Rocketdoc Notes – Week of October 17, 2021

Space Launch – The Big Picture Part 1.

Recent History and Background Material

In past few weeks we have witnessed several launch events heralding the start of commercial space flight. First, we had the flights of the billionaires, Sir Richard Branscomb, and Jeff Bezos, to just above the Von Karmen limit. Then we had the Inspiration4 mission to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) where four non-astronauts got to spend three days enjoying zero-gee and an out-of-this-world view. These events have been forecast for over twenty years but are just becoming practical for one reason, and that is Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs).

I have been pushing for RLVs for more than forty years, and people with the NASA and the USAF have been listening, but reusability is difficult for highly stressed components that characterize most rockets. Hence, it costs more to make a rocket that is reusable, and unless there is a need to fly frequently and often, it is difficult/impossible to make the business case close. It is far cheaper to build an expendable rocket system and for a few missions a year, so the total cost to deliver a limited number of payloads to orbit will always be less with expendables. Until recently there was never enough payloads going to space each year to justify the extra cost of an RLV.

Advancing technology has reduced the cost of reusability over the last fifteen years and therefore, we are seeing reusable vehicles and commercial space t