From Private Equity National Venture Forum presentation, New
York City, February 2004.
19th century California was remote from the
East Coast for lack of transcontinental railroads. Today low earth
orbit (LEO) remains remote for lack of inexpensive, reusable launch
vehicles (RLVs) operating like aircraft. Consequently operators
spend vast sums developing satellites for infrequent launch on
costly, expendable launch vehicles (ELVs). Business profit margins
are narrow or unstable; passenger operations, dismissed as fantasy.
Should launch operations become less restrictive, less costly and
more frequent, less expensive satellites become replaceable or open
to revisit. Other orbital markets open, including passenger launches
and space station rendezvous - anyoneıs space station. The key
requirement is aircraft-like access to space costing less in
development and operation than existing transport so much like
'sailing around the Horn.' Stellar-J, a rocketplane with wings and
jet engines for airport horizontal takeoffs and landings constitutes
revolutionary change for space launch, yet stands as neither
unthinkable nor undoable.
Though those needing new space systems include even
NASA, efforts to replace Shuttle founder before launch. Observers
assume no one can if NASA canıt. Economists suspect that the
aircraft industry (like the automotive) is 'mature', since
manufacturers Boeing and Airbus build and sell subsonic commercial
jets at razor margin with designs tending to converge. Yet have all
inefficiencies been wrung from orbital launch services? Could there
be opportunities for start-up ventures as well as dreams?
Loading an ELV with a million pounds of propellant to deliver ten
tons to orbit costs $1 million, but expended hardware and
preparations increase mission costs 100 fold. Kerosene engines now
available could last 30 flights - if reused. This compels a race to
field a first stage RLV operable from a conventional runway.
Last spring in Technology Review ('Countdown for Rocket Planes'),
David Chandler begins: "Planes powered by cheap reusable rockets
could be the future of space transportation. But don't look to NASA:
the initiative is coming from a group of small maverick
companies...'"Jeff Greason who once managed Pentium chip development
at Intel, founded XCOR, a manufacturer of rocket engines and small
rocket planes. Chandler writes : "Six years ago [ Greason,] left the
booming microchip industry because he saw the space business as
being where computers had been in the 1970s: a few companies
controlled a market for big, expensive hardware oblivious to the sea
change brought about by a few ...[enthusiasts] who, working in
garages, used off-the-shelf parts to produce amazing new personal
computer systems... "
Since aircraft companies for decades have built commercial jets
for subsonic stratospheric flight, customized craft can be built to
carry rocket propellant, engines and tanks for higher flight.
Contemplating rocket ignition, flight characteristics from liftoff
through rocket boost can be analyzed prior to flight; but unlike
ballistic rockets, flight tests can proceed incrementally, first
loaded with water ballast instead of liquid oxygen, then firing
rockets briefly instead of the all or nothing gamble of vertical
liftoff from a launch pad. With the envelope explored, a path opens
for 2nd stage booster flights to orbit or attached payloads in
ballistic ascents that can include space tourists. Ultimately large
scale Stellar J's launch cargo or passengers to space stations
(747s, Soyuz, and Stellar-J passenger designs: liftoff ~340 tons).
Immediate small-scale applications (e.g., 35 ton liftoff) include
the underserved micro-satellite market.
Working since 1997, our designs for Stellar-J already
include flight simulations, mission scenarios and timelines. We
identified hardware elements and examined performance with reference
aerodynamics and mass properties. We have analytical approaches to
the technical issues and risks. We have a small core organization
with identified subcontractors well positioned to save costs. We
want to take Stellar-J through design and development to provide
cost competitive and highly capable space transport for satellite
delivery and orbital rendezvous.
Stellar-J represents "underground'"aerospace thinking, thought
that surfaced dramatically on the 100th anniversary of the Wright
Brothersı first flight. Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites team
flight-tested a winged, reusable rocketplane competing for the
X-Prize. The pilot broke the sound barrier on a climb to 68,000-ft.
Rutan expects to reach 100-km incrementally by 2005. There were no
more significant observances of 17 Dec. 1903. No other flight
demonstrations. No Presidential or NASA policy announcements. That
flight was a prelude to a play in which Stellar-J will take up an