Talks about vehicles or devices that have been built, are being built, or that someone definitely intends to build (provided they have or can get some money).

George Herbert

Manned Capsules for Earth Orbit and Beyond

Venturer Aerospace

GWH describes his brand-new company, which will combine a passenger capsule with existing launchers to carry tourists and potentially space hotel guests.


In the near term, the America's Space Prize plus a handful of standalone orbital tourists, and maybe some ISS trips. In the longer term, up to a billion dollars' worth of business with Bigelow's orbital hotel, and perhaps many other tourists.

An expected cost of 15-20 million per flight using the Falcon V leads to a price of around 7 million per seat. Full development may take three years and 100 million (of which the prize could supply half). Initially, three flights per year would suppply some return on investment, after which cash flow would be reinvested in evolutionary development that would make the capsules cheaper and more profitable.

This service could be ready before reusable orbital launchers are ready from the other companies; the NASA-funded contractors are unlikely to compete because they are too used to doing things expensively. Team is being assembled; there are opportunities for sales, marketing, and investor relations staff who are willing to work for equity [no cash salary].

GWH plans to sell ("let go of") a majority stake in this company.


Keep the design simple and cheap, using existing technologies; a lightweight design with low margins soon becomes an expensive design with no margin. Two options will be explored for all major design choices.

The capsule will be reusable, and will have room for five passengers and a pilot, because Mr. Bigelow wants it that way and Mr. Bigelow is funding the prize. It will need to fit in existing transport aircraft because you can't count on it landing where you plan to land; this imposes constraints on its size, which is sad, because bigger capsules are both more fun for the passengers and easier to design (the heat of re-entry can be spread over a larger surface area).

The two capsule designs are:

S: a cone with a spherical nose, which is crushed on landing (the parachute is attached to the tail). The nose and entire outer shell are detachable and replaceable. This capsule can be carried in a C-130.

A: a blunt Apollo-like capsule, using parachute and either retro-rockets or a quick pull on the shroud lines just before landing. It could also land on water, but fishing it out and making sure the salt doesn't harm anything are both headaches. This one fits in a big Boeing or Airbus.

The plan is to choose a design after they are both finished, build a half-scale model, and flight test it. This will be followed with a full-scale dummy to be flown a few times, perhaps winning the prize.


2/Lt. Cole Doupe, USAF AFRL

A junior officer explains the goals and timelines of these programmes.

FALCON is about getting forces quickly from the continental US to anywhere on Earth, quickly. ARES is about getting assets into space quickly. In both cases, the goal is not just to produce technology, but to provide the fighting services with capabilities they already want.

Lt. Doupe outlined the programmes, but was not able to provide much additional information beyond what is already public on the Web. Concerning FALCON, the hypersonic technology vehicles are supposed to fly in 2007 (HTV1) to 2009 (HTV3). ARES is supposed to have its first launch in 2010 and be operational in 2015.

[So there's no need for mo to type in the details. The fact that such a junior officer was sent to SA '05 makes me think that the USAF is only moderately interested in solutions from the segment, but the fact that the USAF is asking for cheap (as low as 5 million) highly responsive launches is a good sign.]

Links (beware popups)

Pistonless Pump Applications to Launcher Design

Steve Harrington


A pump that is nearly as effective as a turbopump but much cheaper and simpler.


Most of this is well explained at the web site (see Links below). Steve added a few points:

. the comparisons are against a gas generator cycle; the staged combustion cycle is more efficient, but makes the pump much harder to design [it isn't easy to start with: we are talking about something with the horsepower of a battleship and the size of, perhaps, a car]

. the pressure fluctuations that plagued earlier versions of this pump have been cut down to noise level

. if you are worried about the mass of the tank that holds the pressurant for the pump chambers, you can use ?another such pump to pressurise a supply of liquid, which you then boil to provide pressurant. This two-stage pump is lighter overall.

. a single design can work for many different propellants

While staged-combustion turbopump designs perform better than those using pistonless pumps, they are expensive to develop.


Flometrics is working with customers who have engines they want to build, and will size a pump to the engine.


Flometrics' pistonless pump

Launch Vehicle Propulsion an overview of rocket engines (may not be the best, but it was the one I could find).

