By 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|
& Supporting Agency
| Passengers/ Occupants|
| First Crewed Flight|
|CST-100 – Atlas V||Boeing & ULA/NASA|| 7||2015|
| ||Dragon – Falcon 9||SpaceX/NASA|| 7||2015|
| ||Dream Chaser – Atlas V||Sierra Nevada Corporation & ULA/NASA|| 7|| 2016|
| ||Orion – Space Launch System||Lockheed Martin, Boeing & ATK/NASA||4||2021|
|Orbital Vehicle — Atlas V (Later Blue Origin Reusable Rocket)||Blue Origin & ULA/NASA||7||Unknown|
|BA330 Space Station||Bigelow Aerospace|
(with Boeing and SpaceX crew partnerships)
|NEW HUMAN SUBORBITAL SPACECRAFT|
|SpaceShipTwo||Scaled Composites||8|| 2013|
|Lynx||XCOR Aerospace||2|| 2013|
|Hyperion||Armadillo Aerospace & Space Adventures||2||Unknown|
|New Shepard||Blue Origin||4|| Unknown|
ORBITAL SPACECRAFT — ROBOTIC
|NEW LAUNCH VEHICLES — ORBITAL|
& Supporting Agency
LEO or SSO
|Payload to GTO||First Flight(s)|
|Space Launch System||Lockheed Martin, Boeing & ATK/NASA||70 MT|
& 130 MT
|Falcon Heavy||SpaceX||53 MT||12 MT|
|2013 or 2014|
|Falcon 9||SpaceX/NASA||13,150 kg (29,000 lbs.)||4,850 kg (10,692 lbs.)|| 2010|
|Antares||Orbital Sciences Corporation/ NASA|| 5,000 kg (11,000 lbs.)|| 2013|
|Stratolaunch||Scaled Composites, Dynetics & Orbital Sciences Corp.|| 6,100 kg (13,500 lbs.)|| 2016|
|Athena Ic, IIc||ATK & Lockheed Martin||up to 1,712 kg|
Small, Nano and Micro Satellite Launchers
|Super Strypi (a.k.a., SPARK)||Aerojet, Sandia National Laboratories & University of Hawaii/DOD Office of Operationally Responsive Space||250 kg|
| N/A|| 2013|
|LauncherOne||Virgin Galactic||225 kg|
|ALASA|| Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Virgin Galactic, Northrop Grumman, Ventions LLC & Space Information Laboratories LLC/DARPA|| 45.4 kg|
|SWORDS||U.S. Army||25 kg|
|GOLauncher 2||Generation Orbit Launch Services & Space Propulsion Group||5 to 30 kg|
(11 to 66 lbs.)
| N/A|| 2018|
|Minimum Cost Launch System||Whittinghill Aerospace||Nanosats|| N/A|| Unknown|
| || Lynx||XCOR Aerospace|| Microsats|| N/A|| 2015 or 2016|
SUBORBITAL LAUNCH VEHICLES
|SUBORBITAL LAUNCH VEHICLES — NO CREW|
|STIG-A, STIG-B, STIG-III, STIG-V, STIG-VII||Armadillo Aerospace||Various|| Various|
|Xombie, Xogdor||Masten Space Systems||Various|| Various|
|P-18D||Garvey Spacecraft Corporation||CubeSats, Nanosats||2011|
|Minimum Cost Launch Vehicle||Whittinghill Aerospace|| Various|| Unknown|
|GOLauncher 1||Generation Orbit Launch Services & Space Propulsion Group||Up to 100 kg (220 lbs.)||2015|
BEYOND EARTH ORBIT
Commercial Lunar and Deep Space Programs
|Astrobotic, Team FREDNET, Team Jurban, Moon Express, Omega Envoy, Penn State Lunar Lion Team, Team Phoenicia, Team Stellar||Win $30 Million Google Lunar X Prize||Lunar landers and rovers||Prize expires Dec. 31, 2015|
|Planetary Resources||Asteroid mining||Arkyd-100, Arkyd-200, Arkyd-300||2013 or 2014 (first launches)|
|Space Adventures & Energia||Space tourism flight around the moon||Modified Soyuz transport||NLT January 2017|
|Golden Spike Company||Human landings on moon||Lunar transportation architecture||2020|