Horizontal launch proposals have been examined and abandoned for decades.  Our lust for reusable space launch systems drives us to near madness.  Witness the parade of early concepts that became the space shuttle.  Oh Lord, the ungainly piggy back monsters and flights of fantasy that generated!  Even in vertical launch these became no better than the ill-fated reality of our shuttle’s flight history.  They never realized the economies hoped for.  But they nearly enticed the Soviets into making the same mistakes.

it is no surprise that responsible aerospace manufacturers spent a lot of money on concepts for horizontal launch.  We published an article about the Rockwell Star-Raker, a huge fleet of huge aircraft that needed exotic engines for single stage to orbit missions.  We still can’t do that, so why do we still see these proposals?  With smaller vehicles there might be some chance for these to replace satellites for the military.  As such DARPA and the Air Force are still paying for new ideas.

In 2010 NASA was beating the drums for a maglev rail launch called HOTL.  Where did it go?  Even Google can’t find it now without trying to direct me to a hotel.


In 1988 Boeing got a patent on a 2 stage space plane that looks nice.  It misses some opportunities for efficiency but they clearly spent some time on engineering and lawyers.  It would use hardware from the shuttle so some parts are already designed.  Is it that hard to get investors in good hardware?


In 2004 the Quicksat vehicle was presented with an X-37 type upper stage on a hypersonic wedge booster.  The Air Force worked with Spaceworks for this study.


In 2010 the Air force went to Spaceworks again to look at using the Sabre engine concept for a small launcher.  Payload, takeoff weight, and development costs would be really massive.  But the payoff may also be pretty big.


At the Same time we see that Boeing is also watching hypersonic launch concepts.  We just don’t know how many new propulsion and airframe ideas are being explored at this time.



Meanwhile in civilian commercial space another entry is coming from Triton Systems as the Stellar-J.  this is a low speed low temperature design but rockets give the first stage an extra kick.


Bristol Spaceplanes have offered orbital variants for some time now.  They may finally get some support from the revived interest in space from the British government.


And of course I have to confess to my own slightly weird in-line staging proposal.  We at Exodus Aerospace  may have to leave a lot of luxury items behind to get the mass low enough for profit.  But like everyone else we will join the hunger games for the high goal…wings to space; the Wright stuff.


All of this points out how much is invested in reaching for the “holy grail” of cheap access to space.  If Spacex does reuse two stages or more on a regular basis, other launch providers have to find some solution to compete.  Statistically it might seem that vertical landing may not have success all the time.  There are a lot of complex operations involved.  Wings will continue to appeal to us a  means of recovery.  So being hard headed may yet pay off. 



On our Exodus Aerospace blog I offered a design that emulates lifting body designs of the past.  The flat fat glider is short of length and fuel volume.  It also needs a heavy fairing to attach it to the booster.  So here I want to take a look at our history of winged warriors to see what we are learning.  It may have roots in the Dyna-Soar, but the first flight demonstration was the shuttle.

This led to several light thermal protection technologies and other lessons we can still use.  “The Shuttle flies at a high angle of attack during re-entry to generate drag to dissipate speed. It executes hypersonic “S-turn” maneuvers to kill off speed during re-entry.”  This allows the craft to bleed off speed and keep the nose high and out of the worst heating.

This illustration shows the flat bottom as a heat shield, ejecting hotter plasma away from the sides.  The delta wing is good for landings, but appears to mask air flow to the rudder.  That may explain why it is such a tall vertical surface.


After the shuttle design, a proposal suggested a “fly back satellite” that would stage on a Pegasus.  Look; in-line staging is not so strange after all!  This was to make flight, but as a much larger vehicle; the Boeing X-37.


Now a comparison of shuttle designs reveals that the wing is moved forward.  That gives the full flying tails a great supply of air flow, and makes it easier to raise the nose for a high angle of attack.


It also seems to have earned a promotion from NASA to the US Air Force.  This mini-shuttle has been serving for honor with missions up to two years in duration.  No crashes, and no pilot needed for total customer satisfaction in years of service.



Now this illustrates high angle of attack, and thermal distribution, possibly without all those “S” turn maneuvers.


Other reentry experiments created the Prime Lifting Body which survived a fiery reentry as shown here.  Notice burns flowing over the topsides.  This design continued with the X-38 crew recovery vehicle and the present Sierra Nevada Dreamchaser.


This raised the height and volume of the design to accommodate crew members and propulsion.  The “duck tail” and rounded bottom cause the vehicle to gravitate to a nose high attitude.  Body flaps can push the vehicle nose down for level flight at lower altitudes.


This is designed to fall well more than to fly well.  A reentry vehicle is a meteorite first, and an airplane second. All’s well that falls well!  It delivers the crew to a designated landing area with some degree of control and thermal survival.  There may not be all the elegant control of other aircraft with limited control surfaces.  There may not be elaborate landing capability here.


The X-38 was designed to land with a glide type parachute, which at least takes you to dry land instead of an ocean landing.


The Dreamchaser is a slightly wider, flatter shape, with propulsion on each side of the central pressure vessel.  The bottom is still flat, and may be a bit wider.  Dreamchaser may enjoy an air cushion known as ground effect on landing.  This vehicle can now make a landing with conventional landing gear.



My orbiter may be too narrow in front while attempting to be sleek enough for supersonic horizontal ascent.  It also lost a lot of internal volume with that heavy fairing adapter.  It would rely on the “duck tail” and curvature to reach a high angle of attack.


Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites may have considered body flaps to do this at first.


For a suborbital reentry, speeds are low enough to allow an extreme “jack knife” that would be hostile at hypersonic speeds.  Orbital reentry may be up around 17,000 mph!


Our suborbital design would be less extreme, but may suggest solutions that we can use in the higher speeds of orbital reentry.  This too is very flat for atmospheric flight, but we may be able to thicken that for more volume.  This is a long thin shape like the X-37, but lacks the feature of central wings.  It could be hard to get the nose up.  But there are other proposals with little or no wing surfaces.


This is based on Japanese designs and is again a nice flat airfoil.  It looks like a wingless example of Burnelli’s lifting fuselage; a low aspect ratio flying wing.  It is a little sleeker than Dreamchaser, but may have less volume without all that length.


Well, if you don’t mind parachutes, this ESA design will guide you to the right landing area with good volume and minimal parasite mass or drag.  It is not elaborate on control surfaces for pitch, roll and yaw though!


Some thought about parachutes belong to the Soyuz recovery system.  This parachute landing on the ground would be bumpy without the last minute retro rocket trick.  There is one thing to remember about parachute recovery though…


Where we live in Wyoming, the wind can quickly relocate you to Kansas.  Oh, this IS Kansas Toto!


