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Reusable Launch & Space Vehicle News
May 2004
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Scaled Composites photos
SpaceShipOne on its second rocket powered flight April 8, 2004.
Taken from Edwards AFB ground radar facility.

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

May 31, 2004

News briefs ... Hover tests by Amadillo: Boosted Hop - Armadillo Aerospace - May.30.04...

... Alan Boyle reports on the difficulties facing passage of the HR-3752 in the Senate: Private spaceships caught in political fog - Alan Boyle/MSNBC - May.28.04...

... X PRIZE Space Race News posts the latest Ansarr X PRIZE Newsletter: May 28 2004.

May 28, 2004

Holiday break... I will be traveling over the next week or so and postings will be even more intermittent than usual and probably none at all over this weekend.

Orbital airship update... A recent posting on Slashdot about the orbital airship concept drew several hundred responses. Blimps... In... Space... - Slashdot - May.25.04. Alfred Differ of JPA responded to some of the comments and questions: Alfred Differ - Slashdot User. Note that their first choice of an engine, which they say they are under contract not to reveal, is not an ion engine.

Rocket Guy update... Brian Walker (aka the Rocket Guy) spoke at the recent Space Access ' 04 and said that he had gotten back into action after various delays and personal setbacks. He just posted a set of updates on the construction of various support facilities such as a rocket sled and a Multi Axis Disorientator ( see the M.A.D. movie). He is essentially developing a small Space Camp facility. Some of the X PRIZE teams might want to rent his place for training their rocket guys. (Item via HS reader M. Stacey.)

Phoenix may rise higher... The latest issue of Aviation Week reports that Germany wants the Phoenix spaceplane prototype added to ESA's new Future Flight Preparatory Program (FLTP), which was mentioned by Dave Salt at Space Access ' 04. After the current low altitude drop tests in Sweden are finished, they would like to do high altitude drops from a balloon or a Mig-31 to test transonic speed range.

May 27, 2004

Space Show interviews... Check out the SpaceShow interview with TGV Rockets chief Pat Bahn this Sunday between 12-1:30PM Pacific Time. Pat will be speaking from the NSS Space Development Conference, which will take place over the Memorial Day weekend in Oklahoma City. He will discuss progress in the development of the MICHELLE B suborbital vehicle, the growth of the company at its new residence in Norman, Oklahoma, and about the activities of the Suborbital Institute, which he also leads.

You can also find in the archive the recent show with Rick Citron who discusses the companies Kistler Aerospace and Spacehab, both of which he help to create with his brother Bob. In the first half of the show he gives an interesting overview of the steps potential space entrepreneurs must take to raise money and get a company off the ground.

COMSTAC talks... The recent COMSTAC May 20th meeting presentations are now available on line. E.g. see

News briefs... Suborbital companies looking to base their vehicles in New Mexico: New Mexico gets space shot inquiries - New Mexico Business Weekly - May.26.04 (via X PRIZE Space Race News)...

... John Carmack posted a note on the aRocket forum that he expects that before Scaled tries an official X PRIZE flight, they will "will fly a single passenger without ballast for the other two first, which will give them the "first commercial astronaut" glory, and let them know if they actually have the performance to add the extra 400 pounds for the X-Prize flights after that."...

... Reader K. Kert points to some interesting articles in the Microcosm publications section.

May 26, 2004

X PRIZE models... Yesterday the X PRIZE announced that the Estes Rockets company is releasing a set of models based on several teams' designs. The Estes site doesn't yet show the models as far as I can tell but Alan Boyle - Small-size X Prize - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log - May.25.04 - found images at Ye Olde Rocket Shoppe on sell sheet #1 and sell sheet #2.

Note that the model for the SpaceShipOne is still under negotiations with Scaled Composites.

News briefs... Via a HS visitor I found out that the FAI Astronautics Records section includes X PRIZE type suborbital accomplishments: FAI Sporting Code Section 8 * 2003 Edition (pdf)....

... The web site for the Third International Symposium on Beamed Energy Propulsion, which will be held Troy, New York, October 11 - 14, 2004, is now up and ready for registration.

