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 SUBORBITAL SPACECRAFT|
|Hyperion||Armadillo Aerospace & Space Adventures||2||Unknown|
|New Shepard||Blue Origin||4||Unknown|
ORBITAL SPACECRAFT — ROBOTIC
SUBORBITAL LAUNCH VEHICLES
BEYOND EARTH ORBIT