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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
September 2003

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

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

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

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

RLV News Archive Directory

September 30, 2003

Scaled Composites artwork
SpaceShipTwo? Some intriguing artwork shown by Burt Rutan
at the recent SETP symposium. (Via the article by Jeff Foust)

SS1 update... Jeff Foust reviews the update on the SpaceShipOne project given last week by Burt Rutan at the annual symposium of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP: SpaceShipOne: A progress report - The Space Review - Sept.29.03. Includes more info about the problems on the Sept.22 test flight.

Spaceshow rocket guest...

The Tuesday, September 30, 2003, 7 PM - 8 PM Pacific Time, Space Show will feature Tim Pickens who is currently a propulsion engineer working for Plasma Processes and runs his own propulsion test company, Orion Propulsion located in Gurley, Alabama. Mr. Pickens has designed and built a rocket-powered bike featured in Custom Bike magazine, and he is currently working on a “James Bond” type rocket belt. Mr. Pickens, who began his serious hybrid rocket work with the HALO Program, has since worked on such noted rocket engines as the RL-10, Fast-Track, the Space Shuttle Main Engines (SSME), and Space America’s 4000-50,000 pound thrust LOX/Kerosene engines. Mr. Pickens also worked with Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites in Mojave, California on the SpaceShipOne and is still a consultant for this project.

Available on line via www.live365.com

News briefs... The MSNBC/AP article about the X PRIZE mentioned below now has a correction about the Mojave spaceport and AST flight license approvals (item via Centurian509)...

...The Vanguard X PRIZE team has gotten a sponsor for the parachutes which will bring its boosters and spacecraft back to earth: Vanguard Secures Sponsorship - Vanguard/X PRIZE - Sept.29.03....

... Teen to raise money for suborbital space ride: Interorbital System to Launch First Teenager to Space: Teen to Fly on Second X Prize Competition Flight - Interorbital PR/X PRIZE - Sept.29.03 ...

...Starchaser will test fire the Churchill 2 rocket during Oct 7-9. A webcast will be available to members of the Starchaser Club.(link via Centurian509)...

... The marriage is official: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Join Forces to Develop NASA's Orbital Space Plane - SpaceRef - Sept.29.03 ...

... Check out this potentially low cost reentry systems: RRSS - Return & Rescue - Space Systems GmbH (related links)

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 29, 2003

SS1 drop test difficulties... The latest drop test of SpaceShipOne had some severe problems before recovering according to this article: Let’s Go to Space! One hundred years after the Wright brothers’ famous flight, a new breed of entrepreneur is pushing new technologies to their limits, turning science fiction into reality - Newsweek/MSNBC - Sept.28.03 (via reader Centurian509).

BTW: A XCOR friend points out that the article doesn't mention the EZ-Rocket, which has been flying for two years, and that in fact the company is not "totally broke." For example, see the recent news about their DARPA contract.

A reader also notes that the article reports on interesting action on the suborbital regulatory front: Dennis Tito has hired a lobbyist to work full time on getting FAA-AST rather than the aviation section put in charge of the flights. Also, AST will try to get its definition of suborbital spaceflight put explicitly into its reauthorization legislation. The definition requires that the spacecraft have more thrust than lift for a majority of the powered phase of the flight and that it follows a suborbital trajectory, which is defined as one whose instantaneous impact point (IIP) does not leave the surface of the earth.

SpaceX Falcon customers... Elon Musk has said that for several months that SpaceX has two paying customers lined up for its first two launches but he could not yet name them. Space News now reports (link via Centurian509) that the first payload for the Falcon launcher will be the TacSat-1 satellite from the [Navy - corrected from the Air Force as originally reported. - Oct.3.03]. (I assume it's not a restored TACSAT-1 from 1969!) The second customer is expected to be the Malaysian space agency.

Google hit: This Vandenburg Base Bulletin (pdf) announced a meeting on August 6th with a "special Falcon TACSAT-1 presentation by Gwen Gurevich of Space Exploration Technologies".

New briefs ... The latest Armadillo update discusses progress with the mixed monopropellant and legs for the full scale vehicle....

... More OSP: NASA Presents New Space Taxi Designs - ABCNEWS.com - Sept.29.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 28, 2003

New brief ... Orbital Science may also team up with Lockheed along with Northrop (see previous item) on the OSP: Space firms may team up - L.A. Daily News - Sept.26.03 (Link via spacetoday.net.)

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 27, 2003

The X PRIZE race... The reader (Centurian509) who submitted this link - Private space race nears its climax: Scaled Composites, Armadillo are favorites to win $10 million prize in the next 9 to 12 months - AP/MSNBC - Sept.26.03 - notes that it's nice to see more publicity for the X PRIZE but the reporter leaps to some unexpected assertions:

"A MOJAVE DESERT airport in California has already been approved for use as a launch pad for the suborbital missions."


"Federal officials said that the applications of the two rocket teams [Scaled and Armadillo] have already been approved by the FAA."

As far as I know, Mojave has only just submitted its application to become a spaceport and only for air-launched space vehicles. And I do believe that both teams are still working and arguing with FAA-AST and/or FAA-AVR over the regulation of their high-altitude flights. (If someone knows otherwise, please let me know.)