May 25, 2004

Flometrics pistonless pump update in the experimental rocketry section. Includes a gif animation.

News briefs... Armadillo gets some local press attention: 'Rocket Man' Preparing Space Blast - nbc5i.com - May.24.04 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... Show support for private launch development by shopping at the X PRIZE Store | CafePress and other RLV stores.

May 24, 2004

News briefs... Leonard David reports on a new California spacwport: Spaceport to Rise in California's Mojave Desert - Space.com - May.24.04....

... The economics of personal payload mass: The price of privation - The Space Review - May.24.04

Bending metal ....Armadillo revamps the entire propulsion system for their large test vehicle in a remarkably short time. However, there are a few bugs to work out as John Carmack reports in his latest update: Bent jet vanes, Liquid catalyst tests - Armadillo Aerospace - May.22.04...

Space bill status... Jeff Foust gives an update on potential obstacles to passage of the HR 3752 bill that has been passed in the House and referred to the Senate: More on HR 3752 concerns - Space Politics - May.22.04

May 23, 2004

News briefs ....Alan Boyle reports on JP Aerospace and their proposal for an orbital airship: Airship groomed for flight to edge of space - MSNBC - May.21.04...

... Keith Cowing and Spaceref open a special news section on developments with the Bush space initiative: Space Exploration Initiative News | SpaceRef

May 22, 2004

The Rocket Company comes to an end. The final installment tells how the founder of the Rocket Company seeks to reduce the cost of transportation to Mars just as he did for access to LEO. If successful, large numbers of people will be able to travel to the Red Planet for permanent settlement.

May 21, 2004

2004 Launch Forecast

Artful space forecasting....The 2004 Commercial Space Transportation Forecasts is now available. It gives a broad and informative survey of the launch industry. The report is create by Futron under contract with the FAA-AST. Jeff Foust is deeply involved with this report and also Phil Smith, who created the gorgeous cover art as well.

Hybrid jet/rockets left behind? The COMSTAC meeting this week included a discussion of HR-3752 - Commercial Space Amendements Act - according to Jeff Foust: Space Politics: HR 3752: a concern over definitions - Space Politics - May.20.04.

The bill was passed by the House and referred to the Senate. It includes a number of items directly related to the regulation of commercial suborbital spaceflight and it was a focus of the recent Suborbital Action Day campaign on Capitol Hill.

According to Jeff, a concern was expressed that the bill doesn't properly address the question of what regulatory framework would apply to vehicles that initially takeoff under jet power and then fire a rocket when they reach a high altitude. Unfortunately, if the bill is altered to fix this, then the bill may die because of the short time remaining in a year with lots of backed up legislation.

News brief... Steve Bennett of Starchaser frets that Scaled will win the X PRIZE before his team gets a chance at it: Spaceman set to lose $10m race - Manchester Online - May.21.04 (via X PRIZE Space Race News)

SS1 - step by step... Leonard David reports that there will be one more SS1 test flight before the official X PRIZE flights: Data From Recent Test Flight of Private Spacecraft Released - Space.com - May.20.04 ...

Hey, don't tell me what the question is! Don Peterson has contracted a serious form of myopia called Zubrinitis. The sufferers look into space and can't see anything but Mars: Former Astronaut Don Peterson's Ideas for Future Human Flight Programs - SpaceRef - May.20.04. Rand Simberg gives a similar diagnosis.

May 20, 2004

Centennial Challenge Workshop Reminder... Ken Davidian, who now works with the Centennial Challenge project, asked me to remind people about the upcoming workshop. Inspired by the X PRIZE, NASA's Centennial Challenge will offer prizes for a wide range of space related accomplishments.

The goal of the workshop is to: 1. Gather ideas for Challenges, 2. Develop rules for specific Challenges and gauge competitor interest in various potential Challenges, and 3. Promote competitor teaming.

News briefs... Some history behind the development of the SS1: All systems go in race to reach final frontier - Scotsman.com - May.20.04 (via spacetoday.net) ...