No good reentry study should overlook this miracle of technology.  Seriously, we do have a use for this after we consider one little issue…


If your trajectory is not high enough to severely burn things up on reentry, you still need low winds, a steady deck, and a lot of luck.  Reliability engineers use statistical math to factor all the risk of multiple operations.  This one poses a few challenges.  And you still have to carry landing gear and extra fuel!


Our rocket man in Wyoming (Bob Steinke) does this with a wider, more stable base.  Laramie rose has made several flights under challenging stability conditions.  That reminds me of an aircraft that I worked on in the past…


Now THIS is a stable base for a vertical landing!  Actually, this can even be done transitioning from forward motion to a dead stop.  Even airliners have thrust reversers for braking.  Trust me to think about laying down on the job!


Actually this is yet another ideas stolen from the British.  Talk about a stable base…a four point landing!  The Harrier landing, Concorde wing, and Peroxide fuels were all pioneered by the British.  But then so is the art of drafting; developed to build ships to meet the Spanish Armada.  Let me know if you see any redcoats coming to reclaim their stuff!

Since we are building an orbiter, it is already equipped with thrusters pointing in every direction.  In a conversation with a vertical launch builder, we found no barriers to bringing a winged orbiter into ground effect, slowing, and setting gently onto skids.  We don’t even need wheels if we can counter crosswinds and keep a straight line down the runway.  Fewer mass parasites and another simplification.  With two stages we can use air breathing propulsion and still leave the parasite engines and gear behind.  More for the payload customer and redundant recovery options for the insurers.



SO; NOW A SNEAK PEEK AT THE NEXT GENERATION.  No mid stage, one large volume orbiter with a deep flat shape.  These are preliminary forms that will be changing as we reflect needs for structures and propulsion.


Now we can target the optimum direction for real solutions in horizontal launch.  Get ready to watch this evolve on our next Exodus Aerospace blog.



THIS HORIZONTAL LAUNCH FORUM INVITES VENDOR’S AND RESEARCHER’S SOLUTIONS.  If you have products or technologies that can advance horizontal launch we invite you to publish here.  If you can help us build our business case we welcome partners to the Exodus Aerospace team as well.  Here is our mission and the first steps towards our goal.  Contact information is shown below.

HOW DO WE SEE THE FUTURE OF SPACE LAUNCH?  LOOKING AHEAD  Not by repeating the mistakes of the past.  On the other hand, there are some ideas from the past that good engineers worked hard on that may still have some value.  Previous posts have illustrated some of the directions that Exodus Aerospace is exploring.  Of course every image is history as soon as it is recorded.  I often don’t like my own ideas, so much of our publications are already obsolete.

Instead of focusing on small markets we want to take a look at a possible future with bigger markets.  What could the future of heavy launch and manned spaceflight look like?  We who have hoped to see a horizontal launch solution know this has been rejected for decades.  Space is hard and horizontal is harder.  So any consideration of horizontal launch needs more than a few good technologies to move ahead.  In this article we will introduce a few notions that are shaping our investigation.

Several vehicles demonstrated values that we hope to employ for our mission.  HEROES:

Blended wing bodies offer high lift and low drag.  For a booster lifting a heavy fuel load from the runway this can be an asset.  They also offer internal volume and thick sections for light structures.  These are good goals for a booster.


The Concorde has a wing that generated a vortex which increased lift during takeoff.  It was also a thin airfoil with low drag at high speeds.


The X-37 is a proven reusable orbiter that offers on orbit services as a long term workhorse.  It has operated as a fly-back satellite and a mini-space station for years.


Other fly back orbiters include the Prime lifting body, the X-38, and Dreamchaser.  These all indicate potential for orbiters that can perform repairs, refueling, and payload de-orbiting roles.  They also need a better booster that is not penalized by a massive payload fairing.


Now we consider bonding a good orbiter to a booster with air breathing efficiency.  Blended wing bodies can be blunt and hard to move at supersonic speeds.  So our orbiter can help as a smaller “nose cone” if it is not too blunt.  Some compromise may deliver a good combination.

SEEDS OF THE FUTURE:  NEW DESIGNS.  So we set out to bring these features into one system.  There were a LOT of our own models tried and rejected along this path!

OUR FIRST CONCORDE STYLE WING MODEL.  This is a very thin airfoil that will be blended into thicker airfoils at the center body.


DIVIDED INTO BOOSTER, FAIRING, AND ORBITER.  The first stage is sized for a large fuel load so the upper stage is not a massive payload.  A disposable fairing is a small compromise to maintain a good Concorde style vortex at liftoff.


TWO BIG EJECTOR RAMJETS?  We see a messy inlet if the engine is thrusting on the centerline of mass.  Now we need to seek a better balance if we want landing gear under there!


ENGINES SPREAD ACROSS THE AIRFOIL.  Ejector ramjets improve the efficiency of rocket engines during atmospheric flight.  These are arrayed on the bottom with a slight bend like Sabre engines to meet the incoming ram air at a high angle of attack.  This craft is designed for the high angle needed to climb quickly.  Their thrust is angled slightly down to compensate for being below the center of mass.  On the top row are pure rocket engines that join the lower engines only at higher altitudes.  At that point a form of aerospike may also contribute to the mission.


ENGINES…NEW OPPORTUNITIES AND NEW CHALLENGES.  Horizontal launch can use atmospheric oxygen to reduce the amount of oxidizer carried in tanks onboard.  This can reduce the mass of the vehicle and the cost of fuels.  We can use conventional turbine engines to help during development of advanced engines.


We welcome propulsion solutions and vendors may have answers we haven’t heard from yet.  Here are some candidates that we know of.  Some have been built and tested, while others are still in development.  Perhaps we can help with that by offering an airframe with proven propulsion to support testing in flight conditions.

EJECTOR RAMJETS.  These begin operation as a rocket engine and benefit from fuel injection as ram air speed increases.  Operation as a ramjet saves fuel but ends when the atmosphere thins out.  At that point function returns to pure rocket operation with onboard oxidizer.


SABRE ENGINES.  This British engine condenses atmospheric oxygen into liquid oxygen in the atmosphere.  Again the loss of atmosphere moves the engine back into rocket operation.  A small version is being developed for use on prototypes of this size.  If we offer turbines in the outboard nacelles our airframe may aid the development of advanced propulsion.


New engine types may help accelerate up to orbital velocities or they may go fast enough to burn the wings off.  Again a good compromise may be high supersonic speeds in the lower atmosphere.  Our orbiter is protected for reentry heating so the thin wings of the booster may the most vulnerable to ascent heating.  At this point vendors may have some resources to advance the cause.