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 26, 2003

XCOR pump progress... XCOR reports on progress made in developing the piston fuel pump that DARPA is funding: XCOR Passes Major Milestone on DARPA Piston Pump Contract - XCOR - Sept.2.03

Rocket Man Blog reviews the Black Armadillo and includes comments from John Carmack.

Romanian rocket rollout... The Romanian X PRIZE team ARCA will rollout a 1:2.5 scale X PRIZE demonstrator rocket on Saturday - ARCA Presents Flight Test Hardware - X PRIZE - Sept.23.03. The hydrogen peroxide monopropellant powered vehicle will begin flight tests this fall and should reach about 9km altitude. In the Spring they will go to a hybrid propulsion system of"hydrogen peroxide 70% as an oxidizer, in combination with polyethylene" that will take the vehicle to 20km.

News brief ... The battle for OSPork begins: Florida vies to land builder of space plane: State vies against Alabama vie for assembly plant - Florida Today - Sept.25.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 25, 2003

News brief... But which shape? Space plane taking shape: in Huntsville NASA releases requirements, emphasizes safety - Huntsville Times - Sept.24.03 (Link via spacetoday.net.)

And then there were two... Space News reports that the Northrop-Grumman/Orbital Science team in competition for the OSP has broken up. Northrop is apparently trying now to team with Lockheed-Martin on its design, which will compete with Boeing's: Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin to Collaborate on Orbital Space Plane - Space.com - Sept.25.03 * Likely Bidder Pool for Orbital Space Plane Contract to Shrink- Space News - Sept.24.03 (subscription required). Link via spacetoday.net....

... Cost plus a lot ... Rand Simberg explains how aerospace contracting works to crank up the costs: Living Down to Expectations - Transterrestrial Musings - Sept.24.03. We can now watch Boeing and Lockmart play the system like they did the EELV....

...Smiling anacondas ... This interactive plot, developed by XCOR intern Adrian Perez, shows that the competition in the aerospace industry is not exactly getting stiffer. The Pentagon pushed for this consolidation during the 1990s. Maybe it helps with weapon systems but difficult to see how it will ever lead to lower cost access to space.

September 24, 2003

eAc press release... Korey Kline of eAc comments on the competition to provide the propulsion system for SpaceShipOne:

SpaceShipOne Propulsion System Selection

Environmental Aeroscience Corp. (eAc) would like to thank Burt Rutan and the “Angel Investor” for the opportunity to participate in this historic attempt at civilian space flight. While we regret not being able to play a more significant roll in this project, we are pleased with the ground testing that was conducted and the selection of our forward bulkhead assembly for use on SpaceShipOne. We have the highest confidence that the SpaceShipOne team will successfully place a civilian into space and open this frontier for everyone.

While the press coverage of the program has been significant, one thing missing is a listing of the people who are making this all possible. There are always a handful of dedicated engineers that are directly responsible for making someone’s dream come true. These engineers make things happen and are key with any project of this significance. eAc would like to specifically congratulate the winning propulsion team lead by Frank Macklin with engineering support from Chris Grainger, Mike Veno, Jeff Hickerson, Harvey Jewett. Good job guys, it was a close competition; prove to the world that Hybrids are the best choice for civilian space applications!

eAc is a very small innovative company and is proud to have its roots in the amateur/experimental rocketry world. eAc pioneered the use of Nitrous as an oxidizer for Hybrid propulsion in 1989 and flew the first Hybrid sounding rocket “Hyperion” to a record setting altitude in 1996. For eAc as a team, having been selected as one of the two vendors in this competition was quite an honor. We were successful in all ground firings, and exceeded all performance requirements. To have competed to a near tie with a California-based publicly-traded satellite manufacturer with four times the employees and significantly greater resources, gives me great confidence that space is no longer only the realm of big business. We participated in this program because of our love of rockets and space travel, not for market share, stock value or notoriety. We believe that other grass roots teams of dreamers and builders will also have a significant affect in the future of space flight. “We are truly in the Wright Brothers’ days of Civilian Space flight”

Early in the program Scaled selected the eAc developed forward bulkhead assembly. eAc has successfully designed and operated simple and innovative Nitrous Oxide systems since 1994. Our bulkhead design was based on these many test firings and flight experiences. Scaled Composites was confident of the design and therefore readily selected a single vendor for this sub-system. This assembly allows the oxidizer tank to be filled, vented, and dumped remotely with N2O in a lightweight reliable package. Along with our hearts and dreams, we at least know that we have some small part in the historic X-Prize attempts by SpaceShipOne. eAc will continue to innovate new propulsion systems for future manned space travel and other orbital applications.

I would also like to thank the eAc team for giving a significant part of their lives to this project for the past 24 months. Derek Deville-Systems Integration and Ignition; Debbie Sifford- Project Management; Alex Espinosa- Flight Motor Controller and Valve design; Ed Ampuero-Bulkhead and Injector design. A special thanks to Kevin Smith and Tom Bales for their futuristic vision and financial backing to support eAc during this long program.

Korey R Kline
Propulsion Designer
Vice President of R&D

NASA No, Startups Yes... Robert Zimmerman discusses the failure of NASA to develop new vehicles and its refusal to take advantage of the capabilities of private companies: Say no to NASA, yes to private companies - USA Today - Sept.24.03 (via spacetoday.net).

