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US Military May Resurrect X-33 195

Delbert Matlock writes "The Wasington Post is running a story which hasn't yet been picked up by the other major space news carriers regarding the possibility of the Air Force taking over the X-33 program. For those who don't remember, the X-33 was a NASA program to build a single stage to orbit spacecraft. After Lockheed ran horribly over budget and behind schedule, NASA decided to can the program earlier this year. Apparently, the Air Force sees potential in this design of craft for a weapons delivery system."
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US Military May Resurrect X-33

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    That was so funny I forgot to laugh. (Score:-1, Offtopic)
  • by Anonymous Coward this X33 suppoced to be better than X11? In that case it is good that the project continues. Any links to rpms?
  • n : the framework and covering of an airplane or rocket, excluding the engines.
  • I agree with that.

    I think I was wrong on that first US combat jet's name. I think it was the called the XP-59 AiraComet. The AirCobra was the Bell P-39, disliked by the Americans and Brits, it was used by the Russians as an Anti-Tank attack plane to great effect.

    In spring of 41 the US got the blueprints for the Gloster E-28/29 jet prototype's engines...and that was used in the XP-59.

    The Lockheed P-80A was the first US fighter to be sent to a combat zone (Italy) and then was used to great effect in Korea. It used a GE engine, not the engine the Bell XP-59 used.
  • Couple hours ago, after I posted, I was surfing around and found a website linked off the Federation of American Scientist website - - and there was a link to a page (on another computer...that's why I don't remeber it) about the history of the P-80. 4 were sent to Europe and used for recon. Some places say they were in Italy, others in I'm not sure.

    I know the B-29 that was sent to Europe in WW2 was done just so the German's would think it was there in a show of force. Something like, leaving it in the open till they were sure than a photo bird had flown over, then took it back to the States.
  • Well, yea I know who Goddard is. I didn't say the US got all of it's rocket technology from the Germans. The statement is true. The US got rocket technology from the Germans. Alot of our technology did come from the Germans. As did alot of Russian rocket technology.

    What did this all have to do with the AF and the X-33? Nothing...the thread all started off of "and let's not forget their success with developing jet power rapidly in the 40s (with the help of the German military)".

    So I might have been offtopic. Sorry.

    BTW - I think it'd been nice if the USAF did help keep that project alive.
  • by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @06:43AM (#294050)
    The US got rocket technology from the Germans, as did the Brits and Russians.

    However...US jet technology was initially jointly developed with the British. The US did get some Me 262s late in the war and after the war from the Germans, and those engines were higher powered but had extremely short lives.

    The first American combat jet was the AirCobra, but it never went into combat, then the P-80 was sent to Italy in spring of '45...but never saw combat. Had the Allied invasion of Japan taken place in Nov 45 and spring of 46 more of the more advanced P-80s would have flown in combat. But the atomic bomb ended the invasion plans.
  • Eek.

    I'd rather the military were spending money on projects with a greater chance of working; for high-speed "spaceplane" type stuff, Pioneer Rocketplane seems to be a much better system. I also think roton showed promise. But I don't think X-33 was even a good-faith effort, and I suspect that liquid hydrogen isn't a decent fuel for an operational vehicle.

  • If you think the X-33 followon is going to be cheaper than the shuttle, you haven't been paying attention to either program.

  • It's not really a third chance; when it was being run by BMDO it was effectively a different program, Lockheed was the winner with its design only after it got transferred to NASA. The MacDac design was totally different, as was Rockwell's. Of course, both of those companies are now owned by Boeing, which has a strong NIH attitude towards VTOL.

  • I doubt the Russians have a plane capable of outflying the F-22; however, I appreciate your point about airframe wear.

    I think a better plan would be to build a small force of F-22's, and a larger one of JSF and improved F-16's, the latter included in case it turns out F-22's or JSF's are to expensive to operate. The next war we get in, it'll probably be force with the better trained pilots that wins, not the one with the most expensive jets. And I don't think the X-33 is the way to get there.

  • I suppose reusable SSTO is easier than everyone thinks. Getting everyone involved to shift their paradigms to those necessary to get cheap SSTO, isn't. The political problems outweigh the technical ones by a large factor.

  • Did we not kick Iraq's ass?

    Get a grip.

    The US has no serious challengers on the military front. These weapons may be ancient and "outdated", but why subject ourselves to another round of fraudulent endless delays and cost overruns, and pork barrelling politics just to upgrade that which already works, and works EXTREMELY well, compared to what other countries have?

    None of our enemies is in any position to threaten us. nor will they be for decades. if at all. Maintaing a lead is one thing. building a conveyor belt to load candy (in the form of tax revenues) straight into the defense contractors in this environment is ludicrous.
  • As troop transport, that's not a very good idea.

    How many troops will one flight transport?

    How will you support and supply troops delivered at such a range? Without at least a half a dozen backup flights?
    How do you pull the troops out of there in a hurry?

    This isn't a good plan for delivering troops.
  • Oh, I'm all for missile defense systems (if only we had technology that actually worked!).

    But bitching about needing new fighters and tanks and ships is just a bunch of defense-contractor lobbyist bullshit.
  • Stonewolf, while SSTO is indeed fairly easy, the other half of the goal, reusability, is not. Still, I agree that NASA definitely went down the wrong path with VentureStar...and we see now what they got for it.
  • Every place humans have gone has been militarized. While I agree that it would be nice if we could all learn to get along, hold hands, and explore space peacefully and cooperatively, that just isn't going to happen. If the U.S. doesn't put weapons in space, someone else will (as if they weren't already there). My only hope is that the first nation to put weapons in orbit (and beyond) is benign enough to share the territory.
  • by Psion ( 2244 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @06:14AM (#294061)
    While the VentureStar (X33) had some very cool features, not the least of which was the linear aerospike engine that could tune its efficiency as the vehicle gained altitude, the McDonnell Douglas had a simpler program called the Delta Clipper.

    X-33 References []

    The Delta Clipper (DC-X) program which MD had proposed for NASA's X-33 effort competed with several other projects, including Lockheed's Venture Star. But the Clipper had a distinct advantage: a working prototype.

    Delta-Clipper Press Release [] Based on off-the-shelf hardware, the DC-X had a fascinating capability that was straight out of 1950's science fiction: this thing could hover! The video footage I've seen of the four-story tall rocket lifting off, rising several hundred feet in the air, moving horizonatally and stopping before descending vertically and landing in the same upright position it took off from was extraordinary. During testing, there were several incidents, including one in which an explosion had occurred on the vehicle as the rockets ignited, but the remotely piloted craft actually took off and hovered before the ground crew realized it had been damaged. Ultimately, the whole program came to a halt when a landing gear failed, causing the prototype to topple over and explode.

    A collection of DC-X images []

    It's a shame Clinton, Gore, and NASA decided to go with the flash and dazzle promised by Lockheed instead of investing the time and energy in a simpler project that was much further along.

  • by Svartalf ( 2997 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @08:05AM (#294062) Homepage
    I think they may be slightly misplaced, but the allure of what the project offers to the millitary (not just the Air Force).

    The millitary has to fly/sail/drive troops and equipment to the locations they're needed. That takes time. They're always looking for ways to shave that time off. SSTO technologies offer the promise of the fastest way to deploy things to the front yet.

    Think semiballistic flight paths not unlike an ICBM without having to "crash" into their target. This means offering insanely fast transport for stuff to wherever you want it on this planet.

    Think manned troop carriers deploying shock troops to nearly anywhere in the world in 90 minutes or less.

    Think of a system to deploy equipment of most any kind so long as the payload capacity isn't exceeded- to the same possible places in the same possible time.

  • The space shuttle and x-33 come back as gliders and so don't waste precious payload space carrying landing fuel.

    No, they waste precious payload space carrying huge load-bearing wings or multilobed conformal fuel tanks. It's possible that these things could be made lighter than the fuel a VTOL would need to land... but they haven't been so far. In fact, in the redesign pictures I saw before someone gave a merciful bullet to X-33, it's "stabilizer" flaps were starting to look like outright wings themselves.
  • And he shouldn't be repeated by Moofie, let alone random anonymous cowards.

    The National Aerospace Plane (NASP) and X-33 are completely different programs; anyone willing to spend 5 minutes on the web could verify that. Another 10 minutes would be enough to discover that the parent post was talking about the NASP, not the X-33. A professor of aerospace engineering should definitely know better; I really hope that this error was introduced by misquoting...
  • I was about to bitch about your comment, Mr Coward, on the basis that it wasn't a troll... but then I realized you were trolling for me.