PROPULSION  as reported above, innovation is needed.  We may seek materials and methods to develop engines locally, or work with vendors, researchers, or universities.

FUEL TANKS  for cryogenics we seek ways to fit in low profiles.  The X-33 and the Rockwell StarRaker suggested flat sided tanks but we are not sure if that goal can be delivered.

FUEL BLADDERS for jet fuel and HTP we can use fuel bladders in odd shaped locations.

STRUCTURES new materials and methods could shave a lot of weight compared to older methods.  Additive manufacturing, ceramic composites and other materials are all offering opportunities.  We need to learn more about the mass properties and strength of new materials.

THERMAL PROTECTION.  Ceramic composites, carbon foam, and other materials are out there.  If we can get data, we can do trade studies that may reveal needed solutions.

GUIDANCE AND NAVIGATION.  This will be a big ticket item when real paychecks are moving.  It may involve much bigger contractors than this little venture, but investors need a vision of value.  For now our paper airplane welcomes hints about the size and mass needs for such a system.  Antennas and ground support are supported by vendors already serving vertical launch.  We would like to have an option for human pilots to augment any guidance failures.  UAV type systems may be applicable where a vehicle might be returned safely to the runway.  Unmanned systems are becoming common, but this offers special challenges so redundancy is needed.

SECURITY AND SAFETY.  Ground and flight operations present many opportunities for failures.  Being able to separate stages may salvage payloads from booster anomalies. Flight operations for unmanned systems will require special clearances from the FAA and spaceports.  Boeing and the Air force have operated the X-37 safely for years, so the technology is out there.  Solution providers are welcome to consider the challenges and the solutions.

This illustrates some of the goals and early ideas that frame our present design direction.  You may follow each stage of our exploration as these designs progress.  We are still early in the process, and a lot of this will be done by the SWAG formula.  (Scientific Wild Ass Guess)  A paper airplane invites criticism which may be the best engineering available.  Identifying the dangers in time to avoid them is valuable, and wisdom welcomes a good warning.  Bad ideas are welcome, as we need to find new solutions.  We have time to fix our mistakes, but we will never grow if we don’t try new ideas.  Investment should always seek products that the competition doesn’t own.

This study is preliminary and we seek to identify goals that can be validated in more affordable prototypes.  The future vision is a target that motivates development of answers we need to guide our future.  As such a paper airplane provokes thought, evaluation, and the first steps to validation.  Tools that begin basic measurements include computer aided design models and engineering analysis software.  We may identify a lot of hope when we step out in faith.

This concludes the first steps of the adventure.  But there are many steps ahead of us, and each one is a step towards the stars.  You can follow our journey on the following links to our activities.  Item one will report on the next design steps of Exodus Aerospace.  Item two is a Facebook group where all may comment, suggest, or criticize.  Item three is this blog, an advocacy group for horizontal launch and the technology to achieve it.

  1. EXODUS AEROSPACE, Introducing a unique horizontal launch technology is our development blog. Here you can track our initial concepts and consider new ideas.  We have described a small vehicle for suborbital development in past posts.  Before we propose prototypes with little market value, we want to look at a goal with much bigger payoffs.  That has to be a reasonable future that is reachable and affordable as well.

The Launcher Evolution Advanced Prototype (LEAP) will be a radical look at the future of space.  Jeff Greason once called my patent “weird”.  It occurred to me that Burt Rutan might say that it isn’t weird enough.  Together we can fix that!  We don’t care if your ideas come from Kerbal Space, X-Plane, Star Trek, universities, the AIAA, or NASA…bring them all!  The Air Force is starting a “Space Consortium” of small and large ventures.  We may contribute, but we don’t have to wait for the government to get organized.  (Is that even possible?)  We are free to launch our own consortium now.

  1. ORIONCRAFT AEROSPACE INCUBATION is our Facebook group where you can join in. You may participate as fans or jump in to join the pit crew.  Some day we may have some deep secrets that require a non-disclosure agreement.  But most of our data is new combinations of old ideas or patented so the world already knows a lot of this.  It is the new combinations that may rock the launch industry.  On Facebook you can chime in with ideas, questions, chat or just watch the fun.
  1. WINGS TO SPACE…THE WRIGHT STUFF is for the serious writers and new products. If you want to write a promotion of your horizontal launch technologies or products this advocates all avenues to horizontal launch.  We have already published articles about Triton Systems Stellar-J and Bristol Spaceplanes among others.  There are also historical articles about designs from the past.  Elements of all of these may open doors to the future.

LOOK OVER THESE LINKS AND CONSIDER WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER.  Consider what we may have to offer as well.  If we plant the right seeds, you may be a founder, an employee, or a key product vendor.  The real key is desire.  If you want a better future you can build it.  This is an open invitation to innovation so abandon you doubts and fears and step out.  ARE YOU READY TO BOLDLY GO?


Ragole, Michael                              https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-ragole-857330

Mindt, Michael                               https://www.linkedin.com/in/michaelmindt

Luther, David                                   https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-luther-1ba93bb5

Petterson, Bob                                 https://www.linkedin.com/in/robert-petterson-50042534

Schulze, Ken                                      https://www.linkedin.com/in/kenschulze

Peach, Robert                                    https://www.linkedin.com/in/bob-peach-a8156ba





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NEW MOON;  An open letter to the 2016 campaign leaders

Our space program was born to meet the challenges of the cold war, and these times are no less demanding.  When John Kennedy launched us towards the Moon landings we needed to be strong in a world of uncertainty.  Over time we established leadership in space, but we also learned the cost of big space programs.  The big Saturn rockets were abandoned to develop more affordable systems.

The space shuttles promised more than they could deliver in cost savings.  They also delivered some lessons about safety that provoked some retreat back to older designs.  Unfortunately the “new” Space Launch System has retreated back into very expensive ideas.  Consider the cost of one SLS launch vehicle compared to one Navy warship:


We stopped going to the moon because we couldn’t afford to continue those missions.  This new program didn’t even have a mission when it was conceived.  It is actually a Republican jobs program; a pork barrel mission.  Now they fantasize about going back to the Moon or even to Mars.  The Moon may actually offer some real value, but Mars is a pointless mission when our economy needs a major overhaul.  Instead we are about to be keelhauled into a massive debt.

We have private ventures ready and willing to provide vastly cheaper launch services, and even to develop the resources of space.  We can deliver the same mass to orbit with two smaller vehicles for less than one monster rocket.  Spacex, Blue Origin, and others are already developing economical systems that have already been flown.  Deep space missions and heavy launch do not require a massive deficit.  Even leaders at NASA dislike what they are being forced to do with the SLS.