Astronaut blasts OSP... Former astronaut Don Peterson finds no redeeming value in the OSP: The Orbital Space Plane: NASA Racing On A Dead-End Street - Spaceref - Sept. 23.03.

"because, (1) other than crew transport, the Orbital Space Plane will not have a single capability that supports the goals, missions, current activities or future plans that make the Human Space Flight Program worthwhile, (2) it will not produce any new technology or materials, (3) it will fly too late to meet the most critical ISS needs, and (4) it will consume funds and workforce resources that could be much better used elsewhere."

Instead of funding the OSP he wants a replacement that's as big as the shuttle so it can "deliver large modules, new equipment (augmentation for the life support system for example), replacements for malfunctioning equipment, and needed quantities of expendables. The Shuttle is also essential to ferry ISS experiments intact to and from orbit."

So he wants NASA to keep the Shuttle running, along with extra Soyuz vehicles, while NASA looks for "new technology and materials that will be needed to develop a true Shuttle replacement system."

He also recommends "creation of a special ISS module that would serve as a prototype 'Deep Space Vehicle' where integrated [tests] of systems, technology, and procedures to support deep space human flights ... could be conducted in the actual space environment."

OSP by 2010... But NASA aims instead to accelerate the program: NASA speeds effort to create space plane - Houston Chronicle - Sept.23.03 (via NASA Watch)

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 23, 2003

Ejection seats & escape pods for Shuttles almost seem plausible after reading this article by Keith Cowing: Safety Panel to NASA: Build a "Full Envelope" Shuttle Escape System - SpaceRef - Sept.23.03. Of course, if the shuttles are sitting in museums where they should be, escape systems really aren't necessary.

Near space & JP Aerospace.. Jane's Defense Weekly notes work on very high altitude platforms by JP Aerospace, the startup that pursues rockoons, sounding rockets, and Pongsats: US Air Force eyes 'near space' vehicle - Jane's - Sept.19.03 (Via Frontier Files Online, which is managed by Alfred Differ of JP Aerospace.)

Just what the OSP needs... NASA completes a Level 2 review of the OSP design requirements: NASA Completes Orbital Space Plane Design Review - NASA - Sept.23.03 * OSP Level 2 Requirements Executive Summary (pdf). See also the Level 1 requirements.

News briefs... Transportation problems make things tougher for the spacecraft designer than the submarine designer: Submersible Hardware vs. Space Hardware - RocketMan - Sept.23.03 ...

... More elevator stories: Not Science Fiction: An Elevator to Space - NY Times - Sept.22.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 22, 2003

XCOR on Flight Fantastic.. The third episode of Flight Fantastic on the Travel Channel includes XCOR in its look at the future of flight. The show is scheduled for Saturday Sept.27th at 8pm EST in the US. (Via a HS reader).

Prospector 2 with aerospike engine
Photo by Tony Richards

First liquid propellant aerospike powered rocket flight!

The team of Garvey Spacecraft and the students of the Cal State Long Beach Aerospace Engineering Department launched an aerospike powered rocket last Saturday. More info and pictures in Advanced Rocketry News section and at CSULB/GSC Team Conducts First Powered Liquid Propellant Aerospike Flight Test - Eric Besnard

DARPA wants quick access... The cover article of the latest Aviation Week gives an indepth review of DARPA's various space launcher projects: Darpa Pursues Quick, Low-Cost Access to Space - Aviation Week - Sept.21.03

News briefs... Jeff Foust continues his review of space elevators: The space elevator: going up? part 2 by Jeff Foust - The Space Review - Sept.22.03 * Part1...

... Several sites have referenced this summary of recent articles and commentaries on prospects for near term space development and commercialization: Making Space Work: 2 Missing Pieces - Winds of Change.NET - Sept.22.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 21, 2003

Reusable space capsule in 1966... Gerald Nordley points out one example of re-flying a space capsule in a discussion on the ERPS mailing list about reusing space capsules. Apparently, the Gemini capsules were, in fact, designed for reusability.

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 20, 2003

X PRIZE visibility... While it's hardly surprising that Alan Boyle has a X PRIZE article - And the winning rocket is ... Alan Boyle's Cosmic Log - Sept.18.03 - it's nice to see mainstream media starting to pick up on it as illustrated by this article - Space flight could take private twist - The Times and Democrat (South Carolina) - Sept.20.03 (via spacetoday.net).

Spacedev & the SS1 motor... The company's statement on the SS1 contract: SpaceDvev's Hybrid Rocket Propulsion Wins Scaled Composite's SpaceShipOne Motor Contract - Sept.19.03

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 19, 2003

eAc fires hybrid with aerospike nozzle.. eAc may have missed out on the SS1 contract but they have other business. See this item in Advance Rocketry News.

Hybrid with aerospike nozzle
eAc aerospike hybrid motor test - larger image

NASA's Dilemma... Rand Simberg explains why the OSP cannot possibly reduce launch costs in this essay: The Non-Innovator's Dilemma - Tech Central Station - Sept.19.03.

News briefs... Check out the nice photos by Alan Radecki of the White Knight/SS1 flights (via HS reader Centurion509)...

... Beamed powered conference in Sendai, Japan this year: Second International Symposium on Beamed Energy Propulsion - Oct.20-23, 2003...