Power cycles, or how to use a turbopump

Tethers Unlimited

Gerry Nordley

Outlining some of the things you can do with tethers (long ropes attached to a satellite).

Dr. Nordley described tethers as "Viagra for RLV people". Most of the rest of what he said is well written up on the Tethers Unlimited web site.

Cannon Assisted Rocket Launches

Parker E. C. Bradley

Heron Aerospace

Mr. Bradley gave a historical description of high-velocity cannon and some past projects that have used them for launching rockets, and showed some slides concering his own project, but without any numbers. He pointed out that most non=living payloads (certainly including electronics) can fairly easily be hardened to withstand accelerations of thousands of g, and so can be launched safely in this way.

The big deal seems to be a new mechanism for injecting liquid explosive into the breech of a gun so as to maintain a high pressure in the barrel as the projectile travels along (as opposed to the usual profile for a solid-fuelled gun, where the pressure has a sharp peak and then decays rapidly).


Jeff Greason

XCOR Aerospace

Jeff explains where XCOR has been, where it is headed, and what it is up to now.

In 1999, the sub-orbital market was not nearly as sexy as it is now. XCOR now sees markets for sub-orbital passengers, sounding and micro-gravity experiments, and launching smal (10kg) satellites to LEO using an expendable upper stage launched from a reusable vehicle. It uses its own, rather conservative,projections of these markets, not those from Futron and Virgin Galactic. But now those projections are being exceeded by customers who come knocking at the door. Regulatory risk is also lower than it was in 1999, and is no longer among XCOR's top three concerns.

The business consists of building both pieces, which can be sold to the government and used internally, and vehicles that cannot (yet) be sold. The market for selling pieces has been small, so capital formation has been difficult. But XCOR now has a million dollar contract, with potentially another seven million to follow, developing a new composite LOX tank out of a material that doesn't suffer from the shrinkage and embrittlement that plagues epoxy-based composites at low temperatures.

XCOR is still working on licencing for launches and on developing regulations with the FAA's AST. There is also some work with DARPA on an upper stage, and other engineering work. Jeff pronounces himself "more optimistic than I used to be", and asks us to come and see XCOR at the Mojave air show on the 21st of September this year.

XCOR is looking for a structural designer with experience in composite aerostructures.

When asked why XCOR chose a fixed-price contract rather than cost-plus for the LOX tank, Jeff answered that if you spend your career figuring out how to make things more expensive, "... you ain't gonna be able to build very much." [In other words, he still has The Faith.]

How much money does XCOR need and how long will it take to build a vehicle? Between two and ten million; three years.

Does XCOR have patents? They have been filed.

Charles Pooley


Charles began by observing that rocket building is "a lot like religion, except we don't kill each other." [But what exactly is religion like?]

He then said that launchers of the sizes most people want to build have too little market for him: a few launches a year. He prefers to build a small launcher that can launch perhaps half a kg, and weighs only half a tonne at liftoff: this might launch a hundred time a year. If it makes money, he might scale it up to five tonnes at launch and 20 kg of payload, gradually. Initial payloads will consists of cremated remains and some souvenirs (for people who want to own something that has been to space).

He talked about some of the simple technologies that will help with this. Tanks can be made of irrigation tubing, which is strong, not too heavy, and available in vast quantities. [Much of California has an arid climate, and the government subsidises the cost of imported water for farmers, so they use a lot of pipes to distribute it.] Laser pointers (green lasers) now on the market are bright enough to transmit data across considerable distances. With modern electronics, you fit a fairly capable spacecraft into a beer can (which is also a pretty good pressure vessel).

His vehicle will have three stages. The first will climb to 60 km, accelerating slowly so as to stay subsonic until the air is really thin, and no going very fast. The second stage will attain a speed of 4 km/s, and the third will add up to another 7 km/s. Yes, he wants to achieve escape velocity. If you launch in the right direction and at the right speed, your satellite will be visible in the late evening sky for months. The fisrt stage will be recoverable by means of some wings of its own and a "Cessna with fishing gear" [I'm not sure if he said that or I made it up from what I thought he said].