More importantly we have many smaller missions being flown on Russian boosters and rocket engines.  We cannot now launch defense missions on American rockets without paying the Russians…except for Spacex boosters.  We are finally paying American firms to develop new rocket engines.  But we still pay the Russians to carry American astronauts on the same old booster that launched the Sputnik in 1957.  Only commercial launch providers can fix this problem because NASA has no small launchers except these new commercial providers.

Just compare these proposed heavy lifters cost to cargo ratio.  The Falcon Heavy is due to fly this year, and the SLS…who knows when?


What do commercial launchers offer to reduce costs?  Spacex has already landed and re-fired a booster.  Blue Origin has flown and re-flown the same booster.  This means a difference between throwing away a 60 million dollar booster or just refurbishing it for under one million dollars.  Potentially 59 million dollars less per launch in savings, even if you save only one stage.  Remember the Space Launch System is all expendable, except possibly the crew capsule.  We can use multiple small launchers at far greater savings than any expendable system.

The Verge:  SpaceX’s reusable rockets will make space cheaper — but how much? Dec 24, 2015

This means that space can become a profitable business instead of a deficit maker.  There are already a number of ventures protecting the environment and reaching for mineral wealth in space.  The Air Force contracts launch services, couldn’t NASA do the same?  They don’t need to be in the launch vehicle business.  Private companies with competitive bidding do a better job of delivering vehicle designs.  The best part is that jobs in space programs must stay in the United States because of International Traffic in Arms Regulations .   Space is the one industry that can be a jobs program for American workers only.

Private companies have offered solutions to space launch and even for clean energy in the past.  Rockwell International proposed a huge project that would at least deliver solar energy from space.  Elements of that old concept are still valuable to consider for more economical systems today.  The idea of flying vehicles from a spaceport runway is still being considered today.  With new materials, propulsion, and methods these ideas may yet be built and flown.  Wings to Space: the Wright Stuff is a blog that publishes concepts from several groups seeking horizontal launch technologies.  If saving one stage delivers big savings, what could be gained by making the whole vehicle reusable?  Only private ventures are considering this, but they need the money being wasted on the “Senate Launch System”.

At this time only two spacecraft have gone to orbit, been refurbished, and returned to orbit.  The only reusable orbiters were the shuttle and the Air Force X-37.  Lessons from the shuttle helped with the X-37, which has orbited for as long as two years.  That is a proven system now.  As such it is reasonable to consider winged vehicles potentially superior for comfort, safety, and demonstrated long life.  We welcome every step that proves that economy is possible in space operations.  We also welcome the work being done by new groups for even greater economy and safety.

Space is not just a science fiction fantasy, it is a viable marketplace if we leave the mistakes of the past behind.  We have already seen reusable vehicles flown and re-flown for years now.  When we had surplus missiles to throw away that made sense.  But building a huge new throw away rocket makes nothing more than a bonfire of cash.  We urge the current campaign leaders to take a leadership role in the only growth segment in America’s economy.  Yes, ask these companies to pay taxes, but encourage them to give us a future in the process.

David Luther,  Exodus Aerospace


















BLAST FROM THE PAST; a few good ideas may return to the light of day…

Rockwell International Star-Raker proposal

King of the Wings into space concepts.
by Kelly Starks


Figure 1: Rockwell’s Star-Raker in comparison with a Boeing 747

If you’re going to talk about low cost access to space, and winged Horizontal Takeoff-Horizontal Landing (HTHL), Single-Stage to Orbit (SSTO) vehicles, you need to talk about Rockwell’s Star-Raker, proposed to the Department of Energy (DOE) in the late 1970’s, in response to the DOE study of the Space Solar-Powered Satellite (SSPS) concept. Star-Raker offered a massive change in capacity and price from what had been considered, and turned the whole SSPS concept on its ear – which infuriated some of the advocacy groups for the concept.



Figure 2: Space Solar-Powered Satellites (SSPS)

SSPS was a very popular concept among space advocacy groups in the 1970’s, involving building huge solar collector farms in orbit. Aside from the perceived benefits of solar power arrays placed in orbit (no weather or day/night cycles, and more intense sunlight means a daily average of roughly twenty times as much power gathered per collector) and the huge interest in a non-oil-based power supply during the oil crisis era (when people were being assured by President Jimmy Carter that all oil and gas supplies in the world would be exhausted by the 1990’s), the vast construction effort to build them was seen by space advocates (most especially the L-5 Society) as “the key” to founding major industrial colonies in space. Since the calculated margin cost per pound to orbit with Shuttles (the assumed lowest possible launch technology possible in the day) was roughly $200+ (in ‘70’s dollars), and the target 300 solar power platforms would weigh 10,000 tons each, it would be utterly unaffordable to build these platforms from three million tons of components shipped up to orbit, for $1.2 trillion in 70’s dollars. So space advocates assumed you’d need to colonize space and build with resources in space. However, they had completely misjudged the nature of launch costs.

The specific SSPS proposals varied, but a common assumption was a fleet of three hundred, 10,000-ton SSPS platforms in orbit. This three million ton lift requirement was clearly vastly beyond the capability of any launch system available or in development. It would, for example, require 100,000 flights of the space shuttle which, given the existing capacities of the launch pads and best case assumptions of the shuttles, could take centuries to do. Ignoring that, the space shuttles’ margin cost of roughly $200+ per pound to orbit would mean over $1.2 trillion in launch costs in late 1970’s dollars to lift everything. This was clearly infeasible. (Note: the Space Colonization efforts required launch rates and capacities well beyond the capacity of the shuttle systems as well.)

We need a bigger launch capacity

Between 1978 and 1986, the U.S. Congress authorized the Department of Energy (DoE) and NASA to jointly investigate the SSPS concept. All of the resulting designs by these organizations and advocates required masses to orbit far beyond the capacity of any launcher systems that were operational or in development; but the requirements weren’t beyond the capacity of launcher systems that could be developed, or were being researched. Also, launch costs are largely driven by economies of scale, or rather the total lack of them, in launch markets then, and now. The very scale of tonnage the SSPS programs would need to launch into orbit — estimates were at least a thousand tons per day, half the total in human history to date, and roughly that of the entire 30 year shuttle program — would unavoidably drive costs far down. So, clearly, heavy or super heavy lift capacity craft capable of extremely high flight rates were needed.

