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Posts Tagged ‘XCOR’

62 mile club has a writeup of a beta “customer qualification program” for XCOR’s Lynx suborbital craft. This highlights the differences and current state of play. Rocketships will not be as safe as airliners in the near future, and they don’t need to be. There are millions of things that are less safe than airliners – scuba diving, ballooning, general aviation, motorcycling, probably even driving a car. And yet people do those things because they have the judgement and can decide for themselves.

The key difference is an informed consent. The suborbital rocket traveler should be told of the risks truthfully so that they can decide for themselves if they want to do it or not. This, I gather, has always been XCOR’s principle.

Airlines are not directed at such customers because they are a mass means of travel – the customer is not briefed specially but is expecting reasonably good safety – and there are thus governmental and intergovernmental bodies regulating the airlines and trying to constantly improve safety.

It would not make the slightest sense to regulate suborbital passenger rockets at this time at airline level – there are only a few passengers and the companies should have the time and resources to screen and brief them very well on what it will be like and what the risks are. (This is a must though – you shouldn’t advertise the service as something as safe as airlines.)

There should be some very simple regulation of rocketships regarding the risk to the uninvolved public of course – most companies deal with this adequately by just flying from remote enough locations. And of course there’s environmental regulation – it’s not cool to put tonnes of methanol into the ground water for example. Yet these are small no brainer issues (I’ve heard stories of over-eager environmental protection agencies though).

Nontoxic (or those that quickly decompose to such in nature) fuels and oxidizers should help a lot in this regard. Suborbital rocketry is not that performance critical anyway – it is a great way to find the lowest investment and operating cost approaches to rocketry – and these drive towards “nice” systems. Safe, easy, nontoxic, nonhazardous, redundant.

Regeneratively cooled LOX-ethanol or LOX-methane engines could be good in this regard – propellant spills and dumps are not that horrible to the environment or to the public, and the engine could in theory run indefinitely without any parts replaced if it is just refuelled.

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I’m quite that just right now. It will pass. Perhaps.

There’s been some discussion in various places about both NASA and potential future launch vehicles. Everything’s just so static in a large sense. Completely hopeless. I’ll throw in the towel for now.

Almost nobody has the required long attention span or patience to make any useful progress on the space front, and certainly not society itself.

The Players

USA is the only instance that is putting any significant money into doing anything new. And that’s wasted on the Ares rockets. ESA consists of a bunch of bickering countries, they’ve achieved some nice things but most of the people in the parttaking countries don’t even know they exist. No significant money spent on doing anything new, and what is done in Europe, is very often just me-too copying of American approaches. (Take Hermes as an example.) India is running with some crazy hypersonic stuff. China is doing intermittent Soyuz copy PR flights. Japan is doing something overcomplicated and abortive like they have always seemed to.

What are we left with? A bunch of US newspace companies with so little funding they won’t reach much in the next decade (Euro real newspace like SPL has zero funding at the moment). Scaled’s Spaceshiptwo is a dead end propulsion wise with the hybrids, and the air launching provides some scalability problems too. Maybe XCOR’s Lynx will fly some tourists to some altitude, and maybe there might be some X-racers. It won’t change stuff radically. The X-15 lessons were tossed to the trashbin too, to make way for the farces of NASP and X-33. Armadillo might fly something newish. So what? They don’t have enough money to even put turbopumps on the vehicle, resulting in ridiculous performance for orbital missions.

SpaceX? Forget it. It’s a rerun of Orbital Sciences Corporation, at best (and at the moment it looks much worse). No revolution, and evolution only very slightly.

COTS? Maybe something will actually fly, as it seems it has to try to pick up the mess that NASA put itself in with Ares and Orion. I’m not so well versed into the coming phases and how the politics will go. Both Lockmart and Boeing are in Ares/Orion so they don’t have such strong incentives to replace it with their own COTS solution flying on EELV on the short term. Depending how tightly they can keep their own ULA/EELV guys on a leash, and that has been shown to be ugly, people having gotten into trouble for what they have said on some web forums. NASA’s logical short term COTS alternative, a capsule on an EELV is thus self-censored.

But all this, even when happening in a good way, won’t change price to orbit significantly or enable real spacefaring.

What You’d Need

You’d need a refuel and go again reusable launch vehicle (RAGA RLV) that has turbopumps. No newspace company has money for that (and they are wisely using their little money on something else anyway). Besides, you’d in any case need multiple X-vehicles to develop the techniques like TPS or launch infrastructure and procedures to maturity so they could be operated with reasonable crew size and consistency. A launcher could be depended upon.

Human societies don’t seem to have capability to demand long term commitment to that technology development.

Environment Analogy

Same with the environment. If oil prices stay above 100 dollars, coal based petroleum will come soon and the synthesis already will produce massive amounts of CO2. New coal plants will be built too to produce cheap electricity to consumers who want it. Earth will change significantly with the resulting temperature rise.

No significant new energy producing or saving technology or international pacts will be seriously considered, never mind put into effect in the next ten years.

P.S. This post was written with the new Firefox 3. Hope it doesn’t muck up during publishing. Happy Midsummer. Looks to be rainy here.

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XCOR Lynx

XCor Lynx suborbital vehicle

BEGIN EDIT
Oh well, there actually is more info about the vehicle outside XCOR’s press release (why didn’t they put that there?). Here, at Clark Lindsey’s Hobbyspace. Seems my speculations were a bit off-base, the dry mass was fine but the mass ratio is a lot bigger, about 3. I noticed after posting from the flight profile that the burn is quite long, 3 minutes, giving more gravity losses… So, with all this taken into account, a big part of the speculation below is wrong.
END EDIT

Well, I didn’t expect this, I thought XCOR had gotten an outside contract when they announced early this week they’d announce something on wednesday.

2 people to 62 km. All-rocket propulsion, horizontal takeoff, glide landing.

Interesting though, I had talked about this to a friend in February, how such vehicle would make perfect sense as a start: liquid engine with pumps to ensure very low operations cost: essentially just refuel and go again – and small size (one passenger) to enable low capital cost and easy improvability.

I was already going through Lynx in my head in the day, itching to reverse engineer the engine specs, so here goes. 🙂

(more…)

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