    I bow to the master.

  • to quit waiting for the government.

    Several posts here on this and other space topics have links to space advocay organizations.

    The industrialized world represents a population of at least 700 million (quick almanac work, but I missed some countries). Let us assume that 1 in 10,000 could be a serious space enthusist willing to invest some small amount into a private space program. This gives a base of 70,000 people.

    A quick scan of the news stories indicates serious work would require a budget of between $200M US and $500M US (the later is the total budget of NASA SLT, which appears to fund several projects).

    Quick math then:
    500,000,000/(700,000,000/10,000) = $7000 (rounded to one sig fig) at the top and $1400 at the low end.

    That is a lot to get people to put out year after year, but: The Boston Ballet has over a thousand members giving $1000 this year above their ticket costs. It has over a hundred paying more than $10,000 and a handful (complete nubmers later when I get my most recent program) who have committed to $30,000+ over 3 or more years. This are all individuals or families. That is in one city in the US. Extend it to the Industralized world and you have a lot of money even if we do a tenth as well.

    Not everyone would contribut that much, but as a rough model let us try:
    Membership of 70,000 world wide:
    Half give at a basic level of $75 US (cost of skipping going to MickeyD's once a month). For each ramp up by 1000% we get half the remaining members until we get to $10,000 then split half between that and twice that.

    • 35,000 at $75/US for $2,625,000
    • 17,500 at $750/US for $13,125,000
    • 8,750 at $7500/US for $65,625,000
    • 8,750 at $15,000/US for $131,250,000
    • Total $212,625,000 which allowing for 5% organizational overhead meets our floor budget.

    What if a core group founded a non-profit whose sole purpose was manned access to space, but whose primary method was not advocacy but research? If done right it could be considered a charity for foundation and tax purposes (which helps in some gifts). It might take three or four years to do enough to have seed money for the first investment, but why not.

    If we want to go to space, why not just pay for it ourselves. What we would need is 12 years of fundraising at the above levels (with inflation covered), two to get seeded (to get space and contracts for parts and such) and ten more to fund.

    Anyone want to start an X-Prize non-profit?


  • Lockheed has already spent $400 million. They estimate it would cost another $400 million to finish it. What they want right now is for NASA to spend $15 million to keep the project going while the air force looks into taking it over.

    I say that if Lockheed really thought that would happen, they'd front the $15 million themselves. Since they are spending their energies trying to get NASA to pay it, they must not have much confidence in the air force coming thru.

  • Japan's Institute of Space and Astronautical Science has been flying a small-scale remotely-piloted VTVL demonstrator craft on a fairly small budget as a proof-of-concept vehicle, seen here flying around as a naked framework(!) [] and here with it's skin on [].

    If anyone from Japan knows more about this, I'd love to hear about it.

    Jon Acheson
  • Because a parachute landing is basically a controlled crash.

    Hint: when the Army parachutes a hummer into an area, they drop the crew separately from the vehicle, because if they were in the vehicle, they'd get totalled by the landing impact!

    Yes, the Russians land their people on the ground via parachute, but not with a ship they want to reuse.

    Also, you really can't control where the ship is going to land with a parachute, you have to aim for a big stretch of ocean or desert. With a VTVL, you can land at the spaceport and get taxied back over to the launch pad, without expensive cranes or assembly buildings.

    Jon Acheson
  • X-33 + ABL [] = Crossbow

    AKA the space laser plane from the movie Real Genius

  • My concern is not that the military can save money by developing new systems. My concern is that the existing airframs are in dire need of replacement and we aren't spending the money to do that and are instead spending money on systems like this that, while perhaps very cool in and of themselves, don't fit into our existing strategic plan and don't serve an existing need.
  • I agree that the JSF is moving along. I'm not as optimistic as you about the F-22 (and I don't know if that is a good or a bad thing -- the plane flys fabulously, but it's very limited payload capacity makes it a very short-duration fighter and an ineffecient payload delivery vehicle). But that's not where the needs end.

    The B-52 is out-of-date, but the B-1 is nearing the end of its usefullness and we still have tactical uses for that type of delivery. The B-2's are too few to take over the major bombing duties. And too expensive to use as replacement vehicles even if they weren't.

    But we have a vast array of other needs as well. Our electronic survallence platforms are getting very out of date as airframes go. We've never really found a good replacement for the F-4s for wild weasel work. Our sub-hunter platforms (admittedly a low priority, but still important, particularly with the soviets selling off their fleet and china developing new subs) are ancient.

    Air refuling vehicles are quite old. We still fly a huge number of C-130s and C-141s as our main cargo vehicles.

    The list goes on and on.

    I agree that it is usually easier to go through X-projects than to go through standard procurrment (one of the reasons that I think the F-22 is dead is that it is now not obtainable by that route but only through procurrement!). But just because it is easier to get something doesn't meant that we should get that something regardless of what it does nad how what it does fits in with our tactical needs and strategic vision.

    I am concerned that with shrinking budgets and increasing number of replacement needs, we aren' spending the limited dollars available well. If the existing fighter fleet lasts another 5 years in combat-ready condition it will be a miricle and a testimoney to the ground crews that keep those birds in the air. But it is just not likely to happen. The attrition rate of our current air fleet is very high. The birds need to be replaced today not in 5-10 years. And that means someone needs to pony up to the table and pay for it.

    Instead we are spending our money on future projects that offer limited viability in terms of our existing needs and have limited scope in terms of our future strategic concerns.

  • by Kope ( 11702 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @05:59AM (#294073)

    It's nice to see that it isn't only business managers that get wooed by new technology and spend money on stuff they don't need. We get it in the military as well.

    With the F-16, F-18's and F-14's showing their age, and the F-22 not being produced, we have a real pressing need right now for a new production air-frame. The Russian Mig-33 is capable of outflying anything we have in the sky (including the F-22!) and while it isn't in production, the possibility remains that other nations could fund the production of those planes (china anyone?!).

    Outside of the fighter arena, we are flying seriously old craft in other roles as well. Our air combat support aircraft are ancient and (lacking the sex appeal of new fighters) have not been subjects of serious research in decades (the airframes not the electronic add-ons). Our bombers, with the exception of the very expensive and numerically insignicant B-2s, are on air-frames that are years beyond their expiration dates.

    The airforce needs to be spending money on airframe research and replacement for those needs NOW. Any futuristic weapons delivery system like the X-33 project should be looked at as a long-term "nice to see but not necessary" expenditure that only gets funded once the immediate needs are met. Sure, it's a lot less sexy and doesn't make the areospace journal newsmen drool, but it is what is needed and what should be expected and demanded from responsible leadership.

  • Outside of the fighter arena, we are flying seriously old craft in other roles as well. Our air combat support aircraft are ancient and (lacking the sex appeal of new fighters) have not been subjects of serious research in decades (the airframes not the electronic add-ons).

    Right on, we have to think of the sex appeal! How are those pretty flyboys like Maverick [] and his buddy Goose supposed to get laid if their aircraft lack sex appeal?!?

    Fuck the economy, fuck aerodynamics, we need sexier jets!


    Loneliness is a terrible price to pay for independence.

  • I won't deny there is a lot of waste in both NASA and the military. I work for the military and get to see it first hand. It's rampant all through gov't agencies.

    My personal theory is that a lot of the waste comes from a lack of profit motive. What is common in gov't service is that if you screw up bad enough you either a) get promoted to get rid of you or b) get more people under you to fix things which justifies a higher position. Either way, the best way to move up is to screw up. Compare that to the commercial world where if you screw up you will end up in the unemployment line.

  • Don't forget that after NASA took over the DC-X project from the Air Force they then proceeded to crash the craft (due to human error) and then kill it off. There were obviously some skunks in the NASA works (not to be confused with the Lockheed-Martin Skunkworks, which actually does produce interesting things).

  • What is the military need for this? We've had two generations of bombers, the B1 and B2, that haven't seen combat and aren't going to, ever.

    Both the B-1 and B-2 saw combat in the Balkans. The B-1 bombers were forward deployed, but the B-2s flew out of the US and did a 30-hour plus round trip mission.

    The B-1 would have been used clear back in the Gulf War except that they were grounded at the time. I don't remember if that was the leaking fuel tanks or the engine falling off problem. The B-1 is an amazing plane, but it shows the worst of "design by committee" engineering.

