Space Access Update #48 2/9/95

Copyright 1995 by Space Access Society.

Space Access Update is Space Access Society's when-there's-news publication. Space Access Society's goal is to promote affordable access to space for all, period. We believe in concentrating our limited resources at whatever point looks like yielding maximum progress toward this goal.

Right now, we think this means working our tails off trying to get the government to build and fly a high-speed reusable rocket demonstrator, one or more "X-rockets", in the next three years, in order to quickly build up both experience with and confidence in reusable Single-Stage To Orbit (SSTO) technology. The idea is to reduce SSTO development cost while at the same time increasing investor confidence, to the point where SSTO will make sense as a private commercial investment. We have reason to believe we're not far from that point now.

Our major current focus is on supporting the government's Single Stage Rocket Technology (SSRT) program, DC-X and its followon, the cooperative NASA/DOD/industry project called "X-33". We're also working on getting development started of engines suitable for the fully reusable commercial orbital transports that should follow X-33.

With luck and hard work, we should see fully reusable SSTO testbeds flying to orbit later this decade, with production ships a-building shortly thereafter. Join us and help us make this happen.

                 Henry Vanderbilt, Executive Director, Space Access Society

[For more info on Space Access Society, on our upcoming Space Access '95 conference (April 21-23 1995 at the Phoenix Airport Day's Inn) or on the DC-X/SSTO video we have for sale (Two hours, includes footage from all five flights to date, DC-X and SSTO backgrounders, plus a G.Harry Stine White Sands Missile Range travelogue):

email: or write us at: SAS, 4855 E Warner Rd #24-150, Phoenix AZ 85044.]

[The tape is twenty bucks, fifteen for SAS members, checks only, VHS only, all proceeds go directly back into running SAS, email SAS membership is thirty bucks a year. Apologies for this crass commercial message; it saves people waiting on our alas wildly variable mail-response time.]

Stories this issue:

X-33 Approaches Initial Contractor Selection
DC-X Rebuild/Reflight Funding Finally Comes Through, Additional DOD SSTO Funds Still Delayed
NASA Undergoing Major Changes, Much More Due This Summer
NASA RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) Team Takes Shape
Kistler Aerospace: Private Reusable Launch Outfit has Initial Funding, Vehicle Development Underway
Space Access '95 Conference Set For April 21-23 in Phoenix, Program Shaping Up Nicely

Welcome to our latest issue, Space Access Update #48. We continue at a fairly long publication interval; last issue was Interim Update #47.5 of January 13th 1995. We expect things to heat up sometime in May, when the Republican "100 Days" (plus the usual couple of weeks extra these things take) will be done and the Congress will shift the majority of its attention to the FY'96 Federal budget. SSTO funding in DOD will again be an important issue, and this year for the first time SSTO money in the NASA budget will also be a high-priority item.

Over the last seven years we've created an opportunity for a revolutionary reduction in the cost of access to space, with all that entails. This coming year will be a turning point: Either we'll get X-33 off to a proper start, or it will be diverted into a futile never-fly white collar jobs program.

At least this year we have a chance. Interesting times we're living in.

X-33 Approaches Initial Contractor Selection

NASA released the final version of the X-33 CAN (Cooperative Agreement Notice, a request for bids) in early January, as noted in Interim Update #47.5. The X-33 CAN looks on the whole a workable basis for the sort of experimental reusable single-stage rocket testbed SAS advocates as a way to get practical experience with the lightweight rugged hardware and lean fast-turnaround operations needed for useful SSTO space transports.

Industry responses to the X-33 CAN are due February 24th. So far, we know of three likely bidders, all major aerospace outfits. All three will likely get initial contacts to refine their designs; the downselect to one (or possibly two) contractors to actually build flight vehicles isn't scheduled until fifteen months later. Too long, in our opinion, but that's another matter.

The main question at the moment is just what design will each of these contenders submit?

