PRIZE team has posted a team briefing (pdf, 122kb).

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 7, 2003

SS1 rocket consultant... The article Hobby could make space history - Huntsville Times - July.7.03 (via spacetoday.net) is about Tim Pickens who consults with Scaled Composites on the hybrid rocket for the SpaceShipOne. (The article doesn't make it clear but I assume he is not so much designing the engine as he is helping the company choose between eAc and Spacedev, who are the two contractors seeking to supply the engine.)

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 6, 2003

Armadillo X PRIZE vehicle drop test Armadillo X prototype parachute test Vehicle returning to transport after test
Armadillo drop test. (Click on pictures for larger versions.)
Images copyright of Armadillo Aerosapace

Successful Armadillo Drop Test... Congratulations to the Armadillo Aerospace team on their test yesterday of the parachute recovery system with the full size (and weight) X PRIZE prototype. A Sikorsky helicopter took the vehicle by a tether to 2000 ft (600m) and released it. A drogue chute then pulled the main canopy out from the propulsion end of the vehicle and the vehicle landing on the crush cone at a slight angle. Impact effects were generally within expected bounds.

Be sure to checkout their video (23 MB mpg) if you have a fast link.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 5, 2003

Kistler website & AAS... A reader pointed out the Kistler web site remake and also the new missions section such as ISS resupply. I mentioned the remake earlier but it bears repeating. It doesn't mean they are any closer to flying but at least it's a sign they are still alive.

Speaking of ISS transportation, on July 1 a NY Times article about the OSP program reported that Sean O'Keefe said "he wanted industry to use simple off-the-shelf technology for the new system. 'We are not trying to push the envelope here,' he said. "We are taking the `KISS and tell' approach: Keep It Simple, Stupid, and tell us the best way to get what we need.'"

I found it a bit ironic that Space News published that same week an editorial by Gary Hudson in which he lambasted NASA for its failure to take advantage of the capabilties of the startup space transportation companies and instead "first sandbagged and then canceled the Alternate Access to Space (AAS) effort."

HMX, Kistler, and other companies began participation in AAS in 2000 and "offered practical and cost effective means to achieve the essential goals of the OSP without spending even a few percent of the projected budget of $13 billion." (HMX also offered a manned version of its capsule.) If NASA had vigorously pursued the AAS, one or more of the proposed vehicles would be flying this year.

So, despite what O'Keefe says, NASA prefers a "KISSING and don't tell" strategy : Keep It Simple Stupid but In NASA's Grasp and don't tell us about low cost alternatives.

News brief ... The X-43 is scheduled to fly in the autumn: NASA's Hypersonic X-Vehicle Ready for Reflight - Space.com - Astronotes - July.4.03

July 4, 2003

Suborbital Legislation... The SubOrbital Institute's latest press release:

Suborbital Legislation Moves in Congress

BETHESDA, MD. July 4, 2003 - The SubOrbital Institute today praised the Senate for including legislative language in S. 1260, the "Commercial Space Transportation Act of 2003," dealing with the regulation of commercial suborbital spaceflight. "Senator John McCain and Senator Sam Brownback, by authoring this bill, have shown they are men of vision," said Pat Bahn, Washington representative of the SubOrbital Institute. "Fully one quarter of this proposed legislation deals with suborbital industry issues," Bahn continued. "They and their colleagues are to be commended for being proactive and forward looking."

S. 1260 was passed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation (chaired by Senator McCain) Thursday, June 19th, 2003. "We don't yet know exactly when the full Senate will vote on this bill," said Ed Wright, Executive Director of the SubOrbital Institute, "but we feel certain it will act quickly so that S. 1260 may then be considered in a conference with parallel legislation from the House of Representatives," he continued. A possible parallel House legislative vehicle for conference might be H.R. 1085, the "NASA Flexibility Act of 2003," passed by the House Committee on Science's Subcommittee on Space and Aviation Thursday, June 26th, 2003.

Suborbital flight is a small market of huge strategic and economic importance. The suborbital market exists in the gap between airplanes and orbital spacecraft. Suborbital vehicles share some characteristics with airplanes, some others with orbital spacecraft, and still others with launch vehicles; but they are also different in many significant ways. Suborbital spaceflight presents a number of extremely interesting business opportunities with important economic and national security implications, in areas as diverse as imaging, science, and tourism.

Section 4 of S. 1260, "Suborbital Vehicle Regulations," states, "Not later than 6 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Transportation shall submit to Congress a report on the need for a distinct regulatory regime for suborbital vehicles taking into account the unique characteristics and purposes of these vehicles.

The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 gives the Secretary of Transportation the authority to regulate U.S. commercial space launch activity. An entity within the FAA is charged to carry out this authority -- the office of the Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation, or "FAA/AST." "FAA/AST has been studying what they have to do to regulate commercial suborbital flight operations," Pat Bahn stated, "and after consultation with industry they've come up with what we think are very good working definitions of just what exactly constitutes a "suborbital rocket" and a "suborbital trajectory." We want to see these definitions made official, which would be a strong, positive action with respect to our industry," Bahn stated.

"These definitions could be inserted into a bill during a House-Senate legislative conference," Wright explained. "The SubOrbital Institute strongly supports inclusion of these FAA/AST definitions into S. 1260 or into H.R. 1085, and we'll work doggedly to make that happen," he avowed.