Pat Bahn

TGV Rockets

Pat began by showing us a video of the first flight of the DC-X back in 1993. He then recounted some of the history of TGV: how it had been founded in 1997 and ghed at for showing a picture of an 18-wheel truck with a rocket on the back. But the name means "Two Guys and a Van" and that's what he thinks it should need to launch a rocket. He also gave some of the history of what the DC-X project had led to.

He said that TGV now has the equivalent of 15 full-time engineers, and that the DC-X team has been largely reconstituted. The company aims to build a VTVL fully reusable sub-orbital vehicle, which will launch 1 tonne to 100 km altitude, be simple to operate, be modular and scalable, and need no public funding to develop. With the cash flow from this vehicle, he hopes to design and build an orbital vehicle.

Meanwhile, he has pre-sold two vehicles, providing some cash, and is finishing up the design of some important subsystems; TGV is also funding some graduate students at the Univ. of Oklahoma. This year he expects to reduce some technological risks that the project faces. Paying flights will start in early 2008 at the soonest.


Will the vehicle be piloted? Yes, but remote operation will also be possible.

Will there be tourist flights? Well, there are law schools in the US that graduate 35,000 lawyers a year, and most of them are looking for someone to sue. A crash with tourists on board would provoke a feeding frenzy. Pat said, "Amateurs worry about performance; professionals worry about insurance."

What will the cross-range capability be? [That means how far away you can land from the place where you launched.] About 100 km.

John Powell

JP Aerospace

[Before, or right after, reading this write-up, you would do well to visit to fill in the background.]

John Powell began by reminding us of his slogan: "If people aren't laughing at you, you're not being innovative enough." He also pointed out that customers are still showing up for JP Aerospace. He stated that his programme has been going on for 26 years, and despite a slight "project of the week" flavour, is more or less on schedule.

Summary: Airship To Orbit. Start at 60-70 km altitude with a large and aerodynamic airship, apply thrust (electric engines), climb, and accelerate to orbital speed over several days. Since a ship that big is too fragile to operate in the atmosphere below about 25 km, we set up a station (the "Dark Sky Station") at 40 km and start from there. The station will be about 3 km in size, the orbiter about 2 km.

John then showed a rock video of how the whole thing *should* look.

Since the acceleration is about that of an ocean liner, g loads on the structure and payload are low and there are no crises: if an engine breaks, there is time to hold a few meetings before fixing it.

JP Aerospace has built various things, and developed a propeller that works at 30 km altitude. Their current V-shaped Ascender airship is some 25-30 m long and maybe 6 m thick; the next will be twice those dimensions. Helium is used even though hydrogen would be better, because insurance comanies do not understand; they remember only the _Hindenburg_ [which, as I recall, caught fire *after* crashing].

JP funds itself on a "pay as you go" basis: an Ascender has been sold to the USAF, and telecoms companies are expected to have some use for the Dark Sky Station. There are still major hurdles to be overcome.

John showed pictures and a country video of some of the missions he has been flying lately using spherical ballons, with PongSats and sponsor decals on the fins (which are needed to prevent the payload from spinning during its descent, which reaches transonic speeds). Besides this cargo, a recent mission also tested the Ascender's avionics at the low pressures and temperatures of 30 km altitude. Another one will test unrolling balloons that are too big to be launched from ground level.

JP also launches sounding rockets. One of these will carry a MachGlider, a V-shaped balloon that is expected to reach transonic speed during its descent. Yes, a balloon launched from a rocket [it is not uncommon for rockets to be launched from ballons to get a bit of extra altitude].

John briefly mentioned some specially thin Mylar that DuPont is giving. He went on to talk about JP's PongSat programme. The PongSat is returned to its designer with a videotape ... that has the logos of the companies that sponsored the balloon flight prominently displayed. Why do this? Building the market. "You want to know who's enthusiastic about space? I have their names and addresses!"

There were questions about costs of sponsorship, about hydrogen (apparently JP is getting its helium from a sponsor), about the motor for the orbital vehicle (someone else makes it) and about whether his big airships contain ballonets (they do).

[The biggest question of all remained unanswered. How is something as big, fat, and delicate as an airship going to generate enough lift to stay aloft and avoid generating enough drag to tear itself apart, at speeds of thousands of metres per second? I hope John Powell has something up his sleeve!]