... Starchaser making progress with its propulsion systems: Starchaser starts production of it's 15 tonne rocket engine - starchaser.co.uk - - May.17.04 * Launch Escape System (LES) Update - starchaser.co.uk - May 2004 (via X PRIZE Space Race News) ...

... Looking less and less likely a shuttle will launch in March: Group: Shuttle plan omits slack time: Launch still set for March 6 - Florida Today - May.20.04

News briefs... Scaled posts some pictures from the most recent flight...

... NASA needs alternative in-flight repair schemes: NASA May Need to Consider Alternative Plans on Shuttle - NY Times - May.20.04

May 19, 2004

News briefs... Rand Simberg argues that the new space policy announced in January, which includes retirement of the shuttle in 2010, requires a serious re-thinking of how the shuttle will be used: Space Policy Disconnect - Transterrestrial Musings - May.18.04 * Followup - Transterrestrial Musings - May.19.04 ...

... Australian hypersonics projects continue: Hypersonics Research Speeds Up - Spacedaily - May.19.04 ...

... I forgot to mention that Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, a sponsor of HR 3752, came to the luncheon during the Suborbital Action Day campaign last Monday and said a few words. Jeff Foust reports on his impressions of the luncheon: Suborbital days - Space Politics - May.18.04

May 18, 2004

The record breaking CSXT launch is discussed in the Advanced Rocketry News section.

News brief... Spacedev takes a bow: SpaceDev Propels SpaceShipOne Close to Outer Space Third Powered Flight Sets New Records - Spacedev PR - May.18.04

Suborbital Action Day went quite well yesterday. The Suborbital Institute teams briefed staffers for 27 different Senators. As described by the talking points posted by Andrew Case - SubOrbital Day - Transterrestrial Musings - May.17.04 - the primary goal was to encourage passage of the Senate version of the HR-3752. This bill aims to help set a regulatory and liability regime that will facilitate the creation of space tourism and other markets once the suborbitals graduate from the current development phase. Other priorities involved ameliorating the ITAR mess and keeping the Office of Space Commerce alive.

As with the previous campaigns, I was quite impressed with the enthusiasm that the the staffers showed in response to our presentations. They seemed "to get it" once we laid out all the facts. (They especially liked that we were not asking for money!) They could see that the suborbital rocket industry will become a viable one under the right conditions and that the companies can eventually develop low cost access to orbit. ...

... Andrew Case had some interesting encounters in his briefings: Some more SubOrbital Day news - Transterrestrial Musings - May.17.04

News briefs... Armadillo didn't fly over the weekend but they did make progress in retrofitting their big vehicle with jet vanes: Small vehicle work, Big vehicle work - Armadillo Aerospace - May.17.04 ...

... The X PRIZE Foundation confirmed to Alan Boyle that it will provide a 60 day announcement prior to any official X PRIZE flights. So that precludes the July 4, 17th dates for the SS1 as some had speculated: Next flight to space - Alan Boyle: Cosmic Log - May.17.04 [Update: I mistakenly wrote originally that Scaled Composites gave Alan the 60 day info.] ....

... Check out this perspective on the SS1: Spaceship One - a Historical Perspective - A.E.Brain - May.17.04 (via Spacecraft) ...

... It has seemed to me that the last thing NASA needs is a big new heavy lift launcher project. NASA needs to learn to do incremental space development. Glad to see Jeff Foust providing substantive arguments against The myth of heavy lift - The Space Review - May.17.04 ...

... Here's a suggestion for the crew module for the CEV: Advanced Gemini: What NASA Needs by Mike Majeski - Project Constellation - May.15.04 ...

... One of these days, I hope to drive my flying car to the spaceport to take a ride in an XCOR rocketplane to space: Flying Car more economical than SUV - The Register - May.15.04

May 17, 2004

Suborbital Action Day on Capitol Hill so no updates till late this evening.

Check the Armadillo site for the regular update.

May 15, 2004

The Rocket Company narrator looks back at progress made during the ten years that followed the introduction of the DH-1: Epilogue 1.

da Vinci Project launch this summer is on track according to these articles (via X PRIZE Space Race News): He's got his eyes on the Prize - TheStar.com - May.15.04 * Cape Kindersley blasts off - TheStar.com - May.15.04.