Launch vehicle manufacturers were invited to submit suitable design concepts. Three of the baseline concepts used for the SSPS studies were:

  • Boeing’s “Reusable Aerodynamic Space Vehicle” (RASV), an all-rocket HTHL SSTO winged craft launched at high speed from a magnetic levitation trackway, boosted to orbit with rockets fueled solely from internal fuel tanks, and glided back to a runway like a shuttle orbiter.
  • Boeing’s rocket-powered VTVL TSTO (400 ton cargo capacity) configuration
  • Rockwell International’s “Star-Raker” Turbo-ramjet/rocket HTHL SSTO (100 ton cargo capacity).


Figure 3:  North American Rockwell Star-Raker in Orbit

The Rockwell Star-Raker was given some preference by the Department of Energy since it seemed better suited for high flight rates. Offering 100 tons of cargo per flight in a 20 x 20 x 141.5 ft cargo bay, a fleet of 22 Star-Rakers was considered quite capable of lifting the target 1,600 tons per day,  with a projected cost to orbit in 1978 dollars of $22-$33 per kilogram, or $10-$15 per pound – ($36 to $55 a pound in 2014 dollars).

Rockwell had been researching the Star-Raker design with Marshall Space Flight Center since the 1960’s, and by the late 1970’s were confident that new materials technologies, and a light pressure-stiffened wet-wing design (similar to the pressure-stiffened Atlas booster used to carry Mercury flights into orbit), would make HTHL SSTO possible. The lower wing loading of the design would make surface temperatures during re-entry several hundred degrees lower than the Space Shuttle. The turbo-ramjet engines would allow the Star-Raker to carry double the payload than Boeing’s all-rocket-based horizontal take off Reusable Aerodynamic Space Vehicle concept (Figure 4), with the same gross liftoff mass for both craft, although the Star-Raker’s dry mass would be 45% higher than the Boeing design and the vehicle would be exposed to a more severe aerodynamic heating environment.


Figure 4: Boeing’s Reusable Aerodynamic Space Vehicle (RASV)

The Star-Raker team was not only confident they could build it, but expected each craft could sustain a rate of up to three flights per day. With this, a reasonably sized fleet could lift the target 1,600 tons per day, from a fairly normal, airport-like facility. The low capital costs of the facility and a small fleet of craft, and low maintenance cost per flight led to the estimate of $10-$15 per pound to orbit. This is perhaps twenty times less than the $220 margin cost per pound projected for the space shuttles, or roughly a thousand times less than the total cost per pound to orbit demonstrated by the shuttle fleet. Launching SSPS from Earth in kit form would thus be more economical than colonizing space to construct them (as outlined in the 1975 study). Star-Raker showed that aircraft-like operations could deliver costs to orbit seven to ten times the air freight cost per pound from the US to Australia, and presumably offer similar cost factors per passenger to orbit, even at the comparatively small flight rate of thousands of flights for the Star-Raker fleet, versus tens of millions of flights for a fleet airliners such as the Boeing 747.


Figure 5: Star-Raker coming in for a landing.  Note ten running jet engines, and three inactive main rockets and two orbital maneuvering rockets at base of tail.
Operational Comparisons


Figure 6: Star-Raker ground ops at commercial airport, with a second Star-Raker taking off above.


Figure 7: Loading and unloading of 3 Star-Rakers.  Star-Rakers were expected to fly to commercial airports on their jet engines alone, to be loaded with their cargo.  They would then fly to a spaceport to be refueled, and loaded with Liquid Oxygen to boost themselves into orbit with the cargo.  Note swing open nose for cargo loading/unloading.

Rockwell studied the operational issues and requirements for launching 1600 tons of payload into low Earth orbit per day to support the construction of the referenced solar power satellite fleet. They specifically compared their Star-Raker turbofan/air-turbo-/exchanger/ramjet HTHL SSTO with 100 ton payload capacity to Boeing’s rocket-powered, vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL) two-stage to orbit (TSTO), with 400 ton payload capability. (Note: the payload assumed for the Star-Rakers varies between various studies.)

Boeing’s two-stage HLLV

Figure 8: Boeing’s two-stage HLLV

Boeing’s VTVL TSTO vehicle would require ten launch pads, requiring extensive refurbishment between missions to meet the launch rate requirement of four flights per day from the Kennedy Space Center. Two new, high-bay Vertical Assembly Buildings (VAB) would also be required as opposed to two aircraft maintenance-type hangars for the Star-Raker. The Boeing VTVL TSTO would need 5.5 days to recover from the ocean, where it landed, and to restack two extremely heavy stages in the VAB. This assumes there was no recovery damage, which was considerably more likely for ocean landings than for runway landings. So although the air-breathing Star-Raker concept would require some advanced technologies, it appeared to be better suited for high flights rates (16/day) than the vertically-launched TSTO.

For the Star-Raker, a single-runway air base would support an entire fleet of thirty craft. By comparison, the VTVL TSTO’s launch range would have to be 850 square kilometers in area to accommodate a fleet of 22 vehicles and the launch noise they generated (120 decibels at 13km versus <120 decibels at 1km for the Star-Raker).

In comparison to Boeing’s winged horizontal take off, all-rocket based RASV (Reusable Aerodynamic Space Vehicle) HTHL SSTO concept mentioned above (Figure 4 above).  The RASV would require a special, very long, magnetic levitation runway to take off from, and another normal runway for landing.  There was no way it could fly in and out of normal airports to pick up their cargo, and then fly to the space port to boost into space, like the Star-Rakers.  Again, the turbo-ramjet engines would allow the Star-Rakers to carry double the payload of Boeing’s, with the same gross liftoff mass for both ships, and would eliminate the need for the magnetic levitation launcher track the RASV needed. Even assuming the RASVs could fly as often per day, it would require a fleet twice as large, with twice the capital and maintenance costs to keep the fleet running.

The Star-Raker was to be compatible with C-5A Galaxy cargo handling facilities and airports, with 2440-4270 meter runways. Indeed, one operational concept had the Star-Rakers flying airports near the cargo suppliers to be loaded. After the cargo was loaded at traditional airports, the ship would then fly to the launch port to be lifted onto its take off cradle, fully fueled with liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen, and would boost to orbit with no further cargo handling. This makes Star-Raker far more flexible than either Boeing’s VTVL two-stage craft or its magnetic levitation-launched HTHL RASV, at lower cost.

Star-Raker design features

Gross mass: 2,278,800 kg 5,023,800 lb
Payload: 100,000 kg 220,000 lb
Length: 94.50 m 310.00 ft
Span: 110.00 m 360.00 ft
Thrust: 20,480.00 kN 4,604,080 lbf
Apogee: 556 km 345 mi

Star-Raker system design features

Figure 9: Details of Star-Raker wing exterior and interior structure, engine details, and general specifications.

