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« Reverend Rick | Main | Schmoozing »

Afternoon Session

I'm listening to John Carmack describe future plans for X-Prize Cup and future vehicles and flight tests, but I'm getting sore wrists from blogging in my lap, so I want to conserve keystrokes for Jim Muncy, who is scheduled to speak shortly. I should mention that as a result of switching from peroxide to LOX/methanol as propellants, John says that Armadillo has about fifty thousand dollars worth of good peroxide equipment that he'll let go cheap. His next vehicle should be a space vehicle, and he expects to crash it a few times in the process of perfecting the design.

3:06 MST: Jim Muncy is coming up to the lectern to speak now. His job as a political consultant is to help space entrepreneurs at the intersection between their endeavors and the political sphere. Talking here primarily about t/Space (among his many other clients). First part of t/Space consortium is AirLaunch (a company of Gary Hudson's) that has one of the Falcon contracts. The goal is "operationally responsive spacelift." Joint project between DARPA, Air Force and NASA.

Title of his talk: AirLaunch, t/Space and a Fast Prototyping Path to Prompt Global Strike, Orbital Tourism and Maybe Even the Moon.

Thanking everyone here for getting the regulatory legislation passed last year, for which this conference was a key event.

NASA has decided that working with these crazy people like Scaled Composites and the entrepreneurial space community is a good idea. Goal is to responsively replenish, replace satellites and respond to space threats, a capability which the nation currently doesn't have. Also able to get several thousand miles in a couple hours and deliver a payload. Key part of program is developing Small Launch Vehicle (hopefully more than one) for smallsats into LEO or hypersonic test vehicles, at less than five million dollars per launch. Trying to return to the launch vehicle paradigm operating in the DC-X program.

Upper stage for launch vehicle isa two-stage self-pressurizing LOX/propane system. Goal is 24-hour response time. It's launched from a C-17 transport (aircraft can carry two). No aircraft modification required. Benefits of air launch aren't performance, but safety in ability to abort, and security, provided by the ability to hide launch location until the last minute. Vehicle is deployed by gravity (about a 750-foot drop prior to ignition, with a large right bank by the aircraft to prevent collision).

t/Space has people from both entrepreneurial community and aerospace establishment: David Gump, Gary Hudson, Jim Muncy, Brett Alexander (White House space policy), Jim Voss (veteran NASA astronaut--will run vehicle development). Two key contractors are AirLaunch LLC and Scaled Composites.

A frontier means new resources and opportunities, not just new knowledge. Create the frontier through government leadership, not government ownership. Inviting private sector to party means more affordable and more sustainable.

They promote commercial delivery of crew, cargo and propellant to LEO. Don't use CEV as a means of getting crew to orbit--turn that over to the private sector, and use CEV in space. Don't base the hard part of going to the moon on the system that gets people into orbit. Their CEV would be space based, and return to LEO via aerocapture. Transportation between earth and LEO would be done privately. The proposal is a split-level architecture: ETO and LEO to Moon. Goal of architecture is to get to lunar-produced propellant as soon as possible. They send a convoy of two vehicles to the moon for redundancy and safety.

They propose air launching their crew transfer vehicle on a "stilt" 747 carrier aircraft. It has longer gear to allow the vehicle to be slung underneath to carry peoploe into LEO. It uses LOX/Hydrogen. A second air launch concept is a new airplane by Burt (that he wants to build for other reasons), which is a "White Knight on steroids."

Goal is to help NASA go faster. Hopeful that new program direction of single CEV contractor will free up funds to allow NASA to have "non-traditional" approach in parallel.

Concerned that Air Force will only have enough money for a single Falcon concept to go forward. Would like us to lobby the Hill to get them to make sure there is sufficient funding for two concepts, to keep the competition going, and keep more companies developing low-cost launch vehicles. Talking about ARES (Affordable REsponsive Spacelift). Not encouraged about it, because it's being managed by traditional missile guys at the Air Force. Wants to get Congress to encourage the Air Force to work with non-traditional players, and get new management in place. If we can't get an award to go to the small guys, we should at least get the big guys to get the small guys as suppliers for subsystems.