May 14, 2004

Video of the SS1 flight is available without a required registration at this site: Rocket Reaches the Edge of Space - Hampton Daily Press/LA Times - May.14.04 (via Alan Boyle).

The ride may be suborbital but it sure looks like spaceflight to me! And there's still another 40 miles ahead. For people who have the money, these kind of trips are going to be irresistable, even if they do only last a few minutes.

Space Transport test... Alan Boyle also reports that Space Transport launched one of their 3-stage sounding rockets and it exceeded 150k feet. Unfortunately, they lost track of it when the GPS unit failed.

Mojave press article... More about the flight: Valley spacecraft tops 200,000 feet - Antelope Valley Press - May.14.04 (only available temporaily)

This SS1 article includes comments from Jeff Foust of spacetoday.net and spacereview.com: Microsoft Cofounder Paul Allen's Private Rocket Soars - TechNewsWorld - May.14.04

SS1 updates...CNN report includes pictures and video: Private spaceship sets altitude record: Firm is competing for the $10 million X Prize - CNN - May.13.04:

"Shortly after his flight, a very excited Melvill told CNN that seeing the sky go from blue to black was the thrill of his life.

"'I feel great, it was fabulous. I would pay a million dollars to do that again,' he said."

... Exciting summer ahead: In Capital Venture, Rocket Reaches the Edge of Space In bid for prize, craft designed by Burt Rutan goes where no private craft has gone before. - LA Times - May.14.04 (via spacetoday.net):

"'You just can't imagine what a thrill it was. I had tears in my eyes,' Rutan said as the winged rocket glided back to Earth and made a picture-perfect landing at the airport here. 'It creates a path for the rest of us to go into space.'

...Rutan said he hopes to go after the prize this summer. 'With today's flight, much of the major technical challenges have been overcome,' he said. 'It's just a matter of going higher with more people.'"

More SS1 flight news... Sure hope that Scaled eventually posts the videos from the powered flights in addition to the stills: Ecliptic's RocketCam(TM) Integral to Private Suborbital Venture - PR Newswire - May.13.04 (via spacetoday.net)...

... Several people pointed out in the Scaled press release (see below) the statement, "We will be sending you advance notice of a media event at Scaled very soon." This may refer to the 30 day notification before a 100km official flight that is required by rule 6 in the X PRIZE guidelines. Got a feeling there will be quite a crowd heading to Mojave to watch each of the two flights.

News briefs... John Carmack talks about jet vanes and vehicle development costs in these postings at sci.space.policy: Jet Vanes - sci.space.policy - May.13.04 * Costs - sci.space.policy - May.13.04 ...

... Check out the alt.space: journal of the new space race - companion to the Spacearium news site, and hosted by the ARES Institute. ...

... Speaking of alt space, see the list of alternative space conferences that will be held in the coming months like the The Fifth Annual Return to the Moon Conference - July 16 – 18 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Has an amazing speaker line up that includes: James Cameron, John Young, Andrew Chaikin, and Dr. George Mueller (a top manager of the Apollo program and head of Kistler Aerospace.)

May 13, 2004

Scaled has posted the flight 14p report:

Launch conditions were 46,000 feet and 120 knots. Motor light off occurred 10 seconds after release and the vehicle boosted smoothly to 150,000 feet and Mach 2.5. Subsequent coast to apogee of 211,400 feet. During a portion of the boost, the flight director display was inoperative, however the pilot continued the planned trajectory referencing the external horizon. Reaction control authority was as predicted and the vehicle recovered in feather experiencing 1.9M and 3.5G’s.Feather oscillations were actively damped by the pilot and the wing was de-feathered starting at 55,000 feet. The onboard avionics was re-booted and a smooth and uneventful landing made to Mojave.

