US National Research Council pours cold water on USAF reusable flyback booster plan

by | Oct 16, 2012 | Seradata News | 0 comments

The Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), Jean-Jacques Dordain, recently asserted at the International Astronautical Congress in Naples, that the expected flight rate for new launch vehicles would not be high enough to make reusable technology economic to develop and operate in the near term.  Now it seems that the US Air Force is coming to the same conclusion. Or rather the US National Research Council is.

Lockheed Martin concept for reusable flyback booster as part of the Pathfinder programme may now not happen.  Courtesy: Lockheed Martin

In a paper by the technical arm of the US National Reseach Council, the council advises the US Air Force to not proceed to full development of a liquid flyback booster.  The advice is on the basis of doubts over cost estimates in developing and operating the flyback boosters, and over concerns about the basic business case for the use of the boosters.

Instead the paper, in viewing the long term benefit of the technology, advises that reusable technology research should continue, both to reduce the risk of developing full boosters, but also because the technology may find applicatoin on other launch systems. The US Air Force Research Laboratory is running a Pathfinder programme researching technology for such boosters.

ESA has a similar stance.   While pursuing the full development of the expendable Ariane 6 (whether this gets built instead of, or ahead of, the planned Midlife Evolution upgrade to the Ariane 5), ESA has financed technology demonstrations of reusable technology at the UK firm Reaction Engines Limited (this writer is a small shareholder).  Reaction Engines hopes one day to build a single-stage-to-orbit space plane called Skylon.

In addition, ESA has had preliminary negotiations with the Russian rocket engine firm, Khrunichev over rocket engine technology it is developing using liquid natural gas/methane and liquid oxygen (LOx) for use on Russian liquid fuel flyback boosters.  Such technology is regarded as ideal for reusable booster rockets as it does not produce signficant coking (carbon deposits) and offers a relatively high specific impulse.


About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned Seradata database. Trusted by over 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, Seradata is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to

Related Articles




nasaspacexecoreviewsissesaArianespacevideochinaFalcon 9v1.2FT Block 525virgin galacticULAfalcon 9RoscosmosevaDGAspacewalkaviation weekaressoyuzIGTInternational Space StationRocket LabBeidouawardsBlue OriginspaceStarlinkSatellite broadcastingrussiamoonboeingAirbus DSISROCargo Return VehiclemarsblogresearchOneWebspaceshiptwojaxaorionmarsimpactdelayhyperbolaEutelsatdemocratrocketlunarhypertextobamagoogle lunar prizelaunchVegabarack obamaconstellationSEStourismnorthfiguresthales alenia spacespaceflightnode 2fundedIntelsatRaymond Lygo2009Lockheed MartinExpress MD-2Elon MuskAtlas Vromess2dassault aviationaviationLucy2008wk2sstlukradiomissilesuborbitaldocking portexplorationAriane 5 ECAVirgin OrbittestinternetLong March 2D/2sts-122Ariane 5Northrop GrummanSLSChina Manned Space EngineeringElectronflightspace tourism2010cotsnewspapermissile defensegalileospaceportExpress AMU 1Long March 4Cbuildspace stationaltairsoyuz 2-1aProton Minternational astronautical congressshuttlespace shuttleEuropean Space AgencyLauncherOneCosmosIntelsat 23scaled compositesnew yorkrulesAriane 6hanleybudgetatvVietnamshenzhoucongressMojaveboldenLong March 2COrbital ATKInmarsatcnesnew shepardiaclunar landerGuiana Space CenterkscApollolawsSpace Systems/LoralUK Space AgencyLong March 4BKuaizhou 1AILSprotonUS Air ForceTalulah RileydarpaElectron KSFalcon 9v1.2 Block 5Vega CeuAstriumSkylonpicturebaseusaastronautdragonlanderfiveeventTelesatNorth KoreaSSLAprilSNC50thinterviewLong MarchSea LaunchfalconWednesdaycustomerlinkatlantissuccessor