Star-Raker Design Features underside

Figure 10: Star-Raker Design Features[1]

[1] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1 -Space Transportation”. November 1981. Page 40 (1-17).

Star_Raker inboard Profile

Star-Raker Vehicle Section results

Figure 11: Vehicle profiles and sectional cutaways[2]

[2] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1 -Space Transportation.” November 1981. Page 41 (1-18).

The Star-Raker design used ten, 140,000 pound-force turbo-ramjet jet engines to power the craft to Mach 7.2, with a takeoff speed of 225 knots up from a 14,000-foot runway. This eliminated over half the weight of fuel and LOx a pure rocket craft would need to reach the same speed. Three 1.06 million lbf LOx/LH shuttle SSME-type engine rockets kick in at Mach 6, take over completely by Mach 7.3, and continue from there up to 300 mile high orbits.

Upon reaching orbit, the whole nose of the Star-Raker would swing to the side to remove cargo. Reentering, the low wing-loading on the now lightly loaded craft would mean the surface temperatures of the skin would be manageable. Increased ascent temperatures while transporting cargo, would be absorbed by the cryogenic fuel.

Star-Raker Isotherms

Figure 12: Figure showing assent temperature load on the underside of the Star-Raker and NASA shuttle. [3]

[3] Independent Research and Development Data Sheet – Earth-to-LEO Transportation System for SPS. Project Number 243, Fy 1979.


 Figure 13:  SSTO Launch Trajectory[4]

[4] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1 -Space Transportation.” November 1981. Page 45 (1-22).

The most unusual feature of the Star-Raker design was the pressure-stiffened wings. Normally wings of this size, stiff enough to lift such a weight off a runway at 225 mph, would make the craft too heavy to reach orbit. But by allowing the boil-off gas to build up pressure in the wings, the wing pressure-induced tension stiffened them like the hull of the early Atlas missiles. Without the load of cryogenic fuel in the wings, the wings would be several times weaker – but the craft would be several times lighter, and could fly as a normal (if fast) jet aircraft.

Another unusual feature of the Star-Raker was a parachute-dropped takeoff cradle: effectively a heavy landing gear cradle capable of supporting the Star-Raker fully loaded with fuel and LOx for a flight to orbit. In this way, the lighter landing gear would be fully capable of handling the Star-Raker after its fuel/Oxygen load was consumed, and for normal flight operations. The heavy landing gear would be dropped after take-off, so its weight wouldn’t need to be lifted to orbit.

Star-Raker Multi-cycle Turbofan-turbo-ramjet and inlets

Figure 14: Multi-cycle Turbofan/turbo-ramjet and inlets.  These provide thrust [5]

[1] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1—Space Transportation” November 1981. Page 42 (1-19).   (http://www.alternatewars.com/SpaceRace/Star_Raker/NASA-TM-58238_Excerpt.pdf  http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/library/1981NASASPS-SpaceTransportation.pdf )

The Star-Raker’s proposed multi-cycle air-breathing engine system was derived from the General Electric CJ805 aircraft engine, the Pratt and Whitney SWAT-201 supersonic wraparound turbofan/ramjet engine, the Aerojet Air Turbo-rocket, Marquardt’s variable plug-nozzle, ramjet engine technology, and Rocketdyne’s tubular-cooled, rocket engine technology.

Star-Raker mass table.

Figure 15: The weight breakdown of the Star-Raker hull, systems, cargo, and fuel/LOx load, in metric tons.


How does the design look today?

A study done by NASA in late 1981, referencing these three designs, was expecting much lower cost to orbit numbers than folks of the time expected:

“…The workshop decided that, although rather advanced technology and well developed operational management would be required, it was proper to target the average cost of gross cargo payloads into LEO [Low-Earth Orbit] at $30 [1979]/kg for construction of the initial SPS [Solar Power Satellite]. The further cost goal for repetitive construction of 30 to 60 SPS would need to be reduced to $15 [1979]/ kg for all operational payloads for ESLEO [earth surface to low earth orbit] and would require the use of advanced, long-lived vehicles with a sophisticated operational organization”[6] (emphasis added).

“..an evolutionary series of heavy-lift and personnel-launch vehicles with chemical rocket propulsion can be targeted realistically to move heavy masses into LEO for $30 [1979]/kg by the year 2000. More advanced propulsion technology and vehicles may make $15 [1979]/kg a goal in the foreseeable future[7] (emphasis added.)

[6] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1—Space Transportation.” November 1981. Page 138.

[7] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1—Space Transportation.” November 1981. Page 248.

So looking back on it now, how realistic were those numbers?  Or more importantly, what could we do now with more advanced modern technology?  If it was proper in 1981 to expect to be able to lift “gross cargo payloads into LEO at $30 1979)/kg for construction of the initial SPS” and down to $15 (1979)/ kg” for a more advanced, mature, and larger scale operation ($96 and $48 per kg or $43-$22 per pound in 2015 dollars.), what could we do now?

In retrospect, hydrocarbon Mach 7 turbo-ramjets, and hydrocarbon<> LOx rocket engines would be much lighter, possibly half the weigh as expected for the Star-Raker, and allow a lower dry weight craft by eliminating most of the bulk and weight of liquid hydrogen tanks. Though the heavier fuel would make the takeoff weight higher (requiring either more efficient wings, or faster takeoff speeds), the dry weight and costs and operational complexity should be less. In general, modern systems are much more reliable and lighter weight than those of almost forty years ago. Similarly, modern materials (metals, composites, fiber-reinforced metals, etc.) would greatly lower the weight of the airframe and hull by perhaps by 30%. Ultra-high toughness ceramic composite (UHTCC) ceramic composite leading edges could not only be sharper and more aerodynamically efficient, they could offload heat that would otherwise spread out over the wings. Similar panels could also greatly lower the weight of other thermal protection system panels, further lowering the dry weight of the craft. At the least, a hydrocarbon-fueled Star-Raker of a similar size could have a 30% lower dry weight than the original design for the same cargo capacity, and the hydrocarbon engines can be built out of off the shelf parts. In short, it would be easier to do now.

I was involved in a project to commercially field a smaller craft than the Star-Raker with similar engines, though fueled with conventional jet fuel and liquid oxygen, and using more modern composites. Rather than costing $36 to $55 per pound to orbit in 2014 dollars, we were calculating more like $15-$20 per pound.