    The biggest reason the B-2 bombers cost so much is because so few were built. All the development costs are included in that price tag. Had more been built, the per aircraft cost would have been lower.

  • a nuclear aircraft carrier for the cost of four shuttle missions...

    I'd dispute this. A shuttle mission costs around $250 million with all training and ground support. Last I heard, an aircraft carrier costs about $7 billion. I think that would come closer to 28 shuttle missions.

  • The primary technical jewel on this thing was the cryo-composite fuel tank. It failed miserably, and was going to be replaced with an aluminum tank.

    I'd put the linear aerospike engines and the metallic thermal protection system pretty high on the list of technical jewels. Both of those technologies in themselves are worth pursuing.

    The linear aerospike engines are lighter, require no gimbaling (hinges), and are less likely to suffer catastrophic failure compared to traditional bell engines. Their design is perfect for lifting body vehicles being that they spread the thrust across a large area rather than focusing it to a point.

    The metallic thermal protection system (TPS) could replace the current ceramic tiles on the shuttle and cut it's turnaround cost considerably. The ceramic tiles have to be inspected and specially treated after every flight. Metallic TPS is more durable and easier to service.

    The biggest problem with the X-33 was that it tried to test too many technologies in one place. Being that everyone new the fuel tanks were high risk, they should have built aliminum tanks to start with the intention of changing them out with composite tanks later. "Build a little, test a little" is a far safer method when you are putting all your eggs in one basket.

  • by decaym ( 12155 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @06:39AM (#294080) Homepage
    While I hate to see the military taking over this project, at least the X-33 has a chance to fly. I just hope they'll build a couple and lob them over the fence to NASA (who did spend $400 million, after all) when they're done.

    Actually, NASA spent over $1 billion. Lockheed was in it for $400 million of their own money.

    The X-34 (the real plane to be built based on the X-33)...

    Sorry, but you are thinking of the VentureStar []. The X-34 was a technology demonstrator. It got canned because of shifting design requirements that were running the price up too high.

  • The X-33 had a lot of promising ideas and new technologies - it's nice to see that all of that will get a second chance.

    It's actually more of a third chance. Before NASA had it, it was under the auspices of the Ballistic Missle Defense Organization (under the Department of Defense), in a (relatively) low-cost/fast-track arrangement with McDonnell Douglas. Development seemed to steady and promising until it was passed over to NASA.

    At this point, I just want somebody to work on it, as long as it results in a useful (and publicly available) design.

  • >We've had two generations of bombers, the B1 and
    >B2, that haven't seen combat and aren't going to,

    The B-2 was used against Serbia in 1999. It flew less than 5% of the missions, but dropped 25% of the guided munitions in the entire conflict. They sortied from Holliman AFB in Missouri, refueled over the Atlantic, conducted their missions in Serbia regardless of the weather, and returned to base.

    The B-2 was originally designed to drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union. The Air Force wanted more capability, so they had Northrop redesign the plane to fly low and drop conventional weapons too (one of the reasons the thing took so long to develop).

    The B-2 works. Just ask the Chinese; their embassy in Belgrade was hit by a bomb dropped by a B-2. Old map, accurate delivery, courtesy of the US Air Force.

    On the other hand, the B-1 is a piece of shit. But it is impressive at air shows!
  • Remember, NASA is responsible for the development of the Shuttle, the most expensive and uselessly re-usable craft ever constructed. NASA is responsible for getting us to the moon... in such a way that it wasn't worth it to go back. I, personally, would rather have this shit work and lose the warm fuzzy feelings that we get from nonmilitary nonweapon international science cooperation idiocy. If it could be done effectively, then great! But it can't.
  • Color me not surprised on this one. The military applications of X-33 and X-34 were well understood; when Rumsfeld chaired the Congress-chartered Space Commission [] last year, they came up with a report favorable to suborbital weapons-delivery technology.

    And that's what this is, really: the tech in X-33 and X-34 is optimized for getting stuff places quick, not for carrying people there safe. (The latter is still being studied in the X-38 program, which may lead to a CRV for the space station .. if the US can cajole Europe into paying for it, or something.) Don't think of these as cheap and easy access to space; they are cool tech advances, but they really aren't intended for civilian purposes. It makes much more sense that the military fund them, because they are the ones who will end up using this. Think suborbital cruise missiles. These will become increasingly necessary as our submarines and aircraft carriers are outclassed by technological advances.

    NASA is already redirecting its money toward more promising tech directions. The money they were sinking into X-33 and X-34 is now available for use in the Space Launch Initiative, which is a wider-ranging grant program supporting third-party launch system development. This seed money will be spread around the industry and help fund smaller, more innovative projects. At last NASA is moving away from the military-industrial-complex model that served them so well during the Cold War, and toward a more robust, creative, and less expensive approach that will let dozens of companies try out different concepts and cut out a lot of the political gamesmanship that the big boys always played.

    NASA did kind of want a shuttle successor, but so far Congress was showing no inclination to fund it; we've hardly used the launch system we have (29 flights for the most heavily-used shuttle, with 71, yes, 71 to go before the airframe-rating is exceeded). With upgrades and rebuilds these birds can last a long time, and better yet, the ISS is optimized to their capabilities. NASA may want something else, but it doesn't have a demonstrated need for it.

    No, the cheap access to space breakthrough is going to come from the SLI if it's going to come from anything in Washington. Maybe it won't even be a grant program, but it will be something that gets funded by investors because the company was able to build a great R&D team under SLI.
    lake effect [] weblog
  • NASA doesn't have a demonstrated need for a shuttle replacement? According to one estimate I've heard, it takes 20,000 people to launch a shuttle. Instead of a cheaper way to get into space -- as it was originally intended to be -- it turned out the most expensive. The shuttle's operation is so costly that it's eaten up much of NASA's (continually shrinking) budget, leaving other programs with scraps. And of course, there's the International Space Station -- made more complex and expensive by the need to launch and assemble many small modules, the shuttle being unable to loft large ones. To me, all of this adds up to a *pressing* need for something better than the shuttle.

    Oh, I certainly agree. But Congress doesn't. They have shuttle and don't see a point to funding another program that makes the same claims and may well end up failing to meet them just as dramatically (even though you have to go back 30 years to find those claims, or 15 years to get still-unrealistic but much diminished pre-Challenger ones, Congress has a long memory for this sort of malfeasance).

    Classic divergence between penny-wise capital spending and pound-foolish program spending.

    Thing is, we don't know that we can really do it more cheaply. (Though somehow the Russians manage to scrape by.) US prestige is heavily invested in the idea of RLVs and going "backward" to an EELV, no matter the underlying tech achievement, would be seen as a failure.

    Congress doesn't want that. NASA doesn't (really) want that. Inertia rules.
    lake effect [] weblog
  • I always find it intersting that Americans complain and complain about taxes (even if they have the lowest in the G7), and that the government does nothing for it's citizens, then two minutes later I hear them saying "We need to spend more money on the military".

    I find it amazing that anyone thinks one or two Americans speak for the rest of us. The U.S. is a large country with a large population of people of all stripes and opinions. There are those who want lower taxes. There are those who want more government expenditures. And, surprise!, there are those who have opinions different from these.
  • . . .of Colonel Buzz Aldrin ?? Colonel John Glenn ? Capt. Chuck Yeager ?? You tend to get a LOT of exploration and advancement out of military people: most of the Astronaut and Cosmonaut corps are military or ex-military. . . .

    And from experience, there are a LOT of wannabe Space Cadets in the USAF: MOST of us, at least when I was in, wanted to go to space and explore.

    In other words, perhaps you might want to examine your assupmtions about the military and its' culture, prior to lambasting it. . .

  • Minor quibble: according to Boeing [], the first 747 flew in 1969.

    The first OPERATIONAL C-5 was delivered in the summer of 1970.
    First flight was in 1968.
    The original study contract came out in 1964, the contract to produce came out in 1965, according to Lockheed-Martin []

  • I've read elsewhere that it's likely that Secretary Rumsfield will cut either the F-22 or the JSF. My bet is on the F-22 being cut.

    As for bombers, the B-52 is a perfectly acceptable platform. . .for standoff launching of cruise-missile type weapons. As an ex B-52 EW officer, I can say that a bomber with the radar cross-section of Saskatchewan won't last long in a modern air defense environment, unless that area has been totally sanitized of modern Air Defense assets. B-1's can do conventional, but nowehere as quickly, with as wide a range of weapons, or as effectively as the old Buffosaurus...

