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.

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U.S. Army, NASA Working on Low-Cost Nanosat Launcher

The U.S. Army’s SWORDS rocket. (Credit: U.S. Army)

The U.S. Army is leading an effort to develop a dedicated launcher that would be capable of launching nano-satellites into precise orbits from almost any location at an ultra-low cost.

The program is called SWORDS, which stands for Soldier-Warfighter Operationally Responsive Deployer for Space. And NASA is a partner in the program, which expects to see an orbital test flight take place in the summer of 2013.

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