The three major bidders are:

As for the actual vehicles to be bid, things are clearest with Lockheed ADC. They will almost certainly bid their "aero-ballistic vehicle", a vertical- takeoff horizontal-landing (VTHL) wedge-shape lifting body to be powered by seven "linear aerospike" engines that will use much of the aft surface of the vehicle as expansion surface - essentially using the whole back end of the vehicle as an open-face rocket nozzle.

Such engines were built and tested over twenty years ago, as a possible propulsion system for Shuttle, and we suspect have been worked on since then in relation to some of the "black" advanced aerospace vehicles Skunk Works specializes in.

One consequence of using such engines is LADC's reluctance to go for a "subscale" vehicle for X-33, since scaling the vehicle up would require a new size-matched engine development as well. LADC's ultimate goal is an operational vehicle 126 feet long, 85 feet wide, 1.6 million lbs gross liftoff weight (GLOW), 87.5% of which would be propellant, with a payload to due-east low orbit of 45,000 lbs. They'll likely bid an X-33 of similar size but simpler boilerplate structure and no payload, in order to avoid scaling problems with any operational followon.

Rockwell SSD meanwhile is playing their cards close to their vest, but as the current Shuttle main contractor, they will very likely try to follow up by giving NASA what they perceive NASA wants, a subscale version of NASA's institutionally preferred "Shuttle II" configuration, a tubular-body delta- winged VTHL vehicle powered by five large "tripropellant" (kerosene/liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen) engines. The rumors and viewgraphs floating around tend to support this view.

The MDA/Boeing team ought to be the most predictable, since the obvious thing to do is to follow up MDA's wingless VTVL DC-X success with a larger VTVL X-33, something midway between the 1/3 scale DC-X and the full-scale "Delta Clipper" MDA has been pushing these last few years. (Last we saw, the notional Delta Clipper was about 120 feet tall, about 40 feet across at the base, GLOW somewhat over 1 million lbs, eight conventional bell nozzle engines, with a nominal payload of 25,000 lbs to due east low orbit.)

MDA/Boeing is being very secretive, however, and rumors have been flying around that they will abandon wingless VTVL for some sort of winged design. Supporting this are Boeing's expertise with winged vehicles, and NASA's perceived prejudice in favor of winged VTHL. All this could of course be deliberate misdirection by MDA/Boeing; such is not unheard of in this sort of competition.

We'll skip the endless arguments over the advantages of wingless VTVL versus winged VTHL for an SSTO space transport, and stick to observing that MDA/Boeing has a major lead in wingless VTVL via their DC-X experience, a lead that might be foolish to abandon by fighting the other contractors on less favorable ground. Add in the fact that there's a movement afoot to have X-33 be a flyoff between two vehicles, likely one VTVL and one VTHL (SAS actively supports this option; it'll cost more in the short run, but is far more likely to give the US useful SSTO transports once X-33 has run its course) and MDA/Boeing would be foolish indeed to abandon their position as the sole likely wingless VTVL bidder.

We should mention in this regard that NASA Administrator Dan Goldin has said that NASA's RLV program will not be the first to face cuts just because it's the last into this year's budget. RLV is rapidly gaining wide support as a national priority - the funding will be there.

As for NASA's perceived institutional bias in favor of wings, what ultimately counts is who sits on the X-33 selection board. Administrator Goldin is engaged in a major reform of NASA and has already ridden roughshod over plenty of other institutional biases.

For now though this is mostly guesswork. We should know more after February 24th.

DC-X Rebuild/Reflight Funding Finally Comes Through Additional DOD SSTO Funds Still Delayed

The $35 million in DOD DC-X/SSTO funding that ARPA sat on for a year has finally gotten where it needs to, USAF Phillips Lab via NASA. This will allow NASA to be repaid for the funds they've advanced to DC-X, and keep the DC-X repair and test program completion moving forward. Last we heard, DC-X should begin flying again sometime in March, and will finish flight test in May if all goes well.