Scaled press release:

This morning, the SpaceShipOne team completed another successful test of key systems on the SpaceShipOne reusable launch vehicle (RLV) and its carrier aircraft, White Knight. SpaceShipOne achieved 212,000 feet [64.6km] this morning. This flight marks an additional milestone for Paul G. Allen, Burt Rutan and the innovative aerospace design team in their ongoing efforts to complete the first non-government manned space flight. The test is part of Scaled Composites' Tier One program, funded by Allen, Microsoft co-founder and CEO of Vulcan Inc.

The SpaceShipOne team will announce the results of this test flight once it has completed an analysis of the data. Look for this information under the Test Updates tab. Information on any future flights will also be provided on the web site, www.scaled.com. We encourage you to check this page frequently for updates. We will be sending you advance notice of a media event at Scaled very soon.

Thanks for your interest in our project. The future's looking up...way up! SpaceShipOne Team

SS1 update... Scaled posts a brief note on the flight. They will report later after analysis of the data....

... Leonard David has got more details: Private Rocket SpaceShipOne Makes Third Rocket-Powered Flight - Space.com - May.13.04. Reached >200k feet ( 61km) - more than halfway to the X PRIZE altitude. [Posted at 1:15pm] ...

... SS1 landed safely - couple of sonic booms produced during the flight. [Posted at 12:45pm] ...

... Heard that the White Knight/SS1 combo was spotted on the Mojave runway a little while ago. [Posted at 11:25am]

X PRIZE Cup site ... Florida hoping New Mexico doesn't come through: Florida panel not giving up on private space competition - Miami Herald/AP - May.12.04 (free subscription required) - via K. Schweitzer...

... More about the NM effort: New Mexico Banking On Space - SpaceDaily - May.12.04...

... Some commentators confuse the X PRIZE competition with the Cup: The final frontier for tourism? - Santa Fe New Mexican - May.13.04 (via spacetoday.net)

More Phoenix info... EADS has these press releases in the archive:

See also EADS Photos (see also the Photos from Esrange)

News briefs... Micheal Mealling posts John Powell's SA'04 slides on the JP Aeropace orbital airship concept: ATO - Airship To Orbit by JP Aerospace at SA'04 - Rocketforge - May.12.04 ...

... Commercial space transportation meeting (COMSTAC) next week:The Agenda for the May, 2004 COMSTAC meeting (pdf)....

... With old ships, if it's not one thing it's another: Inquiry starts to find whether critical shuttle landing system problem exists - FloridatToday - May.13.04....

... CEV program making progress: New Logo for NASA's Exploration Office - Project Constellation - May.12.04

May 11, 2004

Official announcement from the Govenor of New Mexico: Governor Richardson Announces New Mexico Wins Bid to Host X PRIZE CUP - X PRIZE - May.11.04 (MS Word doc file). (Note that Richardson might be the next Vice President.)

X PRIZE articles by Leonard David on New Mexico chosen for future rocket fest Private spaceships to compete at annual X Prize Cup - Space.com - May.11.04 and the Canadian Arrow flight tests: Canadian Arrow Team Moves Forward in Human-Rating Rocket - Space.com - May.11.04

New Mexico gets the X PRIZE Cup according to this report: New Mexico Hosting Spaceflight Competition -Space.com/AP - May.11.04 (via spacetoday.net). Nothing yet on the X PRIZE home site.

Update: More info here: NM chosen to host space race - Borderland News - May.11.04 (via Ken Schweitzer)

Space transport on paper... While no one is selling personal RLVs yet, you can now make one at home and all you need is some stiff paper, an exacto knife, and white glue. Ralph Currell is offering free Card models for the Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne and the Japanese RVT Reusable Rocket Vehicle. The models look very nice - SS1 gallery and RVT gallery. See Card models - an introduction for the basics of paper modelling. (See also the Card Modelling FAQ and the Paper Models section here.)

News briefs... More details on the Phoenix test: Europe's space shuttle passes early test - New Scientist - May.10.04

May 10, 2004

Armadillo hovering ... John Carmack reports on more progress with hover tests of a small test vehicle using a single engine with jet vanes for control: Position hold, big jet vanes - Armadillo Aerospace - May.8.04. Several videos included. They already expect to do a hover test of the big vehicle by next weekend.