... Not quite for orbit but still kind of neat. This article reports on a laser delivering power to a model plane via solar cells: NASA experiments with laser-powered aircraft - Huntsville Times - Sept.19.03 (via spacetoday.net)....

... The Rocket Man blogger, who works on rockets in his day job, reviews the X PRIZE and next week will begin reviewing individual X PRIZE entries.

September 18, 2003

  SpaceDev Wins SpaceShipOne Propulsion Contract

Scaled Composites press release:

Scaled Composites completes the development phase for the SpaceShipOne rocket propulsion system and selects a motor component vendor for the flight test phase.

Four years ago, Scaled conducted a study of rocket engine technologies that were appropriate for its future manned sub-orbital spaceship design. The results of this study were that a hybrid configuration using nitrous oxide (liquid N2O) and HTPB (rubber) propellants would likely provide the safest solution with operating characteristics that would complement the intended mission.

In Jan 2000, Scaled defined a new integrated concept for the hybrid motor that allowed the entire propulsion system to be mounted to the spaceship by simple skirt flanges on the oxidizer tank. This concept, which cantilevers the case and nozzle directly to the tank, required an advanced all-composite design approach. By early 2001, Scaled had committed to developing the two main motor composite components in-house: The first is the nitrous oxide tank, a composite liner laid up onto titanium flanges, with a graphite over-wrap provided by Thiokol. The second is a unitized fuel case/nozzle component fabricated using a high-temperature composite insulator with a graphite/epoxy structure laid up onto an ablative nozzle supplied by AAE Aerospace.

In mid 2001, Scaled awarded contracts to two competing small businesses for the “rocket science”. Each company was independently responsible for the development of the motor’s ignition system, main control valve, injector, tank bulkheads, electronic controls, fill/dump/vent systems and fuel casting. The vendors, Environmental Aeroscience Corporation (eAc) of Miami and SpaceDev (SD) of San Diego, were also tasked with conducting the ground firing tests of their motor systems in Scaled’s test facility during the development phase.

In June 2002, Scaled selected eAc to supply the components at the tanks’ front end: the nitrous fill, vent and dump system components and associated plumbing. Both vendors continued the development of all the other propulsion components.

The ground firing development program started in November 2002 with a 15 second run by the SpaceDev team and ended early this month with a 90-second run by eAc. Both vendors demonstrated full design-duration firings during the nine-month development phase. All tests have exclusively used 100% flight hardware, with no boilerplate components and both vendors’ motor systems met the contracted performance. The tests validated the inherent safety of hybrid type motors, with no instances of structural failure, hot-gas breach, explosion or other anomaly that would have put SpaceShipOne in jeopardy.

Because both teams were so closely matched, and since both have developed satisfactory motors the process to select one of these vendors to enter the motor qualification and flight test phase was difficult. However, today, Scaled is pleased to announce that it has awarded the contract for propulsion support for the SpaceShipOne flight test phase to SpaceDev, of San Diego.

Scaled now looks forward to entering into the historic phase of private manned space flight.

Scaled does not pre-announce the specific flight test plans for the space program, however completed accomplishments are updated as they happen at our website: www.scaled.com/projects/tierone/index.htm. The website also provides downloadable photos and technical descriptions of the rocket motor system and motor test hardware.

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 17, 2003

Another advanced amateur rocketry launch this week. See this item about the MARS shot at a UK/Europe team high altitude record this week at Black Rock, Nevada.

Lifting OSP prospects .... Dave Ketchledge sent this essay about options for the OSP design starting with a look at the background of spaceplane concepts and the Shuttle.

Nuclear transport ... If you are in Houston, Texas on October 16th, check out the lecture at the Rice Space Instituteby Franklin Chang-Diaz on his Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket Engine (VASIMR) propulsion design .

NASA/Shuttle Program...

September 16, 2003

Spaceplane vs Capsule... This article lays out the arguments against a horizontal takeoff/landing design for the OSP (or OST - Orbital Space Transport): Designing America's Next Taxpayer Funded Spaceship by Jeff Bell - SpaceDaily - Sept.16.03

Boston University aerospike project... See item in Advanced Rocketry News about an aerospike motor developed, built, and tested by students at Boston University.

RLVs - Reusable Lift Vehicles... Jeff Foust offers an interesting review of the Space Elevator concept: The space elevator: going up? by Jeff Foust - The Space Review - Sept.15.03. See also this article at Wired that includes a reference to Jordan Kare and his criticism's of aspects of the concept: Critics Jump on Space Elevator - Wired - Sept.16.03

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 15, 2003

Senate Roundtable on Suborbital Space Flight tomorrow morning. This announcement from ProSpace.org:

The Space Roundtable at the United States Senate, announces the 10th in our series of programs. This event, titled Suborbital Space Flight: The Premise and The Promise, will explore exciting new developments in this field and their benefit to the nation and our efforts in space. The program will be held on Tuesday, September 16th at 8:30am.

View the live broadcast of the Space Roundtable.(requires Real Video)
Read SubOrbital Roundtable Events Guide (16k PDF)
Read Presentation about SubOrbital Space Flight (550k PDF)

This program is sponsored by the Aerospace States Association and will be moderated by that organization’s chair, the Honorable Mary Fallin, Lt. Governor of Oklahoma. It will be hosted by Marc Schlather, executive director of the Roundtable and president of ProSpace. Senator Sam Brownback is the Sponsoring Chair, joining the ten other members of the Senate who serve as Honorary Chairs of the Roundtable.