The problem of the need for heavy landing gear for a fully fueled/loaded Star-Raker was looked at by the British company Reaction Engines Limited’s Skylon team, but rather than assuming the need for a heavy takeoff cradle, they developed ways to dramatically lower the weight of the landing gear. The weight of normal landing gears is driven by the very large tires and wheels needed to distribute the weight over normal runways, and the heavy weight of uncooled brake disks. Specifying a super-hard runway for launches to orbit eliminated the heavy wheels and tires. A water-cooled braking system would allow smaller, lighter brakes still capable of handling emergency take-off abort loads. The water would add considerable weight, but could be dumped after the craft has taken off. With a similar landing gear driving the weight of a takeoff- capable landing gear down to 1.5% of the gross takeoff weight, as with Skylon, Star-Raker wouldn’t need a heavy landing gear or drop cradle for flights to orbit, even if assuming bigger, softer tires and with some extra weight allowed due to other weight reductions.


The Star-Rakers are a tremendous—and all but forgotten—capability that was utterly unnecessary for any program we actually undertook in space. But it shows we have the capability to do more – and do it far more economically than most would assume.

As a passenger craft, a single Star-Raker could have lifted more people into orbit in a day than have so far reached there in all of human history. Theoretically, even if they spent one quarter of each year being serviced (insanely high for most military or commercial aircraft), a fleet of 1,000 Star-Rakers (a moderate-sized production run for airliners), each with a thirty-year service life (average to low for commercial and military aircraft) could lift all of the people of the Earth to orbit in 28 years, for a ticket price, assuming $30/pound operations, of $19,000 each.

In cargo configuration, one Star-Raker could lift as much cargo tonnage per week as has ever been launched in human history. The total estimated ten million ton weight of a 10,000 person L5 colony from the 1975 NASA space settlement study would take a 100-ship fleet of similar cargo craft under fifteen months to lift to orbit, for a total cost of $600 billion. Compare that to the $150 billion dollar Space Station budget, or to the budgets of hundreds of billions of dollars proposed for the return to the moon, or man to Mars programs.

A thousand similar Star-Rakers could lift a billion ton, 30km long Island 3 O’Neill cylinder in twelve years for $60 trillion. By way of comparison, this is less than the $73 trillion dollar global GDP for 2014. Of course you might want to be into space mining by then. Or develop something a little more advanced than a 1970’s era Star-Raker. But until then, they could support about anything anyone has dreamed of doing in space.

Sources Cited

“Earth-to-LEO Transportation System for SPS,” Independent Research and Development Data Sheet, Project Number 243. Rockwell International Space Systems Group, 15 December 1978. Retrieved from <http://www.alternatewars.com/SpaceRace/Star_Raker/Star-Raker_IRD_243.pdf >

“The Final Report of the SPS Space Transportation Workshop, January 29-31, 1980.” The Johnson Environmental and Energy Center, The University of Alabama-Huntsville, October 1980.  Retrieved from <http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/library/1981NASASPS-SpaceTransportation.pdf&gt;

Hanley, G.M. “NASA Contractor Report 3321: Satellite Power Systems (SPS) Concept Definition Study – Volume IV: Transportation Analysis.” NASA—Science and Technical Information Branch, 1980. Retrieved from <http://www.alternatewars.com/SpaceRace/ Star_Raker/NASA-CR-3321_Excerpt.pdf>

Hanley, G.M. and R. Bergeron. ”An Overview of the Satellite Power System Transportation System.” 14th Joint Propulsion Conference, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA), July 1978.  Retrieved from < http://dx.doi.org/10.2514/6.1978-975>.

“NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program – Volume VII: Space Transportation.” NASA—Science and Technical Information Branch, 1981. Retrieved from <http://www.alternatewars.com/SpaceRace/ Star_Raker/NASA-TM-58238_Excerpt.pdf>

Reed, David A., Jr., Hideo Ikawa, and Jonas A. Sadunas. “Star-Raker: An airbreather/Rocket-Powered, Horizontal Takeoff Tridelta Flying Wing, Single-Stage-to-Orbit Transportation System.” Conference on Advanced Technology for Future Space Systems, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). May 1979. Retrieved from  <http://www.alternatewars.com/SpaceRace/Star_Raker/Star-Raker_SSD_79-0082.pdf>

[1] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1 -Space Transportation”. November 1981. Page 40 (1-17).

[2] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1 -Space Transportation.” November 1981. Page 41 (1-18).

[3] Independent Research and Development Data Sheet – Earth-to-LEO Transportation System for SPS. Project Number 243, Fy 1979.

[4] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1 -Space Transportation.” November 1981. Page 45 (1-22).

[5] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1—Space Transportation” November 1981. Page 42 (1-19).   (http://www.alternatewars.com/SpaceRace/Star_Raker/NASA-TM-58238_Excerpt.pdf  http://www.nss.org/settlement/ssp/library/1981NASASPS-SpaceTransportation.pdf )

[6] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1—Space Transportation.” November 1981. Page 138.

[7] NASA Technical Memorandum 58238: “Satellite Power System: Concept Development and Evaluation Program Volume VI1—Space Transportation.” November 1981. Page 248.


A Crowdfunding Campaign to Bust Space Myths


Do you believe the following?

  • Space travel has to be dangerous, difficult, and very expensive.
  • You have to be superfit to go to space.
  • A small company cannot possibly make a big difference to the way ahead for spaceflight.

These are all myths!

Affordable public access to space for business and leisure could become available soon by building spaceplanes that were widely considered feasible in the 1960s.   Within 15 years, near-space could become as accessible as Antarctica is today!

  • An airliner capable of flying to a space station would transform spaceflight.   It would replace present throwaway launchers and would slash costs and greatly improve safety.   It would lead to a new golden age of space science and exploration, and to public visits to space hotels becoming widely affordable
  • We knew how to build one in the 1960s, when most large aircraft companies studied spaceplanes in depth.   They were not developed at the time because of the pressures of the Cold War space race.
  • This knowledge has been largely forgotten or overlooked, even though all the required technologies have since been proven in flight.
  • The founder of Bristol Spaceplanes is one of the few who worked on these 1960s spaceplane designs and who is still active in the field.   As a result, we can credibly claim to have the most competitive way ahead for bringing in the new space age.
  • Courtesy of the excellent pioneering work by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and others, the revolution in spaceflight is now all but inevitable.   It could be brought forward several years by planning for it now.
  • The main obstacle today is the power of traditional thinking.   Large space agencies and other major players are locked into the throwaway launcher habit.
  • The above points are explained in more detail in a recent book written by the founder of Bristol Spaceplanes, ‘Space Exploration’ by David Ashford (Hodder and McGraw-Hill 2013).
  • One way to help to persuade major players to take spaceplanes seriously is to show large public interest.   We have therefore launched a crowdfunding campaign to help to dent the mindset—see http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/bristolspaceplanes.
  • The funding will be used to build a flying model of our Ascender entry-level suborbital spaceplane and for a publicity campaign.
  • Please support the new space age by backing our campaign!