X-15 pilot Pete Knight passes away... Glad he lived to see the privately developed SS1 heading towards X-15 altitudes: X-15 astronaut Pete Knight dead at 74 - collectSPACE - May.8.04

Phoenix photos... A whole bunch of photos of the Phoenix during Saturday's drop test at Esrange have been posted at the Swedish Space Corp. site. (The Phoenix sure looks like a prop in a low budget sci-fi film.)

News briefs... This new site for space news postings looks interesting: The Spacearium - Space Exploration News, Commentary, and Multimedia ...

... Some of the amateur and small company launcher developers are getting quite good at attracting sponsors. Canadian Arrow, da Vinci, and Starchaser seem particularly successful. Now I see that the US Civilian Space eXplortion Team is doing pretty well also.

May 9, 2004

Phoenix rises and falls successfully... The glide test of the European Phoenix went well: Phoenix performs first glide test - spacetoday.net - May.9.04

May 8, 2004

The Rocket Company looks at ways steadly to increase the size of the payload reaching orbit in upgraded versions of the DH-1. See Chapter 26.

Phoenix drop test delayed to finish analysis of an earlier dry run: Test Glide of European Shuttle Phoenix Delayed - Space.com/AP - May.7.04

May 7, 2004

Spaceplane prototyope drop test... The European Phoenix will be dropped from a helicopter in northern Sweden for a test of its glide and landing capabilities: Craft Set for Friday Test Flight - Space.com/AP - May.6.04 (via spacetoday.net.)

May 6, 2004

News brief... More about XCOR and Mojave Spaceport licensing: License gives XCOR boost - Antelope Valley Press - May.6.04.

Canadian Arrow X PRIZE team announces that test flights will start this summer:

Canadian Arrow to Begin Test Flights

Canadian Arrow is pleased to announce that it will begin unmanned test flights of its rocket this summer. The flights, taking place over a period of four months beginning in August, will test the Arrow’s launch pad abort system and escape systems. This testing will be essential before any manned launches are attempted.

The Arrow is currently completing arrangements for the tests at an Ontario location, which will be announced at a future date. The tests will include:

  • A launch pad abort test, including testing of the powerful solid rockets that pull the crew cabin to safety in the event of problems while the rocket is on the pad.
  • Separation of the nose cone from the crew cabin.
  • Deployment of parachutes for safe recovery of the nose cone and crew cabin.
  • Testing of aerodynamics to ensure the rocket is able to reach the correct altitude and does not display any flight characteristics that are not normal to flight.
  • A mach 1 abort and high altitude abort (application for permission to fly currently being processed)

Specifications of escape system:

  • Eight 1,200 lb thrust solid rocket engines that burn for 5 seconds, mounted in a 22-ft tall nose cone
  • Two main parachutes 64 ft in diameter
  • Onboard computer to record data including acceleration, vibration, pitch, yaw and roll of the rocket.
  • Onboard video camera aimed out the same window as the astronauts will use. Video will be available to the media after the flight.
  • Vehicle will weigh 2,500lbs at liftoff.
  • Crew cabin (space capsule) designed to carry three astronauts 65 inches in diameter and 6 ft tall.

The Canadian Arrow will also fly its first XPOD experiment, produced by students at the Canadian Arrow Science Club at John Dearness School in London. The flight will test the durability of the XPOD. Canadian Arrow is a London-built rocket, competing for the $10 million (US) X PRIZE, which will go to the first team that can launch a passenger space vehicle 100 kilometres into space, land safely and repeat the feat within two weeks.

See the graphics of the escape system test launch at the Canadian Arrow website.

Launch vehicle hearing... The testimonies at yesterday's Senate Science, Technology, and Space Hearing: Space Shuttle and the Future of Space Launch Vehicles - SpaceRef are available at NASA Watch. The two that I found interesting are:

  • Elon Musk
  • Robert Hickman (The Aerospace Corp.) - advocates "hybrid" system with reusable first stage and expendable orbital stage.