    Air Refueling: the -R modifications have done wonderful things to the KC-135s, but still, we need more tankers. A 767 tanker mod comes to mind, as does a 767 AWACS mod (the E-3's date from the late 1970s, and have early 1960's airframes. . .).

    Cargo: we need a lot more C-17s. Period. The Starlifters are ancient. . . .

    Fighters: Now, for where I really piss off the fighter community. The future of air operations is in RPVs and eventually autonomous air vehicles. But, alas, the Air Force, and to a lesser extent, Naval Aviation, is run by Fighter Pilots. . .

  • by Salgak1 ( 20136 ) <[salgak] [at] []> on Friday April 13, 2001 @06:53AM (#294090) Homepage
    Let's look at the results of military weapons programs, shall we ??? The need for a jet cargo plane/tanker had a little spinoff called the Boeing 707. . . the plane that jump-started international passenger aviation.

    Then, the US military needed a wide-bodied heavy-lift cargo craft. We got the C-5. The loser in THAT competition became the Boeing 747. Which further revolutionized air travel, AND kick-started Wide-body technology. . .

    I could continue with things like helicopters, GPS, the TCP/IP protocol, and many others, which were originally developed for the US military. An organization with just as many spinoffs as NASA, just less publicity on them. . .

  • I find it interesting that non-Americans think that there's only one "Americans". Guess what! America is HETEROGENOUS. That means that different people are free to express different viewpoints. I understand that this freedom might be difficult to understand, but it's one we prize greatly.

    For our next lesson, I'm going to tell you that Slashdot readers are also not a monolithic ideological block. Bring a pencil.
  • The uprated SU-27s are every bit as agile as the F-22, probably MORE agile. However, the F-22 has vastly superior avionics and, of course, stealth, which makes it a devastating threat (which may never be realized, unfortunately).

    However, the Su-27 variants are every bit as good as the current inventory of Air Force and Navy fighters. Put a good pilot in a Flanker, and you've got one seriously bad news weapon system.
  • However, until NASA took it over, DC-X was a resounding success. Under-budget, and over-performing at every test. It's a masterful piece of engineering.

  • It was an amazing feat. However, I never really understood why you'd want to do it. Why would you EVER want to land a rocket vertically, under engine power, on a planet with an atmosphere? Parachutes are one hell of a lot lighter than fuel for decelerating.
  • At the cost of increasing your required fuel mass by a factor of about four. I mean, if you're trying to do an insertion of troops from a sub-orbital shuttle, fine, but for ferrying cargo or people to LEO? It just doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.
  • You have to carry your landing fuel up into orbit as payload, though.

    If you're going to do this, why not have a parachute/airbag landing, or a parachute/rocket landing? Steerable canopies work really well as far as aiming goes...

    Rotary Rocket was an autogyro. Good idea. The problem is, accelerating with a rocket at greater than 9.8m/s^2 for a long time takes a metric asston of need fuel to decelerate the fuel you haven't used yet, and your crew, and their consumables, and whatever they're bringing back with them. It's the worst way I can think of to slow down!
  • we can keep our weapons out of other galaxies for now.

    also, the aliens would have to bring their weapons off their home planet, into their local space, transport them across the galaxy, and _use them_ here in order to destroy us ....
  • Regarding the 777 AWACS...

    Are you positive about that []? I haven't heard a thing about a 777 AWACS, but the 767 on the other hand has been in the works for a while...

    What do I do, when it seems I relate to Judas more than You?
  • If the airforce gets the bugs worked out, and can deliver the actual vehicle, NASA will probably find or be given the budget to procure a few of these. I don't know if anyone remembers, but the shuttle Atlantis gets used on a regular basis by the Airforce on secret missions.

  • Did you intentionally exclude the possibility that the original poster may have meant Su-27/31? Those are superior to any air superior fighters the West has developed.

    After the collapse of the Soviet Union, I thought that the West had a chance to buy some of those without spending billions of dollors to develop their counterparts.

    However, it has not happened.

    It would be interesting if the USAF buy some of them as a cheap substitute in the meantime (before they can develop their own air superior fighter).

  • A problem that DOD is quietly worried about is the declining number of . . . welders, pipefitters, and the like

    Good point. The US performed so well in WWII because they were able to outproduce the Axis. A Liberty ship every 48 hours... Sherman tanks by the thousands, plenty of food, scrap metal, rubber, gasoline, etc.

    Isn't it ironic that the greatest capitalist superpower is worried about losing the means of production? Heh. You can't outsource production of guns and bombs when the bad guys own all the factories you used to buy from.

  • NASA is a bunch of blundering idiots. They're the only ones in the entire world with a space program that is even worth a damn.

    All things considered, NASA has a damn good space program. Rocket scientists, unfortuntately, don't make the greatest politicians. And politicians usually don't have a clue when it comes to making technical decisions.

    IANAP (I am not a politician), so I can't tell you why X-33 was cancelled, or why the International Space Station is getting butchered. I can tell you that NASA has a limited budget and they have to go before Congress every year to beg and plead for what they do get.

    There are three laws of government operations:

    1. The amount of sense made by any given proposal or idea is inversely proportional to its probability of being adopted
      • 1st corollary: If you want to screw something up to the maximum extent possible, let the government do it.
      • 2nd corollary: Consider only your own little corner of the world - never mind that your brilliant solution may wreck the whole system.
      • 3rd corollary: Never apply lessons learned from previous programs or mistakes.
    2. Whenever possible, the government will always strive to be penny-wise and pound-foolish
      • 1st corollary: Let someone else worry about solving the problem ten years from now - that way, the money won't come out of your budget.
      • 2nd corollary: Be success-oriented: When in doubt, assume that the system will work as advertised - all that matters is that you bring in the project on time and under cost. (In other words, "You wanted it to work too? -- That will cost extra!")
      • 3rd corollary: Crash programs are based on the theory that if you have 9 pregnant women, you will get a baby in 30 days.
    3. If you try to build something which is all things to all people, it will end up being nothing to anybody
      • 1st corollary: There is such a thing as being too generic.
      • 2nd corollary: Never let the left hand know what the right hand is doing - the communication will waste too much time.
      • 3rd corollary: Keep trying to do more with less. No one will notice that you are actually doing less with less until it is too late. By then, you will likely be gone or retired.
  • > The US got rocket technology from the Germans, as did the Brits and Russians.
    > However...US jet technology was initially jointly developed with the British.

    Britain developed turbojet technology during the war, parallel with germany - the Gloster Meteor was the only allied jet aircraft to see comat in the war (though it never met the Me262, it's german counterpart). The XP59 Airacomet, the USA's first jet, used a modified (british) Whittle gas turbine. The prototype P80 was also powered by a british engine, the de Havilland H.1B turbojet. Production models used the Allison 33-A-35 turbojet.
  • The Russian Mig-33 is capable of outflying anything we have in the sky (including the F-22!) and while it isn't in production, the possibility remains that other nations could fund the production of those planes (china anyone?!).

    The MIG-33 is an updated version of the MIG-29, which first flew in 1977 - quite a while ago. The MIG-29M (redesignated to MIG-33) first flew on 25 April 1986.
    I think you could safely say that while the MIG 33 isn't terrible, it isn't anything I'd like to fly against an F22 or eurofighter in - it has an elderly design history, and is also in itself older and less advanced.
  • While I've never had the privelage of being carpet-bombed by a B-52, I have been subject to many low level fly-overs. I'm originally from southwest North Dakota in an area where the USAF opeated a radar training range---low level evasion tactics, that is. Of course you got your buzzings by fighters at low-levels and just barely subsonic speeds (they were flying low enough where a sonic boom could seriously hurt someone on the ground), but what really kicked ass where the B-52s and B-1Bs. The B-52s (from Minot AFB) used to fly low and slow---low and slow enough where you could see the emergency hatch access points, and read the crew names off the side of plane. (I'd say 350 feet AGL was their highest ceiling during these runs.) The B-1Bs (Ellesworth AFB) made substantially higher speed runs and just looked wicked streaking across the prairie. Oh, reason why North Dakota was chosen instead of a similarily isolated part of the country: The climate and geography is very similar to the Russian steppes. Obvious to the reader why the USAF might want to train with those conditions.