He's announcing a new activity that could provide the seed of a new NACA for spaceflight, by developing synergism between the Air Force Research Lab and the entrepreneurial community, called ORSTEP (ORS Technology Enterprise Partnership--where ORS is Operational Responsive Spacelift). Hoping for five million in FY 2006 to get it started.

Posted by Rand Simberg at April 30, 2005 03:02 PM
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There are reasons to be wary of t/Space's proposal for a return to the moon. They do an awful lot of armwaving, and make a lot of assumptions that don't pass the giggle test. If you look at the updated version of the study proposal that they submitted to NASA:

You see that their proposal calls for 50 space launches for a single lunar landing. Plus, they rather blithely assert that Scaled Composites can build an aircraft with a wingspan far larger than a 747 and do so cheaply.

Posted by Trip Kenner at April 30, 2005 07:29 PM

There are 11 NASA CE&R contractors. Only t/Space and Charles Draper Labs of MIT were fully funded in the option extension of the base CE&R contract, while the likes of Orbital, Boeing and Northrop weren't. It would appear that NASA's not giggling.

Posted by Observer at April 30, 2005 10:10 PM

Given that Lockheed Martin's proposal apparently involves getting to the moon via SATURN -- the planet, not the rocket -- I'd say that the notion of Burt building a Really Big Airplane isn't that ridiculous after all.

Posted by at May 1, 2005 01:20 AM

Observer, is there a web page where you can see how much funding the different companies got for the option extension?

Posted by at May 1, 2005 04:17 AM

Not of which I am aware. The information is public, however; all award data is.

Posted by Observer at May 1, 2005 05:08 PM


thanks for writing up my presentation. I won't respond to the "do it all in one launch" vs. lots of little launches argument above, but I do need to correct one detail of my presentation or your report.

The scaled-up Quickreach launch system that would be used by t/Space to launch its Crew Transfer Vehicle (CXV) is also LOX-Propane, not LOX-Hydrogen. The larger, in-space CEV would be LOX-Hydrogen. But we're pretty much focused on the CXV right now.

Thanks again for your writeup.

Posted by Jim Muncy at May 2, 2005 04:57 AM

"It would appear that NASA's not giggling."

That doesn't mean that t/Space doesn't have some interesting ideas. But the basics of their proposal require some giant leaps of faith.

For instance, look at their slide proposal from December at:

Go to slide 8. Look at the upper right at their carrier vehicle (the "White Knight on Steroids."). Just eyeballing that vehicle indicates that it must have a wingspan significantly larger than a 747 and carry what would probably be the largest payload ever. If you then go to slide #13, you see their assertion that "Scaled Composites builds for significantly less than cost estimates by primes."

Is there anything in Scaled Composites history that indicates that the company is capable of building the largest aircraft in the world? That's simply not the kind of company that Scaled Composites is. They don't have the people or the facilities. And as various companies have learned over the years, designing very large aircraft with high payloads is extremely challenging.

There are other throwaway assumptions in their presentation, and 50 launches for each lunar landing just doesn't seem viable at all. One of the supposed strengths of their proposal is that the lunar surface architecture is modular and can be built up. But if it requires fifty launches for each additional component, you quickly get to a point where you have hundreds of launches to build even the most basic surface capability.

Posted by Trip Kenner at May 3, 2005 10:05 AM

Assisted launch off of a tall gantry would make more sense than a huge aircraft for civilian CVX flights.

I'm talking about bringing back the big gantry, but with a new twist: A vertical "rocket sled" to propell the launch vehicle off of the pad. Even a skyscraper-tall gantry isn't the big engineering challenge of a huge plane. Considering that dragsters achieve 320+ mph over a quarter mile, it would seem that 1/4 mile-tall gantry (typical skyscraper height could do the same.

Posted by R. Adrian Reilly at May 10, 2005 03:27 PM

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