America’s Rocket Renaissance

rutan_talkBy Douglas Messier
Parabolic Arc Managing Editor

During recent public talks, Scaled Composites Founder Burt Rutan has bemoaned the lack of recent rocket development in the United States. After the initial burst of creativity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, decades went by with very few new rockets being developed. He has also pointed to Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipTwo, SpaceX’s Dragon and Stratolaunch Systems air-launch project (which he worked on for 20 years) as the only serious developments in the field at present.

My first thought was: Burt’s wrong. There’s a lot more going on than just that. Including developments just down the flight line in Mojave that he somehow fails to mention. And my second thought was: well, just how wrong is Burt, exactly?

A lot, it turns out.

Going through the voluminous Parabolic Arc archives, I discovered that we’re in the midst of a renaissance in rocketry and spacecraft development in the United States. The list of project under active development or already flying includes heavy-lift rockets, deep-space exploration craft, orbital taxis, private space stations, suborbital tourism and research vehicles, and dedicated nano-sat launchers.

Not all of these programs will succeed, of course, but if enough of them do, then the U.S. will once again have a vibrant and competitive launch industry. And the nation will have multiple options for sending humans to space, where there will be multiple destinations for them to visit.

The tables below show all the new projects that are either in active development or have reached flight in recent years.  If I’ve missed any, please let me know and I’ll add them to the tables.

UPDATES: Revised on Jan. 4 to include the X-37A spacecraft (Boeing/U.S. Air Force) and the P-18D suborbital launch vehicle (Garvey Spaceflight Corporation). Also updated information on the GOLauncher 1 (suborbital) and GOLauncher 2 (orbital) launch vehicles. Thanks to readers for the recommendations and additional information.

Revised on Jan. 5 to include commercial deep space programs now being planned.

Revised on Jan. 6 to include SpaceX Grasshopper.

HUMAN SPACECRAFT — ORBITAL AND BEYOND

NEW HUMAN SPACECRAFT
Spacecraft
& Booster
Builder(s)
& Supporting Agency
 Passengers/ Occupants
 First Crewed Flight
cst100_smCST-100 – Atlas VBoeing & ULA/NASA 72015
or 2016
 dragon_smDragon – Falcon 9SpaceX/NASA 72015
 dreamchaser_smDream Chaser – Atlas VSierra Nevada Corporation & ULA/NASA 7 2016
 orion_smOrion – Space Launch SystemLockheed Martin, Boeing & ATK/NASA42021
blue_origin_orbital_smOrbital Vehicle — Atlas V (Later Blue Origin Reusable Rocket)Blue Origin & ULA/NASA7Unknown
bigelow_smBA330 Space StationBigelow Aerospace
(with Boeing and SpaceX crew partnerships)
62016
or 2017

HUMAN SUBORBITAL

NEW HUMAN SUBORBITAL SPACECRAFT
Spacecraft
BuilderPassengers
& Crew
First
Crewed
Flight
ss2_smSpaceShipTwoScaled Composites8 2013
Lynx_smLynxXCOR Aerospace2 2013
armadillo_suborbital_smHyperionArmadillo Aerospace & Space Adventures2Unknown
new_shepard_smNew ShepardBlue Origin4 Unknown

ORBITAL SPACECRAFT — ROBOTIC

NEW ROBOTIC SPACECRAFT

Spacecraft
& Booster
Builder
& Supporting Agency
Payload to ISS
First Flight
dragon_smDragon – Falcon 9SpaceX/NASA 6,000 kg (13,228 lbs) up-mass;
3,000 kg (6,614 lbs) down-mass
 2010
 Cygnus_smCygnus – AntaresOrbital Sciences Corporation/NASA2,000 kg Standard
2,700 kg Enhanced
 2013
x-37b_smX-37B – Atlas VBoeing & ULA/U.S. Air ForceUnknown2010

LAUNCH VEHICLES

NEW LAUNCH VEHICLES — ORBITAL
BoosterBuilder(s)
& Supporting Agency
Payload to
LEO or SSO
Payload to GTOFirst Flight(s)

Heavy Lift
SLS_smSpace Launch SystemLockheed Martin, Boeing & ATK/NASA70 MT
& 130 MT
 2017/2021
falcon-heavy__1Falcon HeavySpaceX53 MT12 MT
(26,460 lbs.)
2013 or 2014

Medium Lift
falcon9_smFalcon 9SpaceX/NASA13,150 kg (29,000 lbs.)4,850 kg (10,692 lbs.) 2010
Antares_smAntaresOrbital Sciences Corporation/ NASA 5,000 kg (11,000 lbs.) 2013
stratolaunch_smStratolaunchScaled Composites, Dynetics & Orbital Sciences Corp. 6,100 kg (13,500 lbs.) 2016
athena_smAthena Ic, IIcATK & Lockheed Martinup to 1,712 kg
(3,775 lbs.)
 Unknown

Small, Nano and Micro Satellite Launchers
SPARK_smSuper Strypi (a.k.a., SPARK)Aerojet, Sandia National Laboratories & University of Hawaii/DOD Office of Operationally Responsive Space250 kg
(550 lbs.)
 N/A 2013
launcherone_smLauncherOneVirgin Galactic225 kg
(500 lbs.)
N/A2016
cartoon_rocketALASA Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumman, Ventions LLC & Space Information Laboratories LLC/DARPA 45.4 kg
100 lbs.)
N/A Unknown
SWORDS_SMSWORDSU.S. Army25 kg
(55 lbs.)
N/A2013
GO2GOLauncher 2Generation Orbit Launch Services & Space Propulsion Group5 to 30 kg
(11 to 66 lbs.)
 N/A 2018
whittinghill_smMinimum Cost Launch SystemWhittinghill AerospaceNanosats N/A Unknown
 Lynx_sm LynxXCOR Aerospace Microsats N/A 2015 or 2016

SUBORBITAL LAUNCH VEHICLES

SUBORBITAL LAUNCH VEHICLES — NO CREW
BoosterBuilder(s)PayloadsFirst Flight(s)
STIG-smSTIG-A, STIG-B, STIG-III, STIG-V, STIG-VIIArmadillo AerospaceVarious Various
Xombie_smXombie, XogdorMasten Space SystemsVarious Various
Garvey_P18smP-18DGarvey Spacecraft CorporationCubeSats, Nanosats2011
whittinghill_smMinimum Cost Launch VehicleWhittinghill Aerospace Various Unknown
GO1GOLauncher 1Generation Orbit Launch Services & Space Propulsion GroupUp to 100 kg (220 lbs.)2015
Spx_Grasshopper_smGrasshopperSpaceXTest Vehicle2012

BEYOND EARTH ORBIT

Commercial Lunar and Deep Space Programs

Companies
Goal
Technology
Schedule
moon_wires-smAstrobotic, Team FREDNET, Team Jurban, Moon Express, Omega Envoy, Penn State Lunar Lion Team, Team Phoenicia, Team StellarWin $30 Million Google Lunar X PrizeLunar landers and roversPrize expires Dec. 31, 2015
arkyd_100_smPlanetary ResourcesAsteroid miningArkyd-100, Arkyd-200, Arkyd-3002013 or 2014 (first launches)
lunar_soyuz_smSpace Adventures & EnergiaSpace tourism flight around the moonModified Soyuz transportNLT January 2017
golden_spike_lander-smGolden Spike CompanyHuman landings on moonLunar transportation architecture2020