  • Given the opportunity, the institutional client -- represented by the building committee -- will have its way totally, bullying and badgering the architect until it gets a building that responds perfectly to the budget and program, no matter how ugly or poorly detailed the building might be. This is the proverbial camel, a horse designed by committee

    -- Roger K. Lewis, architect, The Foutainheadache

  • 1: Building a nuclear device isn't as simple as most people would assume. You really can't get your plans off of the Internet and build it in your basement, Hollywood notwithstanding. The levels of precision needed for the parts is high enough that small terrorist groups likely won't be up to the task.

    Well, kind of. Provided you don't mind creating a terribly crude and inefficient bomb that wastes most of its reaction mass, a nuke is reasonably straightforward to make. But if you want to move up into the city-killer range, yes, then it takes some very sophisticated engineering.

    Note that it requires sophisticated engineering, not research. Any PhD physicist worth his or her salt has the scientific knowledge required to build The Bomb; what they don't have in their heads is readily available in the open literature and peer-reviewed journals. If you can get a good physicist and a few good engineers from a variety of disciplines, all with real-world experience, making a city-killer is quite feasible provided you have the fissile materials.

    It won't be cheap and it'll be time-consuming, but it's absolutely within the realm of possibility for a technically sophisticated, well-funded terrorist organization.

    Assuming you're dealing with a rogue government or other such entity capable of building a precision device, getting the reactive material for such a bomb is doggedly difficult.

    Not hardly. Uranium isn't exactly uncommon in the Earth's crust; hell, uranium can be refined out of granite. The explosively fissile material is easy to get hold of. Separating the explosively fissile material from the fissile and nonfissile materials (i.e., the refinement process) is what's hard.

    Getting said device anywhere near the U.S. is also doggedly difficult

    I'd just hide it in a bale of marijuana, myself. The stoners I know never seem to have any trouble getting south-of-the-border weed. This point of yours is absolutely wrong; it's not just easy, it's positively trivial.

    Assuming they manage the above three problems, most crude nuclear devices fail to detonate

    Hmm. How many "crude nuclear devices" have failed to detonate in recent memory? I can't recall anyone even trying to set off a crude nuclear device. Saying that most crude nuclear devices fail to go supercritical is at best an extreme overgeneralization; you simply don't have enough data points to come to that sort of conclusion with any certainty.

    Assuming functionality, the atomic reaction at one foot above sea level will do significantly less damage than most people assume. It's going to cause a huge incident, but not the end of the island (or the city) that most people assume

    Depends on the yield. A 10kt fizzle would leave most of New York City intact, yes. A 1Mt citykiller would leave the city as radioactive ash.

    All told, the threat of stolen plans for building nukes is really not a big one

    On the contrary. While any collection of physicists and engineers can build a nuke, most countries want to mount a nuke in a gravity bomb or a warhead. Gravity bombs and warheads have very stringent weight and volume requirements. There have been very few major developments in nuclear-weapon technology since the 1950s; almost all of the US effort has been in shrinking the size of the package so as to pack more of them into an ICBM. This is why the US military community was wetting their pants over China getting plans for the W-88; it's not that we didn't think China knew how to build 1Mt citykillers (they do and did), but up until the time they had the W-88 plans, we thought it was pretty likely they couldn't put their citykillers on their ICBMs in clusters, like we do with our MIRVs.

    That means in a nuclear exchange with China, we'd be launching dozens of citykillers with each launch, while they'd be limited to one citykiller per launch. Given that we have hundreds of missiles available on a moment's notice, that's a very terrible and tremendous thing to be on the other side of. Given how many missiles China has available on a moment's notice, and that each of their missiles carries only a fraction as many warheads... well. That's an unequal relationship that the US military really kind of liked.

    To put that in comparison, that's like the US and China facing off... them armed with a Saturday Night Special, us armed with a flamethrower. That's a tremendously unequal balance of power. The US military loved that balance of power; it meant we were so strong China would never be able to use their nukes in a credible threat against us.

    But now that China has the W-88 plans, they get the same strategic position as the Soviet Union did in the height of the Cold War. Now China has the capability to tip their ICBMs with multiple citykillers, just like us, flamethrower against flamethrower.

    That frightens people an awful lot. It especially frightens me, since I was kind of getting used to everybody taking their finger off the nuclear trigger since the Soviet Union collapsed.
  • On some military cable channel (can't remember what channel it was, but it like CNN for .mil) - anyhow, they showed the thing lift off, hover, slide sideways, then land upright.

    I was fuckin' amazed!

    The feeling I got was we had done something that until that point was a dream in science fiction. I am certain that I felt (in a smaller way) to what some people felt about the televised moon landing.

    I never knew until today that the machine was that big - I thought it was actually a smaller prototype that flew - was it full size? Or was that the smaller prototype (quite possibly, I imagine)?

    It angers me to know that we have turned our backs on something so promising...

    Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!
  • From the Post: "While that is a large amount of money for an Air Force already struggling to buy all the weapons on its shopping list, the total is less than the cost of developing a whole new bomber program"

    So your concern that the Air Force could save money by developing new systems is misplaced. Also, note that this is Lockheed, which has a record of delivering military (F-117) and intelligence aircraft (U-2, SR-71) ahead of schedule and under budget.

  • The F-22 will probably happen, and the Joint Strike Fighter, planned to replace the F-16, is moving along. The UK and other Europeans are putting money into it, so killing it would be a major diplomatic, as well as domestic, hassle. The B-52 fills a need that has disappeared. Arclight strikes aren't all that effective unless your enemy is all bunched together in a desert and strategic nuclear bombing can be handled by B-2's and missiles.

    The Air Force has much better luck moving things into production via X programs than through the normal acquisitions process. The F-117 started out as Have Blue, the SR-71 as the A-12. X programs and various black programs are not subject to the various procurement rules and thus cost less. You see, the rules are intended to ensure fairness and reduce fraud. They do this by imposing tremendous paperwork requirements on the contractor. Many companies won't work for the government because of this and those that do make sure that the government picks up the extra cost. Which is why hammers can cost $100 to the government and $10 at the local hardware store.

  • A problem that DOD is quietly worried about is the declining number of people with the skills needed to build military equipment. I'm not talking about engineers here, but about welders, pipefitters, and the like. There's only one company building submarines, Electric Boat, and they have trouble keeping enough work to stay afloat. If they went under it could take years to re-build the know how to build subs. (Yes, I know, "afloat", "go under"). The same thing applies to military aircraft. If we don't spend the money to keep up our expertise then it won't be there when we need it. "The most expensive army in the world is the one that's second best."
  • You can't outsource production of guns and bombs when the bad guys own all the factories you used to buy from.

    Yup. Most merchant hulls are made overseas and there are very few US based merchant shippers.
    Navy's really unhappy about that. We do food production very well, but the manufacturing is what's gonna get us. There's been lots of discussion over at Pournelle's site about that.

  • After all, it's time that everyone starts to realise that, now the iron curtain is down, there are no more enemies for the US to combat.

    I guess you must not be keeping up with current events, as I think most people would rate Red China as somewhat less than friendly. There are also countries such as North Korea, Iraq, Iran, and Cuba that, while they're not serious threats today, could present problems for us in the future. Remember this: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

  • by Sam Jooky ( 54205 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @06:03AM (#294117)
    I say more power to them. All things considered, they'll probably develop it better and faster than Lockheed would have. The military has a far greater budget (what is it this year? 200 billion?) and let's not forget their success with developing jet power rapidly in the 40s (with the help of the German military) and kickstarting the internet (without the help of Al Gore).
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @08:15AM (#294118)
    > Mainly because the peaceful project intends to save lifes, whereas the US military tries to make things that are very efficient as possible.

    Whoa, dude. Stop right there. When you spend millions of dollars training pilots, and billions of dollars on developing advanced experimental aircraft, the first thing on your mind - as a general or a bean-counter - is the safety of the crew. And the best way to ensure the safety of the crew is to make goddamn sure that plane comes back in one piece.

    I sense deep hostility in you towards the military. Might I suggest that the next time the .mil comes to town (airshows, Veteran's Day, etc...), that you ask a serviceman, servicewoman, or vet how they feel about their job. And that rather than telling them "what's right", you simply listen. Those who serve in the military are as interested in preventing war as you are.

  • Insightful?!? "the Mig-33 is capable of outflying anything we have in the sky (including the F-22!) and while it isn't in production, the possibility remains that other nations could fund the production of those planes (china anyone?!)"