Also participating in the program are:

Patricia Grace Smith, Assoc. Administrator for Space Trans., FAA/AST
Jeff Greason, XCOR Aerospace
Dr. Steven Walker, DARPA
Troy Thrash, Futron Corporation
George French, Pioneer Rocketplane
James Muncy, PoliSpace
Brian Chase, National Space Society

The particulars for the program are as follows:
Date: Tuesday, September 16th Time: 8:30am
Location: Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room 192

For further information, please contact
Marc Schlather via email at: mschlather@prospace.org.

Mojave Spaceport application... The Mojave airport has submitted its environmental impact statement for becoming a spaceport for horizontal takeoff & landing vehicles (links via a HobbySpace reader):

Update: AST vs. AVR...Dan DeLong has posted XCOR's response to Mitch's proposition that AVR should be the predominate regulator of suborbital spaceflight. Since Dan's posting won't be available for awhile in the Google archive, you can see their postings side by side here.

Mitchell Burnside Clapp of Pioneer Rocketplane has opened an interesting discussion over at sci.space.policy on the issue of whether suborbital vehicles should fall under the regulatory regimes of the FAA's AST (Commercial Space Transportation) or the FAA's AVR (Aviation Regulation and Certification) sections.

NASA as a partner, not competitor... Ken Schweitzer reminded me of his posting a few months ago at SpaceDaily of the editorial NASA As an Equity Partner (a shorter version of which was also in the Space News print publication.) He suggests that NASA invest in the startup launch companies as a way to obtain its space transportation needs.

Upcoming aerospike launch... John Garvey says that "plans are still on for the Prospector 2 flight test of the ablative aerospike engine this coming Saturday/Sunday (20-21 September) out at the Mojave Test Area. We only received a solid confirmation about the availability of the launch site (and more specifically a launch rail) this past weekend, so we are only now really gearing up for it."

More info about the aerospike project at Garvey Spacecraft and Cal State at Long Beach. See, for example, this page with pictures of the engine and the vehicle.

This will be the first launch of a liquid fueled aerospike engine.

It's like running in deep white sands to get through all the bureaucracy in this country. The Oklahoma Spaceport may have serious problems getting clearance from its environmental review for rocket flights due to a significant number of people now living on and near the former Air Force base. Armadillo Aerospace therefore began to look at alternatives and considered the White Sands Missile Range to be a strong possibility. The latest update, however, reports that things are not so simple there either:

"[WSMR isn't] really sure they want to be involved with commercial manned rocket ships. We have some good supporters there, but they consider flying something before the end of 2004 a 'very aggressive schedule' just to get all the paperwork done. Cost may also be an issue – a test taking full advantage of all the range facilities, like tracking, telemetry, flight termination, and other services, can cost $180,000 per test flight. That is a lot more than our entire vehicle costs, so we clearly aren’t interested at that level."

They may shift from parachute landing to powered landing since one of WMSR's primary concerns is that under some worst case scenarios the vehicle could drift for long distances while returning under the main parachute.

"...Powered landing instead of parachute landing is still where we want to go in the future, and we will probably do some testing with it on the current vehicle. This is somewhat higher in priority than it used to be, because getting flight clearance for 100km turns out to be a lot easier if we don’t have to worry about parachute drift. The downside is that it would be a lot scarier for the pilot."

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 14, 2003

Get a business to LEO & you're halfway to a million... The Robert A. and Virginia Heinlein Prize for Accomplishments in Commercial Space Activities will provide a "cash award of $500,000 to an individual or individuals for practical accomplishments in the field of commercial space activities. The establishment of the Heinlein Prize and details of its application process will be announced at the 54th International Astronautics Federation Congress in Bremen, Germany on Monday, September 29, 2003."

Sci-Fi consultant... I came across this item My Relationship to Blue Origin LLC by Neal Stephenson. From what he says on his home page, I don't think you should bother asking Mr. Stephenson for more details.

Space act: just a wish list or a step in the right direction?... A reader wrote in to point out that the H. R. 3057 "Space Exploration Act of 2003", Rep. Lampson - Spaceref - Sept.12.03. mentioned on Sept. 12.03 does not provide any funding for the RLVs and other projects that it lists. He states that the bill, which was also introduced in 2002, is not an appropriations bill but just "an authorization bill. Everyone on the Hill knows that it is worthless and does nothing except placate constituents by making it appear that something is doing something."

My response is that the bill is still a worthwhile effort. The wording of the act is quite explicit that it is just setting long term goals for NASA and not giving it money. I also know about the history of this bill and similar ones (see Space Legislation in the Activism section for a listing of various proposed space legislation.)

