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starship-design: FW: SSRT: Space Access Update no. 75 (fwd)
From: Chris W. Johnson [SMTP:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Wednesday, September 24, 1997 3:25 PM
To: Single Stage Rocket Technology News
Subject: SSRT: Space Access Update no. 75 (fwd)
Date: Wed, 24 Sep 1997 14:46:46 -0400 (EDT)
From: NSS List Account <email@example.com>
To: DC-X <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Space Access Update #75 9/23/97 (fwd)
Space Access Update #75 9/23/97
Copyright 1997 by Space Access Society
We've had a number of comments about our Updates running both too long
and too infrequently. We're going to lean toward "Better is the enemy
of Good Enough" for a while and try to get news out the door faster.
stories this issue:
- DOD MSP Gets $10 million in FY'98 Defense Appropriation Conference
- NASA News
- "Future X", RLV Work In Doubt as NASA Faces Funding Crunch
- X-33 Aerodynamic Configuration Still Evolving
- X-34, Bantam News
(Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote near-term radical
reductions in the cost of reaching space. You may redistribute this
Update in any medium you choose, as long as you do it whole and intact.
Contact us for permission to use excerpts beyond "fair use" limits.)
Military "Spaceplane" (MSP) Funded at $10 million in FY'98
Our thanks to everyone who responded to part 1 of our 9/10/97 political
alert supporting preliminary technology work on fast-turnaround, small-
groundcrew reusable space vehicles within the USAF. We think it's a
necessary hedge to the NASA RLV bet, and we're very glad to say that the
House-Senate Defence Appropriations conference finished up last Friday
with a bill that includes $10 million for this work. It may not sound
like much, but then it's going to many of the same people who built and
flew DC-X for less than $70 million total. It's a start.
A related piece of good news: The USAF FY'99 budget request will, for
the very first time, actually include funding for MSP work. The amount
asked for is token, $5 million. The significance of this news is that
up till now, all DOD money for this sort of work has been unrequested,
added later by the Congress. Now someone in DOD is finally admitting
that reusable rockets matter. It'll still be a fight to get funding,
but now we have a hook to hang it from.
NASA "Future X", RLV Funding In Doubt
In the short term, NASA "Future X" funding is in doubt - last we heard
the HUD/VA/IA (NASA) Appropriations conference preparations are still
grinding on, but we understand there's overwhelming pressure to find
money elsewhere in NASA to cover the accumulated Space Station overruns
- $430 million needed in FY'98 is the latest figure we've seen.
We asked for support for the higher House total NASA appropriation in
the conference, and for $15 million to be reallocated for "Future X"
reusable launch experiments out of this. (See part 2 of our 9/10/97
political alert at www.space-access.org for details.)
If you haven't yet acted on that alert, or if you came up with an
ongoing contact out of it, please ask for this in addition to what's in
the alert: A statement of support for NASA "Future X" in the HUD/VA
Appropriation "statement of managers" (the explanatory report language
that accompanies the "conference report", the actual bill.) It can't
hurt, it might help, it costs nothing - and given the Station funding
overruns, costing nothing is a considerable virtue.
We understand the HUD/VA Appropriations conference will take place
tomorrow, Wednesday 9/24/97 - try to get your two cents worth in tonight
or tomorrow morning, if you haven't already. Thanks!
NASA Funding Crunch Gets Worse Next Year
The FY'98 funding process is winding down, and already the first steps
in the FY'99 federal budget are happening. We understand that White
House OMB (Office of Management and Budget) has set NASA's FY'99 budget
request cap at $12.6 billion, down 6.7% from this year's $13.5 billion.
We hear that NASA HQ thinks this isn't enough to continue doing all the
things NASA currently does, and that they are working on a list of cuts
that includes just about all RLV work other than X-33.
To a considerable extent, this is a ritual - OMB threatens cuts,
agencies claim they'll have to dump programs under such severe cuts and
spread rumors about killing projects they think will generate political
fuss and thus pressure on OMB to cut less. This is still months from
being NASA's formal budget request; much will change.
However, despite all promises to the contrary, Station overruns look
like eating a lot of other projects' lunches within NASA in FY'98, and
even if OMB relents somewhat on the reduced NASA budget ceiling, things
will likely get worse rather than better in FY'99. Absent radical
change, anything we can get done at NASA in the next couple years will
be around the margins, low-budget stuff - we don't anticipate any major
new starts, and we expect considerable pressure on existing projects.
Just as well there are signs of life among the startup companies in the
commercial RLV sector. In that regard, we should mention that we've
come upon indications that at least one additional outfit, our near-
namesake Space Access Inc, of Palmdale CA, has found sufficient funding
to have engineers on staff doing design work. SA Inc is we hear working
on a partially airbreathing approach. (See www.space-access.org for
SAU #74 with more on the other five funded RLV startups we know of.)
Senate NASA Authorization In The Works
Meanwhile, we hear the Senate Commerce Committee's Space & Technology
Subcommittee is still working on their first NASA Authorization bill in
years, and that there will very likely be a final Authorization, though
if so, not till very late in this year's session. One interesting thing
we hear: Senator John McCain, chairman of the overall Commerce
Committee, has spoken in favor of writing the current informal $2.1
billion annual cap on Station into law in this Authorization. This
would definitely make life interesting for NASA HQ and the Station
project if it ended up in the final version - and McCain's record is
that he's both tight with a buck, and a very determined man indeed once
he makes up his mind.
X-33 Aerodynamic Configuration Still Evolving
We hear that X-33's low-speed stability problems still aren't solved,
and that there's some disagreement as to the best way to solve them -
some of the aerodynamicists think that small forward "canard" control
surfaces are the way to go, but the main approach is still further
increases in the size of the tail fins. (No cheap shots about Detroit
in '57, please...)
(One of our advisors points out that the Russians solved similar
lifting-body low-speed handling problems with a flat "shovel-nose" shape
for the forward fuselage. We would assume this approach has already
been looked at for X-33, but we thought we'd mention it, just in case.
Given the amount of standoff structure that's already crept in from
aerodynamic changes, and given the need to add ballast to the nose
anyway, the weight of such a change shouldn't be a show-stopper.)
X-34 is actually going pretty well, from what we hear - the design has
been frozen for a while now, and airframe construction is underway.
Flight test site preparations at White Sands in New Mexico are also
We do note that X-34's primary engine, the MSFC "FasTrac" design
project, seems to still be having its problems. NASA Marshall isn't
saying much about this, but we note what they don't say speaks volumes:
Their announcement of a full-duration test-stand firing of the FasTrac
combustion chamber and nozzle says nothing about status of the injectors
and propellant pumps. We hope the X-34 contractor has kept the option
for a Russian backup engine alive despite the apparent political
pressure to the contrary.
The NASA Bantam project awarded four $2 million preliminary contracts
earlier this year, the object being to support development of components
for new low-cost lightsat launchers. We understand the Bantam project
is on hold, due to a losing bidder (Microcosm, we hear) protesting the
awards. Given NASA's growing budget crunch, it's possible we'll see
this leading to Bantam being killed entirely or radically restructured.
Which would be a shame, for although Bantam isn't exactly how we'd have
gone about encouraging startups in the cheap launch business, it's a lot
better than nothing.
And that's all for this week...
Space Access Society
"Reach low orbit and you're halfway to anywhere in the Solar System"
- Robert Anson Heinlein