Washington, D.C., December 5, 2002 – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Technology Administration, in conjunction with The Aerospace Corporation, today released a technical report describing several suborbital reusable launch vehicle (SRLV) concepts currently in development and defining possible civil, military, and commercial markets these new vehicles might serve. The report is titled, “Suborbital Reusable Launch Vehicles and Applicable Markets.”
When compared to the single use expendable rocket systems used today to launch satellites into orbit, reusable vehicles might provide lower operating costs, shorter turn-around times, greater reliability and safety, and more versatile performance. However, attempts to develop reusable launch vehicles that can reach orbit have proven difficult and expensive.
In response, many entrepreneurial companies are shifting focus toward building SRLVs, which, although not able to reach orbit, would provide services at altitudes up to 100 miles. Examples of these services might include military surveillance, commercial/civil earth imagery, fast package delivery, high-speed passenger transportation, and space tourism. SRLVs, whose feasibility was proven over 40 years ago by the successful development and operation of the X-15 spaceplane, would be much smaller, potentially simpler, and cheaper than orbital reusable launch vehicles.
Many entrepreneurs see SRLVs as only a small first step – a chance to begin generating sales revenue, attracting private investment, and testing various vehicle designs. A next step could be building larger reusable vehicles, capable of reaching orbital altitudes.
The SRLV report complements several other Commerce Department initiatives with industry to promote commercial uses of space, including a November 2001 conference on “Market Opportunities in Space: the Near Term Roadmap;” an October 2001 Space Economic Data workshop; and periodic meetings with the President’s Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry.
On-line copies of the report are available at:
For hard copies, please call the publications request line at (202) 482-3037.