"S. 1260 as currently written is a great first step, but it is vital that a clear definition of just what exactly constitutes a "suborbital rocket" and a "suborbital trajectory" be made a part of an improved regulatory mechanism for commercial suborbital activities - and quickly!" concluded Jeff Greason, president and CEO of XCOR Aerospace, and member of The SubOrbital Institute's Steering Committee.

Founded in 2002 by several new, entrepreneurial commercial space companies, The SubOrbital Institute's mission is to promote regulatory and legislative initiatives it finds to be important to the promotion of a robust suborbital industry. It is headquartered in Bethesda, MD and may be reached at 301/913-0071.

News briefs... A reader submitted the following items: the Da Vinci Project X-Prize Team has posted a well produced video on line about the project....

... The SS1 is NASA's Picture of the Day for July 1st. ...

... and the Aviation Week article below says that Burt Rutan expects to carry out another captive carry test soon. Also, it reports that AST's Chuck Kline says that they are "'aware of the schedule [Rutan] is trying to achieve, and we're optimistic that we can meet that.' The expected date for the first space flight attempt is by mid-December, Kline said. He anticipates no 'showstoppers' during the licensing process."

Licensing SpaceShipOne ... Aviation Week reports that Burt Rutan has submitted an application for a launch license for the SpaceShipOne : Scaled Composites Files Application For SpaceShipOne Launch License - Aviation Week - July.3.03

Earlier he indicated that he would go only for a standard FAA experimental aircraft license. This would be the FAA-AST's first RLV launch flight license. However, he will continue negotiations with the FAA to see if there are alternatives to a launch license. There are also worries about whether Mojave Airport will need to carry out extensive environmental impact studies to qualify as a spaceport.

So the SS1 looks to break new ground in a number of areas.

Adventures of Widget... The Armadillo mascot has had to panhandle for H2O2 but now looks to enjoy the 4th.

July 3, 2003

XCOR on National Geographic ... I got the following heads-up from XCOR:

Sam Burbank's 5 minute piece for the National Geographic channel will be airing on July 7th at 7pm, on a show called National Geographic Today, which is a news/variety show. The show actually airs several times during the day but the most important slot is the 7pm slot.

The XCOR segment is one of three segments on new start rocket companies and X-Prize contenders.

On the 8th and the 9th in the same time slot, the other two shows will air, and then on the 10th there will be a recap piece featuring more XCOR footage.

It appears that the program also streams some of its segments. So if you don't have the National Geo Channel, perhaps these XCOR pieces will become available on line.

A light force or not?... Prof. Thomas Gold, a top caliber physicist who became famous during the space race days for predicting that Moon dust tracked into the lunar module by the astronauts might explode when it interacted with oxygen during pressurization, now says solar sails cannot fly:Solar sailing breaks laws of physics - EurekAlert - July.2.03

However, his proposition seems at odds with measurements of laser light pressure done by Prof. Leik Myrabo and collaborators : JPL Accomplishes Laser Sail First - Space.com - Mar.1.03 * Sail Technology beamed to future space exploration - JPL - July.5.00. By focusing a laser on a "pendulum that had a swatch of super-lightweight carbon mesh attached to the end" they found that "[b]y throttling the laser we were able to get it to a steady-state position."

In case the pressure was caused by some other effect like ablation, the team "took extensive precautions to eliminate the possibility that any other forces were acting on the on the sail" and believed that there was "no question that the sail was really being moved by the pressure of the laser light."

I can't think of any reason off-hand why incoherent light from the Sun should act any differently in this regard than coherent laser light. Seems that it's up to Prof. Gold to explain why this experiment worked.

p.s. Geoffrey Landis & Henry Spencer on sci.space.policy point out that the Doppler shift provides for the conservation of energy. The reflected light comes from an object moving away from it so the frequency is downshifted and thus of lower energy (i.e. of lower temperature). Also, Henry points out that light pressure has long been an issue for satellite station-keeping. He notes "that nearly 2/3 of Radarsat's stationkeeping fuel goes to fight light-pressure drag" since its orbit keeps it in nearly constant sunlight.

Armadillo update ... John Carmack says in a sci.space.policy posting that he has "good confidence" that Armadillo will "conduct a manned flight in a full size vehicle this year. It will be at the limit of what we can do without a launch license -- 200,000 lb-sec of total impulse." Red tape at White Sands Missile Range, however, may delay a high altitude X PRIZE attempt until as late as 2005 (after the payout deadline) but they are trying to speed that up.

He also posted a link to a picture of the vehicle that will undergo a drop from "a cargo helicopter in a couple days to test the main canopy and crush cone combination in real world use (ballasted to full X-Prize weight)".

News brief... Peter Diamandis takes the message to JPL - X Prize creator envisions cheap, private space flight - Pasadena Star- July.2.03 (via spacetoday.net)

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 2, 2003

Japanese prototype spaceplane crashes... The Japanese Phase II spaceplane prototype crashed during drop tests from a high altitude balloon at the Esrange in northern Sweden:

[Links via spacetoday.net]

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

July 1, 2003

Amateur rocketships... Andrew Case discusses the state of amateur manned rockets in The promise of amateur suborbital spaceflight : Homebuilt spacecraft could soon take to the skies - The Space Review - June.30.03. He also put some additional info and links at Rocketforge where comments on the article can be posted.

Hypersonic news... The BBC finds the DARPA announcement mentioned earlier : US plans hypersonic bomber : The US is planning a number of other hypersonic planes The United States is planning to build an unmanned hypersonic aircraft capable of striking any target in the world within two hours. - BBC - July.1.03

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

Continue to June 2003

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