Len Cormier

PanAero LLC

[What Len showed looked different from what is on the website; he showed us a delta-wing design.]


The basic idea is that a single-stage orbital vehicle will be carried aloft by a large supersonic kite-plane.

First, the kite (or "carrier"). It will weight about 300 tonnes at take-off, or 40 tonnes dry, and will reach 42 km altitude and a speed of Mach 1.8. It is difficult to get thrust out of jet engines at that altitude, so the carrier will have rocket engines, which weigh far less than jets for the same thrust, though they use more propellant at low speeds. The kite will be large, with a wing area of about 1200 square metres, but lightweight, with the wings weighing about 10 tonnes total; the tanks will be in the leading edges of the wings. Aerodynamic loads will be quite mild. The engines will be four RD-0124s. These are rugged: one of them was once run for eight hours on a test stand. If necessary, the carrier can be made lighter by using a dolly rather than fixed undercarriage for taking off.

Next, the orbiter will weigh about 50 tonnes wet and 7 tonnes dry, and will have a payload of about 1 tonne. It will use two RD-0124 engines and three RL-10A4s; the former burn kerosene, the latter hydrogen. Its cabin will be three metres in size (internal), enough for passengers to have some fun in free fall.

Launch will be from Wallops on the East Coast. This way, one almost-complete orbit allows a landing on the West Coast; eleven orbits allows a return to Wallops.


Since there is no market for the kind of vehicle PanAero plans to build, they will operate what they build; they hope to provide large constellations (several thousands) of low-orbiting communications satellites, such that it would be possible to provide global phone service for only five dollars a month on top of the existing service, and tours to orbit lasting most of a day (eleven orbits).

It would cost about 25 million to build and test a carrier and some components of the orbiter. Three orbiters would be built, in the expectation that one would be lost during testing. The overall investment would be about 200 million, and the cost of flights would be around half a million; they would be priced around a million.

If full funding were not available, a smaller carrier could be built, half or quarter scale, which could carry an expendable upper stage for launching small satellites. But Len would prefer to find a sponsor, compete for the America's Space Prize, or something.

There were some questions about materials.

Chuck Lauer

Rocketplane LLC

Chuck began by showing us some slides froma recent design review. He talked briefly about the "O-Prize": the state of Oklahoma made some tax credits available, which resulted in twelve and a half million of funding for Rocketplane. The company will also be able to use the impressive facilities of a former Strategic Air Command base near I-40; the Kiowa tribe will soon be opening a casino in that area, which should draw plenty of tourist traffic.

The company now has about 25 employees at its main office in Oklahoma City. They aircraft they are workingon began life as a Lear 25; they are giving new wings, tail, and avionics, keeping the original jet engines, and adding rockets. It will fly four people on sub-orbital hops to 100km, probably twice a week, at a recurring cost of perhaps 100k per flight. The design aims at less than one fatal mishap per thousand flight hours. As for how long a flight will last, he mentioned that it would take 13 minutes to climb to about 7 km, where the rockets would be started. Peak accelerations would be 3g on ascent and 4.7g on descent, with seats reclined to make these forces easier on the passengers. No exotic materials will be needed, just stainless steel for the nose cap and leading edges, with a special paint [I think that was for high emissivity].

Rocketplane is doing both CFD work and wind tunnel tests on their design. They are also going to burst-test a Lear 25 fueslage (they have already tested it at two atmospheres overpressure, but somehow somebody wasn't satisfied with that). They expect to have a pilot on board, but the plane will be able to fly under computer control; this lets them compete in two different categories of the X-Prize Cup.

Starting in 2006 they expect to fly fifty or so test flights, leading to revenue flights in 2007. There will be plenty of cameras on board, so passengers will get a video and their families will be able ot watch on a video downlink. It's not yet certain whether passengers will be getting out of their seats, since it would be a serious problem if they failed to get back in them soon enough.

Eventually Rocketplane hopes to build a family of vehicles to service space stations, toursim, package delivery, rapid travel (e.g. across the Pacific), and othe rmarkets.

There wre many questions.