The fact that it's getting more attention this year... continues in the feedback section

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 13, 2003

SpaceX progress ... The SpaceX update for August came in the email Friday (not yet posted on their website as of the moment). The highlights include:

  • The turbo-pump for the first stage Merlin engine successfully reached full power and shaft rpm. They tested it for a full duty cycle of 180 seconds and it passed with "flying colors". See the video of a pump test.
  • They want "Merlin to be the best performing engine of its class (LOX/Kerosene, GG cycle turbo-pump)" ever made and they will continue to refine and tune the system. In particular, they want to improve the LOX flow in the turbo-pump.
  • "Development and testing of the thrust vector control (TVC) system that steers the main engine is now complete." See the cool video of the hydraulics moving the mass simulator at very high speeds. It has to move the whole engine several times per second since the rocket is dynamically unstable.
  • With the turbopump and TVC testing done, and also the completion of the thrust chamber assembly, they have now cleared the major hurdles on all three subsystems of the Merlin engine."
  • The next big milestone will involve "integrating those three subsystems together and attaching Merlin to the Falcon stage 1 primary flight structure". This will lead to a "first stage hold-down flight simulation firing in late October or early November", which would be "as close to an actual launch as the vehicle will get before the real thing."

Rocket shows... John Carmack is skeptical about the X Prize Cup concept that Peter Diamandis wants to pursue after the X PRIZE is won. I agree that it will be difficult to come up with interesting competitions among so many different vehicle designs and approaches. I would argue more for the air show approach promoted by Ed Wright, where having lots of different vehicles makes an exhibition that much more interesting and compelling for spectators.

I don't think we will soon see FAA-AST giving X PRIZE class vehicles permission to launch at state fairs. However, gathering a group of vehicles at a coastal spaceport such as Cape Canaveral could probably be done in a manner that keeps spectators at a safe distance but close enough to get a decent view of launches and landings.

Regardless of the arguments over horizontal vs vertical designs with regards to performance, I think Vertical-TakeOff-and-Landing vehicles would easily win the sexiest of the show award. That's the way people expect rockets to fly after seeing all those sci-fi movies!

Just imagine how spectacular a night launch and powered landing would appear.

September 12, 2003

SS1 engine tests... Leonard David reports on a full duration test on Sept.4th by eAc of the company's rocket that is in competition with Spacedev for the SS1 propulsion system: Hybrid Rocket Motor for X Prize Entry SpaceShipOne Tested - Space.com - Sept.12.03

Senate OSP skeptics... The Senate appropriations Committee has doubts about NASA's programs - S. 1584 [Report No. 108-143], FY 2004 NASA Excerpts, Senate Appropriations Committee - Spaceref - Sept.12.03. Unfortunately, this doesn't lead them to recommend privately developed RLVs.

The Committee understands that the role of the OSP is to provide a crew return capability from the ISS by approximately 2010. Once this occurs, it will then evolve into a complement to the Shuttle for taking crew into space, and will enable a transition path to future reusable launch vehicle systems. It is expected that the OSP program will provide the opportunity to support crew transport to and from space by 2012. It is clear to the Committee that some type of vehicle will be necessary to supplement the aging Shuttle fleet, and that such a vehicle should be made available as quickly, and as safely as possible.

The Committee is skeptical that the OSP is the only approach for NASA to move astronauts to and from the ISS. As previously noted, the ISS is currently being serviced, and crews are being transferred using Russian vehicles. This technology has been employed by NASA for a number of missions, and the ISS has relied on these vehicles since the Columbia tragedy and we continue to expect to rely on these Russian vehicles at least for the near term. Therefore, NASA should not limit itself to RLV technology alone, but should also explore other future options for servicing the ISS in light of the loss of Columbia.

The Committee does not want to repeat the mistakes of the Space Station, where poor management and lack of independent oversight resulted in major cost overruns, to occur with the Orbital Space Plane. Therefore, the Committee directs the Administrator to create an independent oversight committee, modeled after the International Space Station Management and Cost Evaluation Task Force, to examine the design, technology readiness and cost estimates for the Orbital Space Plane...

RLVs for the L1/L2, the Moon, and beyond... A reader notes the laudable goals in the act introduced by Nick Lampson (D-Texas) - H. R. 3057 "Space Exploration Act of 2003", Rep. Lampson - Spaceref - Sept.12.03. Among other things, the act instructs NASA to develop several types of reusable vehicles capable of deep space access. I agree with the reader that this might work "IF NASA would just let true private competition determine the resulting vehicles without their usual over-specification and microcontrol!" The act does, though, encourage NASA to use competitions:

COMPETITIONS- The Administrator shall establish a process for conducting competitions for innovative, cost-efficient mission concepts to accomplish each of the goals stated in subsection (a). The competitions shall be open to entities or consortia from industry, academia, nongovernmental research organizations, National Aeronautics and Space Administration Centers, and other governmental organizations. Mission concepts may include the provision of a commercial item or service sufficient to accomplish all or part of the relevant goal. Mission concepts that include international participation and cost-sharing shall be encouraged.

More NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 11, 2003

Flight as a feather... Scaled has posted a couple more images from the recent SpaceShipOne drop test, including this sequence from a video showing the feather in action.

RASCAL info... I haven't checked the Space Launch Corp website for awhile and I see they now have more details on their RASCAL project than the last time I looked. They won the Phase II contract last March to do an 18 month design study of the air launched, small payload orbital delivery system. The goal is the capability to put a 75-kilogram payload into a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit at a cost of $750,000 per launch. And they should be able to do it again within 24 hours.

They will have to build a whole new aircraft that uses Mass Injection Pre-Compressor Cooling (MIPCC) to enhance the turbofan engines. It will need this extra boost to allow it to reach an altitude of 200kft (61km) where it will release a 2 stage rocket as shown in this mission stages diagram. The RASCAL Overview and Facts pages only show a generic looking cartoon for the aircraft. I couldn't find a detailed design drawing. The rocket will use a hybrid first stage and a solid second stage.

