Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit.

Stratolaunch now wants to build a reuseable hypersonic vehicle

Capitalsm in space: Stratolaunch announced today that they are now planning to build a reusable hypersonic test vehicle to launch from their giant Roc airplane.

That vehicle, powered by a liquid-propellant rocket engine, will launch from the company’s aircraft and fly to speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 7 before gliding back to a runway landing. It will also be able to take off on its own from a runway under rocket power.

“The Stratolaunch Talon-A is a flexible, high-speed testbed built for offensive hypersonics, hypersonic defense and hypersonic R&D,” the company said in a fact sheet about the program. That document emphasizes the vehicle’s ability to provide “here-to-fore unobtainable measurement access to the hypersonic flight environment on a recurring basis.”

Forgive me if I remain skeptical. From memory I think this is about the fifth different design or concept for launch from Roc, with the previous proposals differing from this hypersonic test vehicle in that they were all intended to go to orbit. All were the same however in that they were trying to find a design that could be launched from Roc and also make engineering and economic sense. So far none has done so.

This new proposal is clearly aimed at garnering government research dollars. It also probably wants those dollars to pay for Talon-A’s development. In a sane world, the military would tell Stratolaunch to build and prove Talon-A’s capabilities first, before signing on.

When it comes to government spending, however, we however are no longer in a sane world.

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  • Dick Eagleson

    We will have to see what, if anything, comes of these Stratolaunch announcements but I don’t take quite so jaundiced a view.

    Talon A’s described flight envelope seems broadly comparable to that of the now-long-retired X-15 – Mach 5 to 7 for a few minutes at a time. We’re not talking sustained flight in a hypersonic regime, just quick dashes followed by gliding descents like X-15. From the standpoint of feasibility, this project is quite doable and fairly straightforwardly so. The X-15 project, developed before the cost-plus and corruption rot really set in with a vengeance in legacy aerospace, did not cost all that much even by the standards of its day and the three exemplars constructed conducted almost 200 missions over a decade or so.

    Given that Stratolaunch’s new ownership is just as much outside “The Club” as was it’s founding ownership, the best it is likely to do anent government funding is a small, DARPA-scale deal of some kind in the single-digit or low-double-digit millions. The big, fat deals are always reserved for members in good standing of “The Club.”

    So, given that both the Talons – A and Z – as well as the notional Black Ice orbital spaceplane are likely going to have to be financed mostly internally by Stratolaunch, the progression implied in this announcement seems sound – start with something that can be ginned up comparatively quickly and which is within both the established state of the art and state of practice. Then put that puppy to work making money while the more ambitious Talon Z is developed. Once Talon Z is at least in testing, move on to Black Ice development.

    Anent overall government expenditure, a certain amount of government support of these initiatives might – over time – prove to be as salutary an “investment” as the government funds that aided SpaceX’s development activities in its early days. Previous government-sponsored hypersonic testbeds built by legacy aerospace have been expensive and expendable. The Talons, being reusable, could well enable much more government hypersonic research to be done much more quickly and cheaply than would be the case if past or current test articles were relied upon exclusively.

    The same might even be true for missions now flown on the X-37B were they to be transferred to Black Ice, whenever it appears. The X-37B is reusable, of course, but even when launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9, its missions are a lot more expensive than a Black Ice mission launched from Roc should be.

  • Col Beausabre

    ” Mach 5 to 7 for a few minutes at a time. We’re not talking sustained flight in a hypersonic regime, just quick dashes followed by gliding descents like X-15″

    Which was done with the X-43 (2001 to 2004) which made it to Mach 9.6 and X-51 (2010 to 2013) which flew for 6 minutes including 3.5 minutes at Mach 5+.

    Not sure what Talon is supposed to do that they didn’t…..

    To me, Roc is a solution looking for a problem

  • Dick Eagleson

    Col. B.,

    The main thing the Talons should be able to do that X-43 and X-51 couldn’t and didn’t is fly frequently and inexpensively at hypersonic velocities. X-43 was expended at the end of every flight test and flew a total of only three times over a period of 3.5 years, an average of one flight every 21 months. X-51, also expendable, did barely better, flying a total of only four times over 3 years. The intervals between its flights were about a year each. Between the first flight of X-43 and the last flight of X-51, 11 years and 11 months elapsed – 7 total flights in not quite 12 years. The reusable X-15, in contrast, flew 199 times over a period of just over 9 years. That’s an average of a flight approximately every 17 days.

    The U.S. defense establishment has lately been making squawking noises about how the Russkies and the Chinese are stealing a march on us anent hypersonic weapons technology. Gee, I wonder whose fault that is?

    It’s hardly a given that Stratolaunch will be successful in developing and operating its Talons. But the U.S. DoD doesn’t seem to have anything on offer but whines and excuses. With a little bit of luck, Stratolaunch may succeed in giving us back a capability we unwisely closed down, with no follow-on, and sent to museums a half century ago.

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