Can the jets be restarted after re-entry? It should work; F-104 pilots used to do that kind of thing for a beer, though only to altitudes of a little under 30 km. Even after they have been flown into vacuum while still hot? Yes, according to our analysis, with some modifications to the blades.

Yes, the RCS does take over before the aerodynamic control surfaces lose their effectiveness.

The view will certainly include the Gulf of Mexico and maybe the East and West Coasts [by my arithmetic you need to be about 300km high to see those, though I don't allow for refraction].

What's the re-entry acceleration profile? It builds up in about ten seconds and stays high for about a minute.

How much are the range fees? The base is free to them for seven years and a half.

When do you fly and have you enough funds to build your vehicle? Yes, and in February of 2007 if the AST agrees and the creek don't rise.

Dave Masten

Masten Space Systems

[a newish company; some of their people were on the plane to Phoenix with me]


They plan to build inexpensive, reusable sounding rockets that can launch 100kg to a height of 100km. They will focus on reliability and rapid turnaround. They hope to make the cost of flights low enough that university researchers can easily afford them and can fund them with a credit card. [Hmm, when I was a grad student my credit card was only good for a few hundred bucks.] They expect to fly in 18 to 24 months from now.


At the moment they are working on igniters and injectors. They have two or three designs, and plan to do this for every subsystem if possible. Landing will be tail-first, with an air brake and powered touchdown.


John Carmack

Armadillo Aerospace is IMHO the best website of the bunch.

We see and hear what Widget has been up to.

John began with an entertaining video showing Widget surviving a vehicle glitch and some vehicles not surviving. He observed that AA has flown four vehicles and crashed three of them, and went through the reasons for the crashes and the lessons they have learned. [Most of this is written up in full detail on their website, which I encourage you to visit.]

The first crash resulted from not having enough control authority to keep the vehicle upright on a windy day. Attitude control is now done using the main engines if they are alight.

The second crash resulted from catalyst shifting while the vehicle was being transported, causing it to burn most of its propellant before liftoff and subsequently run out. The new engines don't use catalysts. Catalyst-based engines worked great for their first three flights, and became unusable after about seven. That's not good enough. A solid platinum catalyst might have worked; John was [not unable but] unwilling to build his rocket around anything so expensive.

The third crash resulted from catalyst degrading at high temperatures, so that engine ran rough, confusing the control system, whhich shut the engine down at the wrong time.

So now they're using LOX-methanol, which is the third propellant they've tried; it runs cooler than some possible combinations, so engine development is easier, but they've melted some combustion chambers. Water injection may help with this.

AA is also on its fourth attitude control system: they are thinking of gimballing the main engines. Cold gas thrusters work but would risk using up pressurant (their engines are, so far, all pressure-fed).

They expect to fly at the X-Prize cup. A VTVL vehicle good for 100kg and 100km can be carried in the back of a pickup truck. They expect to do 70 or 80 test hops, and some tethered flights [I may have got this garbled] and hope to get a waiver from the AST for burns 30 to 60 seconds long at the Southwest Regional Spaceport [in New Mexico]. It is likely that they'll crash at least one more vehicle. They hope to extend their envelope to supersonic flight, then to ballistic flight with engines restarted for landing.

The vehicle they plan to build could mimic all the flight profiles the DC-X flew. The thing about rocket planes is that, while they have a good existence proof from Scaled Composites, it took all of Burt Rutan's talent and some tens of millions of dollars to get the mass ratio needed for 100km altitude. With a VTVL it's easy to get that mass ratio, and the vehicle is cheap: it costs less than fifty thousand for parts [John didn't mention development costs].

The trouble with the Southwest Regional Spaceport is that it takes too long to get there from TExas and it's hard to schedule a team of part-timers. A field in Texas would make the development cycle much faster. Jeff Greason pointed out that, given a friendly rancher with a big spread, if you are the sole operator, you don't require a licence. [I am not a lawyer. Do not try this at home. Even if your home is a big ranch in Texas. Unless you have good legal advice.] As a fallback strategy, he would consider launching over water, and trust to the control system to land the vehicle back on the same barge it took off from.

There was a question about his market. John is of the "If you build it, they will come" school. [Or perhaps he doesn't mind whether he makes money.]

