I’m in the media building at Holloman AFB, having gotten out of a press conference a little while ago about the X Prize Cup and related announcements. A few highlights:
Rocketplane Global, as expected, unveiled its new design for the XP suborbital spaceplane. The company is no longer using Learjet hardware for the vehicle, deciding instead to use a new design that is superficially similar in shape to the old one (with the exception that the V-tail has been replaced with a T-tail, and with more windows in the fuselage), but able to accommodate five passengers plus a pilot. They’re using a different jet engine, the J-85, but the same AR-36 rocket engine under development by Polaris Propulsion. The vehicle also features new landing gear similar to that used by the F-5 fighter. The interior will be designed by Frank Nuovo, a designer who has worked with clients ranging from Nokia to BMW.
While the new XP cabin is bigger, Rocketplane vice president and test pilot John Herrington said that the passengers, at least initially, won’t be allowed to float around the cabin once in weightlessness. His concern is that people will become disoriented trying to move around and could injure themselves and others. Down the road, it may be possible to remove a couple seats and allow the rear two passengers to float, he said.
Rocketplane officials, including Herrington and program maanger Dave Faulker, said that they believe they will be able to raise the money needed to develop the vehicle by the end of the year. They did not, though, disclose how much money they’re looking for. Current schedules call for flight tests to begin in 2010; AR-36 engine tests are scheduled to begin in the near future.
Rocket Racing League officials did announce three new teams, bringing the total number of teams to six. CEO Granger Whitelaw also confirmed rumors that their prototype X-Racer flew three times yesterday in Mojave, although he declined to offer many technical details regarding the flights, including their length and the turnaround time between flights. Whitelaw said that “exhibition” flights would begin at air shows in spring 2008, with actual competitive flights slated to begin in 2008-2009, depending on when they secure a TV contract and other sponsorships.
Teachers in Space announced that it wll soon start collecting applications by teachers for suborbital spaceflights. There will be two competitions: one for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) teachers, and one for K-12 teachers in general; both will have to submit either lesson plans or proposed experiments they would perform during their flights. (In an interesting twist, all the lesson plans submitted by will be posted online in an wiki.) The project has no application deadlines right now. The effort has commitments from five companies (Armadillo, Masten Space Systems, PlanetSpace, Rocketplane Global, and XCOR) to carry flights; Ed Wright’s company, the US Rocket Academy, has purchased a number of flights from XCOR Aerospace that is in the “double digits”.