I was conducting some research into Defense Department Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards to see what space and rocket projects it has been funding. I found a group of SBIR Phase I contracts awarded by DARPA in 2015, most of them related to the XS-1 launcher program. I don’t think I’ve written about them previously.
LOS ANGELES, Calif. – September 29, 2014 (Space Angels PR) – Earlier this month Space Angels Network hosted an exclusive Expedition to Southern California space companies, offering unique insights inside the private space industry. The companies, located in Los Angeles and at the Mojave Air & Spaceport, included SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, Masten Aerospace, XCOR Aerospace, Whittinghill Aerospace and Firestar Technologies.
The latest edition of The Lurio Report includes an update on Virgin Galactic’s testing of SpaceShipTwo. I’m reproducing the relevant excerpt from it with the original bold emphasis included:
Around the same time stories were again heard that the present engine design would not be able to attain space altitude – at least not with a full compliment of six passengers and two crew. Will Pomerantz, VP of Special Projects for Virgin Galactic, said in response to my query that, “Mojave’s certainly full of rumors, so it’s good to have a chance to clarify. On the basis of the great results from PF01 and PF02 [the first two powered flights], coupled with continued ground testing, we do expect the present hybrid motor to be capable of carrying passengers into space. As always, we’ll continue to look at a variety of ways to improve the motor’s performance and cost-effectiveness.” (Later Pomerantz confirmed that he was referring to a full complement of passengers and crew when using the hybrid motor.)
He added that while Scaled is not working on any liquid engines Virgin Galactic is, though only for the LauncherOne orbital rocket which will be released from the WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) aircraft.
This is really interesting. Let’s dissect this statement one clarification at a time.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR)– NASA has selected 21 space technology payloads for flights on commercial reusable launch vehicles, balloons, and a commercial parabolic aircraft.
This latest selection represents the sixth cycle of NASA’s continuing call for payloads through an announcement of opportunity. More than 100 technologies with test flights now have been facilitated through NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate’s Flight Opportunities Program.
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?
When NASA announced the selection of seven companies to integrate and fly technology payloads on suborbital vehicles, the list included most of the usual suspects such as Virgin Galactic, XCOR and Armadillo.
It also included a couple of lesser known companies, including Whittinghill Aerospace. The Camarillo, Calif.-based company has a website with a single page featuring nothing but its logo. However, it has a good pedigree.
The company is owned by George Whittinghill, an MIT graduate who was formerly chief technologist for Virgin Galactic, CTO at Space Launch Corporation, and a flight crew instructor at NASA.