This money will also let Phillips labs get work underway on a number of other SSTO and X-33 related projects, including aerospike engine work and purchase/test of Russian D-57 engines, a LOX/hydrogen engine of 70,000 - 90,000 lbs thrust that might be suitable for X-33 use.

However, the $30 million in new FY'95 money we fought for this summer is still tied up in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD). The ARPA $35 million might well still be there too, except for the fact that it was tied to $25 million in LandSat funding that the White House wanted to go through - "Mission To Planet Earth" and all that. Clever move by whoever tied the two together; we applaud them.

Meanwhile, the OSD Comptroller's Office is sitting on $30 million in SSTO money, about half of which would go to X-33-specific projects, the other half of which would begin development of a generic SSTO-suitable LOX/hydrogen engine, a highly reliable and throttleable powerhead/combustion chamber combination that could be adapted to various operational SSTO configurations.

As we've observed before, engines are the long pole in the tent for operational SSTO's; engines historically take longer to develop than any other aerospace vehicle component. The time to start SSTO-suitable engine development is now.

We understand that an anti-impoundement suit is in the works - only Congress has legal "standing" to bring such a suit, and this year's majority party may well be more interested in pursuing such than last year's. Best perhaps for all concerned if this particular funding is assigned a higher priority, lest a precedent be established that will considerably reduce OSD's discretion in deciding what's "pork" and what isn't.

NASA Undergoing Major Changes, Much More Due This Summer

There are a lot of unhappy campers within NASA lately, and it's likely to get worse, not better over the next year. The good news is that the final result has a decent chance of being a leaner, revitalized NASA, leading the way toward more advanced aeronautical and astronautical technologies for US industry and scientific space exploration.

Some of the morale problems are completely outside NASA's control. For better or worse, NASA has historically been a preserve for white male technical types. The Administrator is widely blamed for new minority/female hiring preference rules that are causing a lot of resentment in the ranks, despite the fact that such hiring practices are pretty much government-wide these days. It's the Administration, not the Administrator, guys.

Also outside NASA's control is the ongoing funding squeeze. NASA is having to do more with less, and many are being or soon will be laid off. The fact that new hires are rare no doubt exacerbates resentment over minority preference rules. Administrator Goldin also doesn't seem to have bought into the old NASA "keep the team together" paradigm that led to lots of people on the payroll who had no projects to work on, post-Apollo. He's keeping as many useful programs as possible alive by ruthless trimming of deadwood - and of course nobody is ever deadwood in their own mind.

Things are tense, and it's going to get worse not better for a while. The FY'96 budget just released calls for trimming NASA by $5 billion more over the next five years. Administrator Goldin has said that in order to deal with these cuts he will have to radically restructure NASA, and that it's going to be painful. Goldin is going to be under huge pressures, internal and external. SAS thinks that he's headed in the right direction, however, and deserves our ongoing support. He may need every bit of help he can get.

In a related matter, Shuttle operations funding is being trimmed on an ongoing basis, against considerable resistance. Care is being taken to see that nothing vital to flight safety is cut - there are currently two separate panels looking into what is and isn't necessary in current Shuttle processing and flight ops.

The problem is, flying a hybrid rebuildable/expendable rocket like Shuttle has an inherent chance of catastrophic failure in the rough neighborhood of 1% per flight. There are just too many components that are effectively flying for the first time on each mission, and too many of these are safety- critical with no backup. The best QC in the world is all that keeps the odds as low as 1%; typical expendable boosters fail at double that rate and more.

Odds are we're going to lose another Shuttle orbiter before the fleet is finally replaced by new-generation vehicles and retired to well-deserved prominence as groundbreaking spaceflight history displays.

In the current climate, no matter why we lose one, it'll be reflexively blamed on the budget cuts by the NASA old-boy net. Watch for it.

SAS's position is that we hope NASA beats the odds and never loses another orbiter. But if it does happen, we believe the thing to do is find out what went wrong, fix it, and go back to flying as soon as possible - in months not years. Until something better comes along, we need to keep Shuttle flying.

