Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Companies join forces to create 2nd generation RLV
Posted: January 28, 2001

An artist's concept of Kelly reusable spaceplane. Photo: Kelly Space & Technology
Kelly Space & Technology, Inc. and Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc. jointly announced this week that the two companies recently signed a teaming agreement and submitted proposals to develop, in cooperation with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), a 2nd Generation Reusable Space Launch Vehicle (RLV) System and associated technologies.

NASA's 2nd Generation RLV program, part of the agency's Space Launch Initiative, is designed to advance RLV system architectures and reduce commercial investment risk in support of a decision in 2005 by the Federal Government and commercial investors to proceed into full-scale development of new privately owned and operated RLV systems.

The team's submission, whose total potential value was not disclosed, includes proposals for RLV architecture systems engineering and several important technology risk reduction activities. Kelly Space will serve as the prime contractor and lead the architecture definition and systems engineering activities. Vought will lead development and advancement of key technology elements.

Under its proposals, the team will continue to refine its 2nd Generation RLV architectures and system designs that lead to production of a highly safe, far more reliable, commercially viable space transportation system whose launch service prices will significantly enhance development and expansion of current and prospective government and commercial uses of the space environment.

The Kelly Space horizontal takeoff, multiple-stage to orbit, piloted RLV concept uses the company's patented tow-launch technology, which uses a Boeing 747 aircraft and tow cable system to assist in ascent of the RLV system to its 20,000-foot airborne launch site. Horizontal takeoff and initiation of rocket-powered flight from an airborne location permits increased operational flexibility, facilitates greatly enhanced crew and passenger safety, significantly improves system reliability, and lowers the cost to government and commercial customers for launch of their crews, passengers and cargoes to and from earth. In addition to satellites and other cargoes, the Kelly Space RLV system is destined to carry astronauts and private citizens to and from space.

In 1998 Kelly Space demonstrated the tow-to-launch technology in a successful U.S. Air Force small business innovative research (SBIR) program, conducted with NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center and the Air Force Flight Test Center.

"This is a significant endeavor for Vought," said Vought Aircraft's President and Chief Executive Officer Gordon L. Williams. "As a reborn, independent company with a respected industry name, Vought is looking for new ways to grow and serve the space and aviation markets. Teaming with Kelly Space on the 2nd Generation RLV program is an exciting and logical step for us to take."

Airframe design and integration is the cornerstone of Vought's participation in the RLV program. Vought will leverage its extensive commercial airframes systems engineering expertise to translate requirements into structural design criteria. The scope of this effort includes developing the vehicle's computer-aided design, finite element and thermal models. It also includes airframe studies to ensure that system affordability, reliability, safety, operability and performance requirements are achieved.

Vought has been working with crew systems and related aerospace structures since the founding of the company in 1917. "Our expertise comes from years of extensive performance on many commercial and military aircraft programs that routinely carry aircrews and passengers," said Vought RLV Program Manager Chris Wilt. "Vought is skilled in developing and understanding requirements of avionics and maintenance support equipment inherent to cockpit and crew areas, and we look forward to putting that experience to work for NASA."

"Teaming with Vought Aircraft Industries as we embark on this next step toward robust space flight is particularly pleasing to Kelly Space," said Kelly Space President and Chief Executive Officer Robert M. Davis. "Vought's history is rich in successful development of leading-edge flight systems that have performed crucial roles in this nation's aerospace history. We look forward to integrating both company's space and aviation expertise to develop an RLV system that will expand the space environment to an exciting new economic frontier."

Kelly Space & Technology has been working on reusable space vehicle concepts since being founded in 1993. In addition to the successful U.S. Air Force demonstration of its tow-to-launch technology, Kelly has developed and refined its RLV architectural concepts under its "Space Transportation Architecture Studies" program and more recently, and the more recent "2nd Generation RLV System Engineering and Risk Reduction Definition" program, both performed under contract to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center. Kelly's teaming agreement with Vought for RLV airframe development marks the transition to an increasingly hardware-oriented development of the Kelly concept.

Vought Aircraft Industries, Inc. is the world's largest independent supplier of aerostructures, with estimated annual sales of more than $1 billion. Headquartered in Dallas, the company builds structures for the Boeing 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, the wing for the Gulfstream V ultra long-range business jet, and nacelles for a number of other aircraft. The company also produces major sections for the C-17 Globemaster III military transport, and structural assemblies for many other military aircraft. Kelly Space & Technology, Inc., is a privately-held, rapidly growing high technology company, that specializes in commercialization of products and services which enable new space-based business opportunities by providing highly safe, routinely reliable, affordable transportation of cargoes and humans. The company is also developing, patenting and licensing the use of advanced technologies that have broad spin-off application in non-aerospace markets.