    Alright - the facts


    2) The Mig-33 was at best comparable to the F-16

    3) The Chinese HAVE been developing the Mig-33 as the FC-1 for almost ten years.

    4) "However, the most apparent modifications to the MiG-33 design is the repositioning of the ventral fins from the engine compartment to the added tail edgings, providing aerial maneuverability that is claimed to match that of the American F16."

    5) While the F-16 is one of the great all-time aircraft, a F-15 (a no holds barred air superiority fighter, as opposed to the multi-roll F-16) could knock it out of the sky without breaking a sweat. Following, the F-22, it's successor, could knock the F-15, F-16, and FC-1 out while the pilot was filing his nails.

    6) We are spending multi-Billion (with a B) dollar bucketloads of money on aircraft modernization and development. If the DoD wants to do a little space R&D, more power to them. After all you can't do much with a fighter but fight, at least the X-33 could take us to the stars.

  • Considering that you can build a nuclear aircraft carrier for the cost of four shuttle missions, I for one am glad the millitary is taking this project on. Better weapons in space than brocolli.
  • Actually, Nasa declares that each shuttle launch costs around $600 million, plus an additional overhead of roughly $400/per lauch of fixed costs for the shuttle program. So its about a billion a launch. You may be right about the aircraft carrier price, I just made a guess there. I was sort of kidding anyway. I mean the millitary is just as bad as NASA. What is staggering, is how much these programs cost, and the size of my tax bill every year.
  • X-34 looks like a cross between a pegasus and the shuttle.

    x-33 looks like 6-million dollar man lifting bodies fom 60's

    x-34 uses a conventional rocket

    x-33 uses linear aerospike.

    x-34 is dropped from an l-1011

    x-33 is ground based

    the only things they have in common are reuseability.
  • My even-more-modest efforts are also ongoing:

    We hope to be making a properly controlled test flight within the next two weeks now that our gyros are working properly.

    John Carmack
  • Coming back as a glider implies wings and landing gear, which wind up massing more than vertical landing propellant.

    Trying to do without wings on X-33 forced a sub-optimal tankage solution, which turned out to not work.

    A VTVL isn't expected to "fly" to a landing. It plummets at terminal velocity (not as fast as you might expect, because it is mostly empty), only firing the engines a reletive few seconds before landing. The fuel required is then only a few seconds of several G thrust for the EMPTY mass of the vehicle.

    A somewhat more valid argument against vertical landing is that doing it efficiently requires computer control, and it is unlikely that a human pilot would be able to do it manually without a lot more slop fuel.

    John Carmack
  • The primary technical jewel on this thing was the cryo-composite fuel tank. It failed miserably, and was going to be replaced with an aluminum tank.

    Other than the tank, there was little in this prototype that would truly advance the state of spaceflight.

    Also, this was guaranteed -- in writing -- to fly in 2001. If they go with the aluminum tank, it will fly (possibly) in 2003. Missing time and budget is not a good way to keep a program alive.

    Let this one go, build something closer to the final 'spaceplane'. America desperately needs a shuttle backup/replacement, and this prototype is too expensive and behind schedule for the technology return it would give.

  • Better weapons in space than brocolli.

    God, is there even ONE place in the universe that we can maybe keep our idiotic warlike toys out of? Bad enough that there are so many weapons on Earth, how can you so casually suggest that they should be placed in space as well? To do so would be criminal, and I wouldn't blame some orbiting ET's if they exterminated all of us just to make sure.

  • From the article:

    Because the warhead would be coming from space, it would achieve enormous speed and kinetic energy on its way down -- so great that it wouldn't even need explosives on board to generate the destructive power of a small nuclear device, according to Dailey's presentation. As proof, he pointed out the huge craters that have been created by relatively small meteors.

    Has anyone ever read the book The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein? In the book the people living on the moon fight for their independance by using the moons potential energy difference between the earth to drop rocks on the earth. Funny what those rocks will do when they impact at high speed...

    Which brings up another question. A rock colliding with the earth can create a near nuclear explosion. So with the current ban on nuclear weapons, will we have a ban on dropping rocks from outerspace on other countries?
  • Nope. This isn't about the USAF as much as it is about NASA. This is NASA's method to continue saying "we don't develop military hardware". Drop the ball and then let the DOD recover the fumble. NASA management can now look all their engineers in the eye and say "we didn't make the killing machines, they did."
  • Its nice to see that the military is bringing back from the dead a costly program that has already been demonstrated as a dead-end....and guess who is going to pay for it? You kiddo.

    What is the military need for this? We've had two generations of bombers, the B1 and B2, that haven't seen combat and aren't going to, ever. We've spent billions on erecting advanced satellite networks for recon, and we've already got workhorses for hauling equipment and people.

    There's only one explanation for this - mmmmmm pork. This has less to do with the military and more to do with military contractors generating new work for themselves.

    Like the B2, this is a project without a goal, just some worthless tech designed to redirect money from the taxpayer's pocket into the contractor's pocket.

  • As a community and as a species. It currently costs $10,000 USD / pound to send stuff into space.

    But your presumption is that the solution must be a manned vehicle. You are not going to see SSTO in a manned vehicle unless there is a substantial breakthrough in materials research. A prominent scientist from the skunk works has gone as far to say SSTO will never happen.

  • SSTO is not hard to do folks

    You're right in a sense, SSTO isn't hard, but given current technology, impossible.

    None of the craft you describe on their own is suitable for hauling loads into orbit.

    People have been researching useable SSTO for twenty years. Many of them have concluded that it will not happen, ever. Do the math, you just can't get there using the materials we know how to use now.

  • by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @06:50AM (#294171)

    Wrong. The f-18 is in production now with advanced avionics. Its a cost effective platform.

    The Russian Mig-33 is capable of outflying anything we have in the sky

    Come on, no one in the strategic community looks at the technical qualities of one platform over another as being significant anymore. How many Mig33's are there? How is the supply chain for spare parts? What logistical support is there for this and other Russian products?

  • Actually it makes perfect sense to use budget from the military to make space technology better.

    After all, it's time that everyone starts to realise that, now the iron curtain is down, there are no more enemies for the US to combat. So if the military is still to be deserving a budget, they might as well spend it on stuff that has some actual use (or at least a slightly less dim chance of being used than e.g. new atomic bombs).

    If the project eventually turns out to reduce the cost of getting stuff into space from 10,000 USD per pound to 1,000 USD per pound, then anything that is spent on this, is money well spent. I'd rather see my tax dollars being used on something that might improve my quality of life, than on something that is aimed at terminating my life.

  • However...US jet technology was initially jointly developed with the British. The US did get some Me 262s late in the war and after the war from the Germans, and those engines were higher powered but had extremely short lives.

    Not quite, jet technology was GIVEN to the US (and the to Russians) by the UK. Take a look at for more info.

    Then the US turned round and locked the UK out.

    Its nice to know who your friends are.

  • The point being - the project did well under the military, but nasa has it's own political agenda - discussed thoroughly above, that has stopped these programs just when they needed the most success.

    Check out the Vinny the Vampire [] comic strip

  • by Alien54 ( 180860 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @07:03AM (#294179) Journal
    As reported in Space Access Update #88 14.jun.1999

    Space Access Update #84 6/14/99

    Copyright 1999 by Space Access Society [];

    Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions in the cost of reaching space. You may redistribute this Update in any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety.

    Editorial: Right Intentions, Wrong Direction -

    NASA's Destructive Approach To Cheap Access

    Let us be clear from the start: NASA has screwed up the cheap access initiatives entrusted to it to date, from the mismanagement of DC-XA into a crash (we still haven't seen full public release of the predictable blame-the-contractor report on that mess) to the muddled morphing of X-33 into a half-assed Shuttle II. As far as we are concerned, the current push to do "X-Ops" reusable rocket low-cost operability demos in Future-X is NASA's last chance - if they mess this up too, come 2001 we'll be pushing hard for removal of RLV technology development responsibility from NASA entirely.

    We reluctantly came to this conclusion last fall, and started working quietly behind the scenes to advance Future-X X-Ops work. Why are we going public now? Because over the last two months the evidence has become overwhelming that NASA is reverting to malign old habits - they are once again pushing their internal agendas with reckless disregard for the interests of US industry and of the country as a whole, to the point of actively attacking the credibility and investment-worthiness of the reusable-launch startups. They have done so repeatedly, and (under the most charitable interpretation) factually incorrectly.