Keith Cowing at NASA Watch says that Senator John Breaux (D-La) didn't want about Elon Musk to discuss the SpaceX protest of the Kistler contract in his testimony. (However, it is in the written testimony.) Surprised that Breaux even knows about it much less cares.

The SpaceX update is now available, so you can read Elon's comments about the protest.

This has got to be the least surprising headline I've ever read: NASA backs shuttle in space station construction - Florida Today - May.6.04

May 5, 2004

X PRIZE becomes the Ansari X PRIZE... The X PRIZE gets a multimillion dollar contribution: Celebrating Anniversary of Historic Space Flight, Ansari Family's Donation Gives Huge Boost to Future Space Travel and Tourism - X PRIZE - May.5.04.

At his presentation at SA'04, Peter Diamandis said that there would be a new "title sponsor" coming soon. This would be in addition to the "presenting sponsor" Champ Car. That is, the Ansari X PRIZE will be presented to the winner by Champ Car. Peter said this kind of distinctions among sponsors was standard practice in the corporate sponsorship world.

SpaceX update for March/April just came out and Jonathan Goff provided the following summary (the update will probably be posted at the SpaceX site in a day or two):

  • SpaceX announced that they have a signed contract with Bigelow Aerospace for their first Falcon V launch in Nov 2005. This flight will be a demonstrator of several inflatable habitat related technologies, and will be flown from Vandenberg. Any further details will have to wait for a Bigelow press release (if any is forthcoming).

  • Due to being able to use a non-explosive flight termination system, the price for the Falcon I flight is being lowered from $6M + range fees to $5.9M + range fees.

  • Elon mentioned that price reductions will be retroactively applied to customers who've signed contracts but haven't yet launched - thus insuring them the best price available at time of launch.

  • The pump cavitation issue was successfully resolved, thus overcoming the final major issue with their Merlin engine.

  • Once the cavitation margin issue and the seals/bearings issues were solved, it turns out that their turbopump overperforms by about 43%, which bodes well for the thrust upgrades they need for their Falcon VX (the RL-10 upper stage version of the Falcon V). [Note: the name Falcon VX is probably just a place holder...]

  • Their Turbopump tests were done while integrated onto the vehicle in the vertical position, so they've had chances to prove out many of the critical first-stage systems, not just the pump.

  • They had their first users conference back in March that was attended by several private companies, NASA, and the Air Force.

  • They'll be purchasing a cleanroom facility at Vandenburg that used to be owned by Lockheed Martin.

  • Elon has testified at the Aldridge commission meeting a few weeks back, and will be testifying at the "Senate Subcommittee on Space regarding the future of pace launch vehicles" tomorrow. I hear he will be there in-person.

  • Elon explained why SpaceX was protesting the Kistler uncompeted contract for flight demonstrations for delivery of cargo to ISS. He suggested that instead, since the roughly $250M contract was performance-based anyway, that they ought to change it to a prize to the first US company that can meet the performance criteria. [Note: I think that would be an excellent idea]

  • Also, they have tested their stage separation system, which uses pressure-equalized pneumatic pistons instead of springs, with dual redundantly-wired explosive bolts.

  • The upper stage nozzle is made of niobium sheet, thus allowing it to take accidental impacts on stage separation without failure.

  • They were also milling out some excess material to lighten-up their upper stage.

  • Lastly, they've also been doing several tests on their flight computer and on their IMU that so far have been going well.

    All in all, it looks like they are in good shape for a first launch in late summer or early fall.

May 4, 2004

News briefs... Space Transport to launch another of its 3-stage sounding rockets: Rocketeers plan to launch ninth test rocket around mid-month - peninsuladailynews - May.4.04 (via X Prize Space Race News ) ...

... There will a hearing today on Space Shuttle and the Future of Space Launch Vehicles - US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, & Transportation - Wed. May.5.04 2:30pm. It will be webcast. (via spacepolitics.com) ...

... Starchaser gets delivery of hydrogen peroxide tank for their Launch escape system(LES) - May 2004. See also the LES gallery....

... Len Cormier posts the slides to his presentation at SA'04: Space Van 2008: Kite-assisted SSTO ...