It was asked whether he would work full time on AA. He replied that his software work is very profitable, but other members of the team might work full time.

James Muncy

Jim spoke about some consulting work he has been doing for various companies. He consults on space launch policy.

AirLaunch is bidding for a contract in the DARPA/USAF FALCON programme, which aims at "operationally responsive spacelift" and hypersonic flight test vehicles. These will, it is hoped, eventually evolve into cruise vehicles with a high lft/drag ratio. For now, the test vehicles will be launched by the FALCON small launch vehicle (SLV), whose goals are a cost of five million, a delay of no more than 24 hours from request to launch, and modest ground facilities.

AirLaunch's design for the STV is a compact two-stage vehicle powered by LOX and propane. Compactness is achieved in part by abandoning the usual inter-stage spacing and storing fuel around the nozzle of the second stage's engine. Both tanks will be pressurised by their contents' vapour pressure, obviating the need for pressurant tanks or pumps. Two of these can fit into a standard C-17 transport aircraft; to launch one, the C-17 pitches its nose up a little, lets the rocket roll backwards (it is mounted on a little cart), turns sharp right, and the rocket fires its engine, "and nobody knows where you're launching to."

t/Space is designing a Crewed Exploration Vehicle and architecture for lunar exploration; contractors include AirLaunch, Scaled Composites, and other well-known companies [the usual suspects]. The desire is to create a true frontier, with government leading the exploration effort but not owning it. Cargoes, including the CEV (empty), should be launched commercially to LEO, under standards open enough that many companies can participiate; this will obviate the need for another Saturn V or similarly sized vehicle. It also avoids the mistake of designing the CEV to withstand trips through Earth's atmosphere. A lunar mission would be flown by two CEVs with partial crews, so that if one vehicle failed, the entire crew could use the other. Their would be no separate lunar lander, which would either become anothe rmaintenance headache, or be an expendable part; the CEV would be able to land on the lunar surface, and preferably start using lunar resources.

There would be [unless I garbled this] a separate Crew Transfer Vehicle to take crews from the ground to LEO, where they would board the CEV. This vehicle could be launched by a scaled-up Falcon [or is that FALCON SLV? garbled again] carried aloft by a Boeing 747 with an extended undercarriage. There might be variants of this vehicle for carrying cargo and fuel. It would have full abort capability, and reliability would be gained by doing many test flights. Instead of pronouncing a vehicle to be safe at some point, it makes sense to do it this way and build survivability into the vehicle. NASA is looking for launches at 20 million, so it can focus on CEV work. But its plans are still changing. There's chance that it will start spending less on papers and more on hoardware that flies. Wouldn't it be interesting to have a government programme do it that way!

The USAF ARES programme, by contrast, seems stuck in the old way of doing things, offering two hundred million just for the development of a reusable first stage. It would be better if the USAF would work with small companies or encourage its bigger contractors to do so.


AirLaunch LLC

Orbital Recovery

Dennis Wingo


"Life begins at 400 km" where there is less regulatory load; if you use lasers, rather than radio, for communication, you don't even have to worry about telecoms regulators.


Orbital Recovery is building a "tug" that will allow GEO comsats to keep operating after their own thrusters have run out of fuel. There are, after all billions of dollars of assets up there. It makes sense to approach companies that are getting at least forty million a year out of a satellite. By launching as an auxiliary payload on an Ariane-5, a tug can be lofted into orbit quite cheaply and will not need a chemical engine of its own; the downsides are that it then takes 190 days or so to manoeuvre into the orbit your customer's satellite is using, and the tug has to fulfill certain mechanical requirements that Arianespace imposes.


[He showed a list of the types of satellites the tug will work on, and the dimensions of their interfaces.] The tug will anchor itself to the satellite, move its ion thrusters (which are mounted on arms) into the correct position to push through the centre of mass of the combined system, and keep the satellite pointed the right way to within 0.04 degrees [which is apparently the accuracy they use now] and in the correct orbit. It will carry a few hundred kg of xenon, which will last for eight years (more if the satellite is lighter). It can boost a satellite into a "graveyard" orbit 300 km above GEO and dock with another satellite, if there is enough xenon left. Flight-proven components will be used.