    This must stop, NOW. If NACA in 1930 had been allowed to tell potential investors that Douglas and Boeing couldn't possibly build robust all-metal monoplane airliners without ten additional years of massive NACA research funding, we'd all still be taking trains. Assuming, of course that we survived WW II at all.

    If NASA can neither usefully support entrepreneurial low-cost launch ventures, nor at minimum shut up and stay out of their way, then it's time to start looking carefully at the parts of NASA involved, constraining the ones still needed, and defunding the rest.


    NASA is doing this to advance two major agendas that we see. One is to maintain the JSC/KSC manned-space Station/Shuttle bloatocracy into the indefinite future, by preempting all possible alternatives to some sort of massive full-employment Shuttle Upgrade or Shuttle Followon project.

    The other is to fund a wish-list of blue sky launch technology projects (including hypersonic airbreathing launch vehicles - NASP II, anyone?) from most of the other NASA centers under the name "Spaceliner 100", by attacking current (rocket) technologies as simply not good enough.

    That's our merely best estimate of their motives, mind. It's always possible NASA is attacking the commercial RLV outfits out of sheer random institutional bloodymindedness. But attacking they are - and in general, the main content of their attacks is, uh, incorrect.

    In evidence, point #1

    - The April 8th speech by Administrator Goldin to the US Space Foundation, in the context of supporting yet another expensive push for hypersonic "RBCC" (Rocket-Based Combined Cycle) airbreathers. (We suspect Dan Goldin has been getting very bad advice lately.) "At NASA, the technology barrier is the rocket." He goes on to state, more or less correctly, that Shuttle launch costs are about $10,000 per pound, and then says "Expendable vehicles are not significantly cheaper" (with the unspoken corollary that reusable rockets can't possibly be much better.)

    It depends on your definition of "significantly", we guess - aside from the Titan 4, which involves almost as much bureaucracy as Shuttle, current medium-to-heavy commercial expendables cost from about half (Delta 2, Atlas 2) to about one fifth (ILS Proton) of $10K per pound to LEO. NASA's recent line that even reusable rockets can't make more than a factor of ten reduction over Shuttle launch costs looks pretty foolish when decades-old expendable designs already undercut Shuttle by factors of two to five. And at least two credible current expendable ventures are shooting for that factor of ten reduction.

    It is indeed possible that rockets, *as conceived by NASA*, can never get much cheaper than Shuttle. There's considerable evidence to support this in NASA's recent RLV efforts. But, if we can keep NASA from strangling the innovative RLV startups in their cradles, there is no fundamental law of physics preventing clever engineers without NASA's forty years of bureaucratic baggage from undercutting Shuttle costs by factors of ten right from the start, getting down to factors of as much as a hundred once experience refines systems and flight rates rise.

    In evidence, point #2:

    - May 8th "New Scientist" magazine - from an article on Richard (Virgin Atlantic Airways) Branson's investment negotiations with Rotary Rocket Company, a quote from a top-level NASA official dismissing Roton and other such reusable rocket concepts as "...system gimmicks to overcome the unbelieveable lack of technology they [the startup reusable rocket companies] have."

    Hmm. NASA, by implication, has far better technology. Oh, really. Who has full-scale graphite-epoxy LOX tanks? Who has access to the best (Russian) rocket engines in the world? Who can build composite fuel tanks, liquid hydrogen or plain old kerosene, that *don't* leak like sieves? Who knows how to tow-launch high wing-loading vehicles? Who has the biggest concentration of expertise in the world on vertical-landing rockets? On aerial cryo-propellant transfer? On rapid prototyping of high-strength ultra-light composites? On high-performance non-toxic storable propellants?

    If you answered "NASA" to any of the above, you are *wrong*, chucko. The answer in every case is "private industry", and in most cases the startups. NASA still has pockets of excellence, but they float in a sea of mediocrity. NASA slamming the startups' technology in order to get more funding for their own endless noodling is, frankly nauseating.

    That said, precisely what is wrong with "system gimmicks" if they *work*? Are they somehow impure, unclean, unworthy of the true scientific guardians of higher-tech-at-all-costs? A case in point: Modern military aircraft require a base with a ten thousand-foot concrete runway to operate effectively, right? No possible way to cut that to one-tenth the size and, better yet make it mobile, short of some ultra-advanced technology like anti-gravity? Right?

    Uh... What is an aircraft carrier but a collection of "system gimmicks" - massive victorian-tech steam catapults for takeoffs, arrestor wires and tailhooks and mirror-and-light path indicators for landings, angled flight decks to allow both at once, plus the accumulated operational expertise to make it all work, a mobile airbase a tenth the size of fixed landbased versions. If the "system gimmick" RLV startups can make a major dent in launch costs, and it looks as if, given a chance, they can, we do not give two figs how "gimmicky" their technology is. To quote some anonymous Cold War weapons designer, "'better' is the enemy of 'good enough'".

    In evidence, point #3:

    This week's "Space News" - "Reusable Launch Vehicles A Decade Away, NASA Says." We mentioned in Update #83 that the results of an industry study on what to do about Shuttle (STAS, the Space Transportation Architecture Study) were out, and that while many of the proposals were (predictably) for massively expensive one-size- fits-all Shuttle replacements, at least some of the conclusions were sensible, IE gradually replace Shuttle with an EELV/CTV system that would meet NASA manned-space's basic needs with a relatively small investment while having (a major point to us) negligible impact on the commercial markets.

    Now it seems the NASA/Aerospace Corp response to the various STAS reports has been leaked to Space News, and the gist of it is: NASA slams the various RLV proposals as unrealistic regarding schedule and budget (not surprising if they're geared to actually getting a contract to replace Shuttle; spending too much money over too long a time in all the right districts is an unspoken requirement for any would-be Shuttle replacement - still, it seems unfair to slam the proposals for soft-pedalling these unspoken specs) and proposes that NASA essentially micromanage a drawn-out process to eventually replace Shuttle sometime in the 2010's.

    Previous intentions to encourage commercial RLV developments have evaporated; NASA Shuttle II will be the only game in town, at least by this tell-the-customer-what-they-want-to-hear custom blueprint.

    Mind, we haven't seen this study ourselves yet; we're going on Space News's reading - but this agrees with the other recent evidence. By essentially dismissing the chances any of the current crop of RLV startups could succeed and thus position themselves to meet a significant part of NASA manned space's launch needs, NASA significantly reduces their chances of getting the investment they need to succeed, in a fine example of pernicious self-fulfilling prophecy. Meanwhile, by ignoring the meet-JSC's-needs-and-no-more EELV/CTV approach in favor of some flavor of massive-overcapacity Shuttle II, this study continues NASA's implicit threat of a subsidized grab of the core of the existing commercial launch demand, adversely affecting the investment climate for commercial space launch in general.

    This is rapidly approaching the point where we'll be able to make a convincing case that this nation's future in space would be better served by a radically reduced NASA. We'd rather not find that road the only one left to us.

    Fixing the problem

    For starters, we'd like to see whoever's peddling this line at NASA HQ fired, or at least transferred to counting seabirds at some remote tracking station. Not that the person in question is more than a representative of widespread NASA tendencies, but it will at least serve as an example to the rest.

    We'd like to hear an unambiguous repudiation of the totally unacceptable anti-RLV startup investment advice voiced in the May 8th New Scientist article.

    We'd like to see a firm NASA commitment to "X-Ops", supporting interested startups in proving out and refining their low-cost launch approaches via low-cost subscale flight demonstrations on NASA's dime, in order to get them to the point where they are unmistakeably ready to raise commercial funds to develop full-scale commercial vehicles on an acceptable commercial timescale.

    Under those circumstances, we would find it appropriate to support a minimal-investment approach to guaranteeing Shuttle's NASA-unique missions, and to support a moderate level of investment in getting the various "Spaceliner 100" technologies closer to ready for prime time - we note that the proposed RBCC engine in particular has huge remaining unknowns in terms of weight, cost, and speed range, and much work needs to be done before any Trailblazer-class (~$500m) flight vehicle program is appropriate. In other words, "show us the engine!" - given X-33's develop-a-whole-new-engine problems, this should go without saying, but it apparently doesn't.

    We can understand why there might be disillusion with reusable rockets at top levels in NASA, given the reluctance of the post- consolidation aerospace majors to compete with themselves by commiting significant resources, and given the NASA managerial-level cluelessness in efforts to date. But stomping the startups in an effort to fund NASP II is not the answer.