NASA RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) Team Takes Shape

We hear that Colonel Payton's retirement papers will be approved and that he'll be at NASA HQ running the overall RLV program by mid-February. Let's hope it's true; time's a-wastin'.

We hear that there will be an intermediate RLV manager at MSFC, between the individual RLV project heads and Gary Payton at NASA HQ. We're frankly puzzled by this; it seems an unnecessary extra layer of management, more likely to slow things down than anything else.

We hear that the people running NASA's three main RLV programs at Alabama's Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) will be as follows:

We're hoping to have someone from each of these programs talk to us at Space Access '95 this April, though we won't likely be able to pin things down until after Gary Payton is on board and settled in.

Kistler Aerospace: Private Reusable Launch Outfit Has Initial Funding, Vehicle Development Underway

Redmond Washington-based Kistler Aerospace is hard at work, building their "K-0" DC-X equivalent proof-of-capability vehicle (aimed at first flight late this year) and refining the design of their planned K-1 2000-lb payload commercial reusable launcher.

KA has some solid space venture people behind it. Walt Kistler and Bob Citron were involved with the successful "Spacehab" middeck-extension module that's flown on recent Shuttle flights before they started KA.

KA seems to have startup funding in hand; HMX Inc is doing engine development work for them under contract, one indicator that there's some money already. Last we heard, Kistler says they'll need $250 million total to get the K-1 into operation late this decade. The one-ton class launch market addressed by the K-1 is expected to be undergoing rapid growth at that point. The company is said to be putting considerable effort right now into lining up funding for the K-1 development.

The K-1 will be a stage-and-a-half vehicle, a small LOX/hydrogen fuelled almost-SSTO that will be launched on top of a peroxide/kerosene fuelled "zero stage" to modest altitude and airspeed. The zero stage will then do a powered return to and vertical landing at the launch site while the K-1 vehicle continues to orbit and deploys a payload.

K-1 design has been evolving rapidly. The "flying bedstead" zero stage seen in Space News a while back is no more, replaced by a more conventional in- line cylindrical booster.

Meanwhile, work is going forward on the K-0 low-altitude proof-of-competence demonstrator. This will basically be a subscale peroxide-powered zero stage, intended to build engineering team experience and investor confidence. It's expected to fly sometime late this year.

Space Access '95 Conference Program Shaping Up Nicely

                            Space Access '95
                Space Access Society's annual conference
               on the technology, economics, and politics
                 of Affordable Access to Space for All

        April 21-23 1995, Friday evening through Sunday evening
              at the Day's Inn Airport in Phoenix Arizona

Main Sessions:

There will be a special Friday 1-4 pm intro session presenting space and space launch basics for local students and anyone else interested.

Evening sessions will consist of informal panel discussions on topics of interest, rare space video footage, small rocket entrepreneur talks, and miscellaneous other cheap-access-related presentations.

Already lined up: * G.Harry Stine * Jerry Pournelle * Max Hunter * Gary Hudson * Mitch Clapp * Jim Muncy * McDonnell-Douglas/Boeing * Lockheed "Skunk Works" * Kistler Aerospace * HMX, Inc. * More to come *

SA'95 registration is $75 through March 31st, $85 thereafter. SAS members $10 off. Student rate $45 (enclose proof of full time student status, SAS discount does not apply.) Registration includes pre-session continental breakfast Saturday and Sunday.

Call 602 431-9283 for info on program book ads, dealers tables ($30 each) and exhibition space, 602 839-2543 weekends for space art show info.

SA'95 room rates at the Days Inn Phoenix Airport are $45 single or double, $55 for poolside (poolside subject to availability.) Call 602 244-8244 for reservations; mention "Space Access '95". The hotel runs a free 24-hour shuttle bus from the Phoenix Airport.

Henry Vanderbilt              "Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere
Space Access Society                   in the Solar System."
4855 E Warner Rd #24-150                      - Robert A. Heinlein
Phoenix, AZ 85044        
602 431-9283 voice/fax                     "You can't get there from here."
(                                  - Anonymous

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