If the Phase II study is deemed successful, Phase III would proceed with construction of the system, test flights in 2005, and first orbital launch in 2006. The total cost of the program I believe is around $90M.

Nanosat apps... Speaking of small satellites, Jeff Foust discusses a possible "killer app" for small sats like those that RASCAL will launch. In Spied satellites Is the inspection and servicing of spacecraft the killer app for smallsats? - Space Review - Sept.9.03 he reports on projects that involve sending small sats to rendesvous with large satellites for inspection, reboost, and other tasks.

Zubrin promotes Shuttle Z ... Robert Zubrin urges that NASA go with a capsule OSP for passenger launch and build an unmanned heavy lifter out of the shuttle system. "Shuttle Z, analyzed by NASA and the Martin Marietta company in the late 1980's, [would be] capable of launching 120 tonnes to Earth orbit or sending payloads in the 40 to 50 tonne class on direct trajectories to the Moon or Mars." Convert the Shuttle - Mars Society - Sept.10.03 * SDV on Capitol Hill - Marsblog - Sept.10.03

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 10, 2003

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 9, 2003

News briefs ... Time Magazine looks at a possible Apollo capsule redux: A Return to Apollo? Searching for alternatives to the Space Shuttle, NASA looks back to an old friend - TIME - Sept.2.03 (via Slashdot)....

... Some of the other X PRIZE projects could learn from the blue haired Starchasers and their project's energetic public outreach promotion efforts.

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 8, 2003

Chuting Rockets... The Canadian Arrow X PRIZE project has suggested spacediving as a possible high altitude sport that manned suborbital vehicles could support. Others are also looking into similar possibilties.

Tonyi Rusi of American Astronautics, for example, sent me a link to this Russian project - First stage - Shuttlecock First stage - Jump from outer space. Their "inflatable brake device", which acts in a similar way as a badminton shuttlecock, would provide a person a safe re-entry from high altitudes (or even from orbit) down to an altitude where a parachute could be opened for landing. This could be used for deliberate jumps or as an emergency rescue system.

Lower altitude rocket schemes are also under development. Rusi also tells me that American Astronautics is working on "a system called SCRAMS that can rocket propel a human being from the ground to 15,000 ft." Brian Walker, aka Rocket Guy, during a recent interview on the Space Show discussed plans to develop his first generation reusable launcher into an alternative to planes for carrying skydivers to typical jump altitudes. He believes that a multi-passenger version could be competitive with planes and certainly offer a more thrilling experience.

Space diaries ... John Carmack will now post regular entries about Armadillo Aerospace developments in a diary page at Frontier Files Online (maintained by the Space Frontier Foundation.) In the latest Armadillo update, he says that he gets "a lot of useful suggestions from people by email, but it will probably be interesting to let everyone publicly discuss Armadillo technical issues, and my replies to specific comments will probably be of interest to more people than just the comment author."

Al Differ of JP Aerospace is also maintaining a diary on that organization's projects. (This is good since the JP site is seldom updated.)

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 7, 2003

$200 Million OSP rides... Craig Covault reports on ground tests of the first Delta IV Heavy: First Boeing Delta IV Heavy Candidate to Launch the OSP Is Assembled for Tests - Aviation Week - Sept.7.03 . The vehicle can put "50,000 lb. in low-Earth orbit and nearly 30,000 lb. into geosynchronous-transfer orbit. Once fully stacked and loaded with propellant, the vehicle will stand 235 ft. tall and weigh more than 1.6 million lb." And all that hardware gets thrown away for each flight to put 4 people on the ISS.

"The Delta IV Heavy's payload capability is somewhat greater than the Lockheed Martin Titan IVB/Centaur. But at under $200 million [per flight], the major benefit of the Delta IV Heavy is its much greater reliability with less complex processing at only about half of Titan's cost." Gosh, such progress...

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 5, 2003

XCOR Library ... XCOR has posted its Aerospace Reference Library, which is an expanded version of Jeff Greason's recommended reading list mentioned at the recent Space Access Society meeting. It's divided into several categories of topics related to RLV development such as Rocket Engine Design, Aircraft Design: Aerodynamics, etc.

Sonic boom reduction... Speaking of aircraft design, looks like there is progress in mitigating sonic booms: NASA Opens New Chapter in Supersonic Flight - NASA Langley- Sept.4.03. (Rand Simberg gave a talk a few years ago at a Space Access Society meeting about this subject, though I don't know if this test involves the techniques he discussed.)

More about the program in these links:

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 4, 2003

News briefs ... This kind of utilization of commercial transportation is what NASA should do more of (or entirely) : NASA Selects Commercial Space Ride For Technology Experiment - NASA - Sept.4.03. ...

... Haven't tried them but apparently the Orbiter freeware space simulator now includes some "addon" modules for the X-20 Dynasoar, HopeX, X-34 & X-38: ORBITER Image Gallery

NASA/Columbia/Shuttle Program...

September 3, 2003

News briefs ... USA Today offers an intersting article on IT moguls pursuing space projects at Star-gazing tech titans put money where dreams are - USATODAY.com - Sept.3.03 and lists short bios of several moguls at Tech execs blast off - USATODAY.com - Sept.3.03 (via Spacetoday.net) ...