    Give the startups a real chance now - tight funding. tight schedule, tight accounting, but minimal engineering elbow-joggling - and in three years, we'll know what's really possible.

    Stick with business as usual, and sooner or later the country will realize what damage NASA is doing, and will act appropriately.

    Space Access Society's sole purpose is to promote radical reductions in the cost of reaching space. You may redistribute this Update in any medium you choose, as long as you do it unedited in its entirety.

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  • The point has already been made about the B-1's and the B-2's, however, you deal an underserving blow to the b-52's.

    Large airframes aren't subject to the extreme stress that smaller airframes are, so they last much longer. Sure, they're 50 years old, but they're as solid as rock- and in case you missed it, their engines and avionics have been in upgrade cycles for the past few decades.

    Moreover, the B-52 is a valuable weapon for a specific reason: It scares the crap out of enemy ground forces. When you've got air superiority, not much kills ground moral faster than B-52 flying in low, and carpet bombing a few acres into glass. They big, they're loud, and when you see them coming at you, you run.

  • by virg_mattes ( 230616 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @09:15AM (#294198)
    > The people who stole the nuclear bomb designs
    > will conduct their tests in a tug boat off the
    > coast of Long Island. That's why it concerns a
    > lot of us.

    Avoiding any of the "why would nuking Long Island be a bad thing?" jokes, these folks would learn a few lessons about nuclear devices. Some are:

    1: Building a nuclear device isn't as simple as most people would assume. You really can't get your plans off of the Internet and build it in your basement, Hollywood notwithstanding. The levels of precision needed for the parts is high enough that small terrorist groups likely won't be up to the task.

    2: Assuming you're dealing with a rogue government or other such entity capable of building a precision device, getting the reactive material for such a bomb is doggedly difficult. Saddam Hussein has an entire country to work with, and he can't seem to get the stuff together by hook or by crook. This is not by accident. The methods for getting or making this material are few and difficult, and for the most part require something the size of a breeder reactor to pull off. This is the main reason countries like Iraq can't make it happen (they can't build such a reactor lest the Israelis fly in and blow it up, which they've done in the past).

    3: Getting said device anywhere near the U.S. is also doggedly difficult. It's what the Coast Guard does for a living, and building a delivery vehicle like an ICBM also follows the five rules laid out here.

    4: Assuming they manage the above three problems, most crude nuclear devices fail to detonate, which means it's very likely they'll blow their tug out of the water with the explosive trigger, but the reaction will fizzle.

    5: Assuming functionality, the atomic reaction at one foot above sea level will do significantly less damage than most people assume. It's going to cause a huge incident, but not the end of the island (or the city) that most people assume.

    All told, the threat of stolen plans for building nukes is really not a big one. The larger concern (and rightly so) has been tracking down what has happened with all of the pre-built, fully tested, properly manufactured and maintained nuclear warheads in the arsenal of the former Soviet Union. These have always been (and will continue to be) of much larger concern, if you truly need to worry about nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists.

  • by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @06:21AM (#294203) Homepage
    I am so so so sick of NASA's lies. They have blocked every attempt to build cheap reliable space launch technology. X-33 was known to be so risky that very few in the aerospace industry ever expected it to fly. The tanks that failed were of a design that was rated as one of the highest risks in the entire program. That was known from the very first.

    SSTO is not hard to do folks. Remember Mercury capsules from the early '60s? Launched on an Atlas missle developed in the '50s? Tha Atlas was nearly SSTO capable in 1960. The second stage of the Starun V, you remember, the moon rocket? WAS SSTO CAPABLE in the middle 1960s. The first proposal for a man carrying SSTO was a version of the Staturn V third stage that was sligthly longer and had a crew cabin. It could have been flying in the early '70s...

    I could go on... Why is the tooling needed to build space shuttles owned by the US-DOD and not NASA?

    Why is space transport the only socialist program left in the US federal government?

    If you want to go into space, you have to hate NASA. If you hate the way NASA wastes money, then you have to hate NASA.


  • Yes, you're exactly right. NASA is a bunch of blundering idiots. They're the only ones in the entire world with a space program that is even worth a damn. ARE YOU WORKING AT NASA? These people are smart, and if the program was behind time and off schedule, then it was probably politicians, or better yet, critical piece of technology that they can't overcome yet. Navigating an atmosphere at orbital speeds is not easy, at least the last time I checked. I AM NOT A ROCKET SCIENTIST, you probably aren't either, but I know that NASA doesn't hire idiots. Just because I can dream it up in the 70's does't mean that we can even produce it in 2001. I am tired of /. conspiracy theories. You could be livin' in a country like China, where you get around by bicycle and the bus is considered making it, instead of pining for the X-33.
  • No doubt Pentagon officials feel totally on home turf with a project characterized by the aerospace industry delivering compromised solutions at several times the original projected cost.

    On the serious side: the United States is on the verge of crossing some real lines in the issue of space-based weaponry, and this is part and parcel of that questionable policy. Half a century ago we did this with nuclear weapons: without treaty, international dialog or significant civilian control we rushed pel-mel to build the nuclear arsenal. And while one can argue the value of this arsenal as a deterrent, I think reasonable and intelligent representatives of hawks and doves alike can recognize that what we ended up with is not an asset. There are too many weapons which are too difficult to dispose of, there are too many insufficiently controlled or uncontrolled weapons, there is too much potential for the uncontrolled loss, theft, or sale of fissionable materials and technology. Are we going to do the same thing with the arms race in space?

    The argument some will make against controlling and managing offensive space technology is that the US has too much vital technology in space, and is too dependent on this technology for civil as well as military applications, to NOT move forward in building a space-ready armament. THis is a valid argument and there is probably little chance to stop the further encroachment of military technologies into space, but at the same time, even putting aside the arguments of preventing another arms race and fostering international peace, there are completely pragmatic military reasons for proceeding with caution. Just do a Google search on Space Debris for one very real consequence of a shooting war in space.

    Nuclear arms may very well have a deterrent capacity but they still represent a terrible danger to human civilisation and life on earth, and in the final analysis it is not bombs but sane international policy, the promotion of peaceful international relations, and diplomacy that have prevented a nuclear war so far. Please think carefully about the space-based arms race when you vote and when you communicate with your elected representatives.

  • While I hate to see the military taking over this project, at least the X-33 has a chance to fly. I just hope they'll build a couple and lob them over the fence to NASA (who did spend $400 million, after all) when they're done.

    We seriously need this technology. As a community and as a species. It currently costs $10,000 USD / pound to send stuff into space. That's just plain old too expensive. How is space supposed to open up and be profitable at that price level? Thank god for the cold war, or the US wouldn't even have the aging shuttle fleet it has now.

    The X-34 (the real plane to be built based on the X-33) is supposed to bring that cost down to about $1000 USD / pound (including development costs). Lots of companies can afford that kind of price tag. For $30,000, you can lob up a decent geosync satellite. Or I could lob up a couple microsats for my weekly salerie...

    Hey, I like that idea. What do you think? maybe an integrated imaging array, ala BEAM? Or a laser? Solar cells would be most of the weight for a laser, and I'd need a decent thermal mass to help cool off the laser... or just make sure it's in the shade.

  • Why not? The US military has very sophisticated research programs and is also less sensitive to individual failures and to some degree political bickering than NASA. Furthermore, they have a very long history of innovation and invention, much of which has been transfered to the public sector. Thus if the Air Force can successfully complete it, it will probably see use in NASA and other programs anyway. The X-33 had a lot of promising ideas and new technologies - it's nice to see that all of that will get a second chance.

  • Isn't this just brilliant
    A bunch of scientists working on a craft that will enable cheap space flight (so we can cure cancer, world peace, blah blah), and now that it's not going as well as planned, the project is taken over by US military so they can make yet another weapon out of it. If I was one of these original engineers, I'd be pissed off!

    To ensure that this doesn't happen, all space projects should me international (and open source as far as that is possible) so no countries can use methods of peace for war

  • by BillyGoatThree ( 324006 ) on Friday April 13, 2001 @06:00AM (#294226)
    "After Lockheed ran horribly over budget and behind schedule, NASA decided to can the program earlier this year. Apparently, the Air Force sees potential in this design of craft for a weapons delivery system."

    It used to be bad enough: all military projects run over budget and behind schedule. Now it turns out worse: all over budget and behind schedule projects get taken over by the military.

"Wish not to seem, but to be, the best." -- Aeschylus