... Join the discussion on the Rocket Company.

May 3, 2004

Bigelow contracts a Falcon V... Bigelow Aerospace has arranged for the launch of a spacecraft in late 2005 on a SpaceX Falcon V according to Leonard David: Space Inflatable Project Eyed by Bigelow Aerospace - Astronotes @ Space.com - May.3.04.

Robert Bigelow is the owner of the Budget Suites hotel chain. He has promised to spend several hundred million dollars to develop a space hotel. He created Bigelow Aerospace in Nevada to develop Transhab style inflatable habitats. According to the article the flight test would involve "one-third scale hardware [..] to produce important data regarding multiple features of a full-scale spacecraft."

Jeff Foust posted an item back in January about a possible development with the Bigelow project: Big things to come at Bigelow - spacetoday.net weblog - Jan.1.04

RLV licensing is reviewed by Jeff Foust: The trials and tribulations of licensing - The Space Review - May.3.04

Whole lotta innovating going on at Armadillo. In the past year the group developed a mixed propellent (50% purity H202 + alcohol) propulsion system to replace the H202 single propellent system due to the difficulty in obtaining high purity H202. Now in his latest update - Jet Vanes Win - Armadillo Aerospace - May.2.04 - John Carmack reports on results of a jet vane control system that "went from concept to highly successful flight test in just over one month".

They tested the vane controls last week on a small test vehicle and achieved stable hover with only a little practice - see the video (10MB mpg).

Up till now they planned to use differential throttling among 4 engines to control their large vehicle. However, the

"behavior of this [jet vane] system, both in terms of startup complexity, plumbing / wiring complexity, and flight control responsiveness are so superior to the differential throttling or attitude engine systems we have used before that we feel it is a clear winner. When a jet vane moves, you get torque on the vehicle instantly, as opposed to throttling or starting an engine, which requires a fairly long liquid column to be accelerated, then the gas volume of the engine to change pressure before you get vehicle torque."

So they made the major decision to give up on the differential throttling and go with jet vanes to control a single big engine (24” diameter engine, 16K to 20k lbf). See the photo of the disassembled vehicle.

May 2, 2004

News briefs... Alfred Differ gives some brief info on the propulsion system for the JP Aerospace orbital airship concept in the comments section of this posting at Transterrestrial Musings ...

... Report on SpaceShipOne and other suborbital projects: Head start in space race Mojave company a front-runner in creating private reusable ship. - L.A. Daily News - May.2.04 (via spacetoday.net)....

... Plus an article on Peter Diamandis and the X PRIZE. Benefactor inspired by Lindbergh's story - L.A. Daily News - May.1.04

May 1, 2004

Rocketplane progress... Rocketplane Limited (formerly Pioneer Rocketplane) has used the tax credits it obtained from the state of Oklahoma to raise money to develop its suborbital vehicle: Rocketplane sells tax credits - NewsOK.com - May.1.04 - free subscription required (via spacetoday.net). The project has "advanced to the full design phases".

The Rocketplane XP will use a rocket engine from Orbital Technologies Corporation plus two jet engines to take a pilot and three passengers to 106km altitude. The craft will returned under power to the Oklahoma Spaceport. I heard the vehicle will be a modified Learjet but the articles says it will be "adapted from the frame of a fighter jet." The "first test launch is scheduled for January 2007."

News briefs... The latest X PRIZE newsletter was released yesterday but is not posted on the home site. However, you can find the items at X-Prize Space Race News! and the whole thing at X PRIZE Newsletter - April 2004....

... Alan Boyle comments further on the competition: Space race readings - Alan Boyle - Apr.30.04

The Rocket Company begins the assembly line production of its two stage RLV and starts to takes orders from a range of customers. See Chapter 25.

News briefs... Don't expect a shuttle launch before March 2005: NASA Releases Shuttle Return to Flight Plan - Space.com - Apr.30.04. And there's no Hubble flight on the agenda: All future shuttle missions geared to space station by William Harwood - Spaceflight Now - Apr.30.04

Continue to April 2004

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