... Leonard David on the SS1 test : Testing Continues for Scaled Composites' SpaceShipOne - Space.com - Sept.3.03 ...

... The Space Frontier Foundation - Space Frontier Conference XII, in Los Angeles, California, on Oct. 10 - 12, 2003, will focus on the new space transportation companies....

... Support your favorite RLV company by shopping at their on line shops such as the new da Vinci Project Store. ...

... Michael Mealling at Rocketforge campaigns for a new King of NASA.

September 2, 2003

SS1 landing
SS1 getting towed back home after its second drop test on Aug.27, 2003
in which it executed the feathering maneuver. (Photo courtesy Aleta Jackson)

Scaled tests SS1 feathering... Scaled Composites did another drop test of the SpaceShipOne last Wednesday (Aug.27th) that included "commanding the full feathered mode (65 deg wing/tail jackknife)." Falling from an altitude of 43k feet down to 30k feet, the "[o]bservers in the chase Starship were treated to a closeup bizarre view of the spaceship plunging downward in a rock-stable near vertical feathered descent." Several other maneuvers were executed successfully during the eventful flight.


Videos of the flight will be shown at the annual Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) symposium in Los Angeles on Sept.26th.

An alternative approach ... Just for the fun of it, I outline below how I would reform the space program if I were declared King of NASA:

  • Stop the Shuttle program and send the remaining vehicles to museums.
  • Cancel the OSP program.
  • $3 billion bought no more than six Shuttle flights a year. Below I list how I would spend this money in units of Space Shuttle Equivalent => $SE = $500M.

    • 1.0 $SE => For an interim period, contract for more Soyuz and Progress vehicles to serve the ISS. (The President is allowed to circumvent legislative restrictions on purchases of Russian hardware by declaring the action a response to emergency circumstances.)
      • Keep 2 Soyuz vehicles docked to allow for 6 crew members on board the station for at least a couple of months at a stretch.

    • 0.5 $SE => contract for a RLV system to provide 5 cargo deliveries and retrievals to/from the ISS per year starting in 2006. The deal would last for three years. Presumably Kistler would win this contract but it would be open to other bidders.
      • If deliveries start before August 2006, a bonus of up to 0.5 $E would be awarded depending on how many months before that date the launches begin.

    • 0.5 $SE - goes towards a "revitalized" suborbital science program as recommended by the National Academy of Science but with an emphasis on the use of suborbital RLVs for frequent and routine flights. This would provide great science and also give the nascent suborbital RLV industry a substantial financial basis on which to build while the potentially much larger market in space tourism develops.

    • 1.0 $SE => a program to award contracts for science and technology research with small satellites and deep space probes built by universities, reseach institutes, and companies. This would include data purchases from private missions such as TransOrbital's TrailBlazer and SpaceDev's asteroid prospector.
      • 0.5 $SE of this goes to bulk purchases of launches by small, low cost vehicles that can put ~700kg into LEO. This would include, say, 50 launches per year at $5M per launch split among two or three companies such as SpaceX and Microcosm.

    • 1.0 $SE => to NASA for X vehicle projects to develop and test particular launch technologies (but not intended to lead to operational vehicles.)

    • 1.0$SE => to NASA to develop innovative space technologies to support eventual large scale space settlement such as rotating free-flyers for testing artificial gravity and minimal mass shielding designs for radiation exposure reduction. (The ISS science emphasis would shift towards this priority as well.)

    • 1.0$SE => expanded development of deep space transports for access to the Moon, Mars and asteroids.

For 2008 a contract for 2.0$SE per year for three years would be awarded to the company that can provide transportation to and from the ISS for 24 people, e.g. 6 flights with 4 passengers each.

The rest of the human spaceflight budget would go towards NASA's new long term focus on the development of lunar and Mars bases and large scale habitats in space.

[Update: If you would like to comment on this outline, I'd suggest doing it here at Rand Simberg's weblog. It will be awhile before I have time to set up RLV News as a real blog that allows for easy commenting.]

News brief... Jeff Foust expands on his earlier article at SpaceEquity.com : Is there a business case for RLVs? by Jeff Foust - Space Review - Sept.2.03

September 1, 2003

News briefs... The latest Armadillo Aerospace update reports on progress in obtaining hydrogen peroxide, in building a spring loaded parachute launcher, and in other areas ...

... The OSP by 2008: NASA Plans Light Craft for Space Trips - AP/RedNova - Aug.31.03

Upcoming Space Show programs related to space transportation include an interview on Sept. 7th at 12-1:30pm PDT with John Cserep, the Chairman of the Message and Policy Committee and an Advocate for the Space Frontier Foundation , who will discuss the SFF's policy towards the Orbital Space Plane.

On Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2003, Dr. Space will interview Tim Pickens, a RLV and space engineering consultant.

... And recent programs now available in the archive include an interview with Pat Kelly of Vela Technology on August 10th who talked about various issues related to building a suborbital space tourism business such as obtaining insurance. ...

... Jason Andrews of Andrews Space & Technology on August 5th discussed his companies projects and studies related to commercial space development....

... Greg Allison of the Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5) discussed on July 29th the group's amateur advanced rocketry projects.

Continue to August 2003

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