Thanks to Frank Morring’s Facebook post I see a video of the Spacex vertical landing flight.  While there is a lot of risk in this road to reusable launchers I see an unexpected advantage.  When retro rockets are firing, the first stage seems to be in an envelope of flame.  In actuality it is probably tucked in  an umbrella of cool provided by the shock wave of the rocket plume.  A capsule usually uses a flat heat shield to form a shock wave that better shields the sides of the capsule while taking the brunt of the heating head on.  The retro-rocket uses no shield, and suffers no direct contact with the reentry plasma.  This reminds me of Navy torpedoes that use super-cavitation.  They blow bubbles out the front that lubricates their underwater flow and allows huge velocity gains.

Perhaps we should be looking at both solutions.  Wings are reliable, but require a lot of heavy shielding to protect an orbiter in reentry.  A mild retro rocket system might induce just enough laminar flow to reduce thermal loads while also reducing forward velocity.  Now I know I want to have my cake and eat it too, but will we find a good tool here?  We may reach a balance that could survive a partial system failure without total disaster.  Retro failure might damage thermal shields without total mission loss.  Foreign object damage might not be as destructive in a laminar cooling flow.

Such a cooling flow notion was proposed many years back by an unlikely rocket guy.  Dr. James Victor Hugo Hill offered the Space Kitten as a kit plane you can build at home.  One ideas was to introduce a cooling gas across the leading edges of the vehicle.  Unfortunately (?) Dr. Hill passed away before this could take flight.   As one of his disillusioned early supporters I know there were many unresolved design ideas in the plan but this one might be vindicated some day.  Keep an eye on the crazy “rocket scientists” out there because some one has to be the first one dumb enough to try an idea before it can fly.





There are a few issues with building an orbital aircraft to launch satellites.  We need more than one stage, so do we put the stages under or on top?  Under threatens ground clearance but offers a drop.  Even a drop may be driven back into the carrier by air currents.  On top has the same issue plus gravity resisting that separation.  I can see that I am not alone in considering in-line staging on horizontal applications.  Does anyone know what this is?  I don’t.  The only use I see is space launch, but does it work?




Boeing has an in-line application brewing too.  No fear of structural issues here!





Actually in-line staging has already been flown for an X-plane.  The X-43 was mounted on a Pegasus winged rocket for its testing flights.







So I don’t feel too bad about keeping my concept alive.  There are aerodynamic advantages in the HILLS blended wing bodies that these earlier examples are missing.  Expect to see more development of our concepts.



Staging and aerodynamics are not the only issues here.  Early space planes were fond of their metal structures, but we are seeing more composites now.  The Dream Chaser and the Xcor Lynx showcase 21st century structures.  I see pressure vessels and tanks as part of the structural consideration.  They can help with lateral loads and rocket engine linear thrust loads.  Airframes can lose weight with carbon fiber and optimized analysis.  We may not reach the goal with older airframe designs, so we move on.









NASA Deputy Administrator Tours Sierra Nevada Space Systems' Dre








We see problems and solutions as we move into a design project.  These ventures share the same technology availability except for the unique solutions we can each add.  I look ahead to lots of work and lots of paychecks for the innovators and problem solvers.




Sierra Nevada and Stratolaunch Team Up on Dream Chaser Space Plane – NBC News
Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle space plane may have lost out in NASA’s space taxi competition, but the company is still keeping the dream alive

OH YEAH…This validates in part my in-line staging concept too.  If they used the blended wing bodies and rockets on the first stage this could be even smaller, faster, and cheaper!





We do still have the Air Force operating the unmanned X-37, which continues to validate winged shuttles as reusable space vehicles.  Sierra Nevada’s Dreamchaser may live on for other missions as well.



While NASA may feel threatened by the ghost of failures and costs from the shuttle program, the safety problems of winged vehicles were only created by problems associated with the booster stage tanks and rockets.  The winged shuttle orbiters were reliable and reusable aside from those issues.  For ALL national manned space systems to be capsule based only ignores the value of those great vehicles.

The Dreamchaser is a design based on previous NASA development, and represents salvation of a lot of taxpayer investment.  Too many NASA experiments have been terminated with no return value to the taxpayers.  The Dreamchaser is built on a legacy of successful reusable orbital winged reentry vehicles.  To date NO manned capsule has ever been reusable.  There is no legacy or history of such re-usability, and both of the “winners” of this competition depend on delivering the unproven promise.

Parachutes have delivered capsules to the ocean and they may be able to clean off the salt water and burned up heat shields.  The Spacex vertical landing idea is still being tested.  Spacex is more successful with vertical landing tests, but still suffer an occasional mishap.  There is a legacy of failed vertical landers among other firms though.  One group reported a power failure at altitude as “an interesting data point”.  As these rockets grow larger the interesting data points may come from a seismograph!  It seems reasonable to suggest that statistically a mishap will eventually come to these manned capsule operations.  They lack the potential to glide to a safe landing.  Spacex may offer parachutes as a backup at least.

While capsules are a proven system generally, why should all of our tax dollars go to only one system?  Why should we abandon a valid alternative that is being demonstrated regularly by the Air Force X-37?  The deep space Orion Capsule is another example of missing the boat in this way.  Our tax investment should not be all put in one basket while we lose the lessons of a valuable alternative system.

While this blog is dedicated to the virtues of horizontal launch, it is dependent on the lessons of the past, including horizontal landing.  Horizontal launch includes the Orbital Sciences Pegasus, the X-15, and Space Ship One.  Our vision for fully reusable orbiters is built on the legacy of the Prime Lifting Body, the shuttles, and the X-37.  Without the reentry technology re-usability is non-existent.  To date, only winged orbiters have ever achieved this goal.  This is the wrong time to look back to the Mercury program of the early 60s and hope to convert them to reusable systems.  Tax payers should insist on keeping the most viable technologies in service while new solutions are tested.

While this is a horizontal launch advocacy site, we are inviting Sierra Nevada to publish here too.  If they wish to help us to educate the public about the opportunity here we welcome contributions.  I hope that qualified investors will recognize the value of such a proven technology.  We need to see support for the courage expressed by Sierra Nevada in expressing interest in pressing on for new missions and markets.

Sierra Nevada could use a serious asteroid miner, moon ventures, and tourist destinations to assure investors of a market. The U.S. mail contract was a big deal, but biplanes filled that first assignment. Visionary investors need to see the value waiting. There WILL be another generation of launch vehicles equivalent to the DC3; efficient commercial vessels. Now is the time to buy low and sell high. Sierra Nevada holds the best technology for returning treasures to earth now.


X-37 3