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posted by janrinok on Thursday January 20, @12:13PM   Printer-friendly
from the no-affiliation-with-Monty-Python dept.

Radian announces plans to build one of the holy grails of spaceflight:

A Washington-state based aerospace company has exited stealth mode by announcing plans to develop one of the holy grails of spaceflight—a single-stage-to-orbit space plane. Radian Aerospace said it is deep into the design of an airplane-like vehicle that could take off from a runway, ignite its rocket engines, spend time in orbit, and then return to Earth and land on a runway.

"We all understand how difficult this is," said Livingston Holder, Radian's co-founder, chief technology officer, and former head of the Future Space Transportation and X-33 program at Boeing.

On Wednesday, Radian announced that it had recently closed a $27.5 million round of seed funding, led by Fine Structure Ventures. To date, Radian has raised about $32 million and has 18 full-time employees at its Renton, Washington, headquarters.

During an interview with Ars, Holder and Radian CEO Richard Humphrey explained that they realized it would require significantly more funding to build such an ambitious orbital space plane. Funding will pace their development efforts. For that reason, Humphrey said he was not comfortable putting a date on the company's first test flights but said that Radian was aiming to have an operational capability well before the end of the 2020s.

The current design of Radian One calls for taking up to five people and 5,000 pounds of cargo into orbit. The vehicle would have a down-mass capability of about 10,000 pounds and be powered by three liquid-fueled engines. The idea would be to get as close to airline operations as possible, by flying, landing, re-fueling, and flying again.

Since its founding in 2016, Radian has focused on the propulsion and structure of a vehicle that must withstand a variety of thermal and pressure environments. Humphrey said the company has built and tested its first "full-scale" engine. At full power, this cryogenic-fueled engine will have a thrust of about 200,000 pounds.

[...] There can be no question that this is a hugely challenging endeavor that many people have tried before. Will Radian find the right stuff, at the right moment in time? We'd like to think so.


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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @12:17PM (4 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @12:17PM (#1214124)
    • (Score: 3, Informative) by PiMuNu on Thursday January 20, @12:24PM (2 children)

      by PiMuNu (3823) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 20, @12:24PM (#1214126)

      Existing attempt being built in UK

      https://reactionengines.co.uk/advanced-propulsion/sabre/ [reactionengines.co.uk]

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @02:11PM (1 child)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @02:11PM (#1214149)

        The Skylon SSTO.
        I really hope they can make it work, but apparently the heat exchanger in the pre-cooler is just insane. Something like a total of 25km of 1mm tubing with a wall thickness less than aluminum foil.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @04:39PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @04:39PM (#1214212)

          Somewhere I read that they were looking at copper leading edges for the Dyna Soar, for high heat conductivity to the internal coolant channels. Forgot what the coolant was. All that was before high performance ceramics.

    • (Score: 2) by Beryllium Sphere (r) on Thursday January 20, @10:10PM

      by Beryllium Sphere (r) (5062) on Thursday January 20, @10:10PM (#1214367)

      Not really SSTO, though, since the X-20 was supposed to have a rocket for a booster if I read this right.

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @01:41PM (18 children)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @01:41PM (#1214142)

    You can't even build an ordinary airplane for that.

    It's not even a good idea. We learned this with the Shuttle, although it should have been obvious at the time. Big orbiters that lug a bunch of extra vehicle and engine mass up into orbit have to pay for it all with fuel. And they're trying to do it while using engines that are inherently less efficient (because they need two different fuel cycles, need to be reusable, and operate both in atmosphere and in vacuum). The Shuttle engines only dealt with two of the three challenges, were just barely possible to build, and still had compromises.

    That's all why, despite being a genuine technological marvel, the Shuttle cost as much to launch as Apollo did, but carried much less payload. It's just not an efficient design.

    The real win is from reusability. The assumption of space planes is that to be as reusable as an airplane, it has to look like an airplane. But we now know that rockets can be reusable too. And that means space planes are a dead end. A cool looking dead end, but a dead end nonetheless.

    • (Score: 4, Funny) by takyon on Thursday January 20, @02:13PM (1 child)

      by takyon (881) <{takyon} {at} {soylentnews.org}> on Thursday January 20, @02:13PM (#1214150) Journal

      They just need to open a hyperspace window from within Earth's atmosphere. Piece of cake.

      --
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      • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @05:24PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @05:24PM (#1214231)

        No, the piece of cake is for the Total Perspective Vortex. Completely different thing. For hyperspace you need a small Italian bistro.

    • (Score: 2) by Freeman on Thursday January 20, @03:53PM (1 child)

      by Freeman (732) on Thursday January 20, @03:53PM (#1214190) Journal

      They needed seed money. From which will grow a space plane! Just add water, sunshine, and a little patience. Seriously, it's seed money. Not, okay, we're good now, we've got all the funding we need. It's the money they need to flesh out some concepts and get the ball rolling. After which, they will need serious money.

      --
      Forced Microsoft Account for Windows Login → Switch to Linux.
      • (Score: 4, Funny) by ChrisMaple on Friday January 21, @12:07AM

        by ChrisMaple (6964) on Friday January 21, @12:07AM (#1214392)

        The seed money will be used to purchase magic beans.

    • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Thursday January 20, @04:26PM (2 children)

      by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Thursday January 20, @04:26PM (#1214207) Homepage Journal

      because they need two different fuel cycles, need to be reusable, and operate both in atmosphere and in vacuum

      One word: Hydrogen. It and LOX have sent many rockets to space, and I can see how it would be pretty trivial for a good engineer to design a jet engine that burned hydrogen.

      "Oh, but that could never work!" That's what they said about my zip code to state and city hack I came up with in the middle nineties and was using at work. A very few have finally started using it. But it could never work!

      I hope you're not an engineer.

      --
      Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, @12:49AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, @12:49AM (#1214405)

        For something that's pretty trivial, it's funny how no one has ever managed to do it. Here's a hint : there's more to it than just picking what kind of fuel to burn.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @01:13AM

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 22, @01:13AM (#1214686)

        One word: No. Thrust to weight matters more than ISP when fighting drag, be it gravity or atmospheric, and thrust to cross section also matters when in atmosphere. Hydrolox is the worst choice of any bi-propellant on both counts. This applies to rockets as well as aircraft, which, together with the cost, is why there has never been a commercially viable hydrogen powered aircraft. The Shuttle, Buran, and Ariane, all went with hydrogen because using SRBs gives the military rocket manufacturers something to do during peacetime. Pure pork on all counts. Skylon uses hydrogen to cool their ramscoops, but their entire concept is sketchy. They have some very attractive upsides but they pay dearly in other ways, with hydrogen being a major cost driver in design, construction, and operation.

        Hydrogen safe turbines are in no way trivial or easy, despite tens of billion of dollars spent over decades researching them. That you think otherwise only demonstrates your complete ignorance on the subject.

    • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday January 20, @04:31PM (8 children)

      by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday January 20, @04:31PM (#1214209)

      The shuttle was an early attempt. SSTO will happen, and it will be the "best way" to do things, eventually. Is the tech there yet? Probably not, at least not from an efficiency standpoint - you can do it cheaper the same way that the Mercury program ran. Are the Falcon reusable boosters economically efficient today compared to disposable boosters? Probably not, but the way to get there is to learn by doing. Same with SSTO.

      Can they make it for $30M? Probably not, there's a bell curve of probable cost and $30M is probably on the low side of 1% probability.

      --
      Україна не входить до складу Росії.
      • (Score: 3, Insightful) by crafoo on Thursday January 20, @05:47PM (1 child)

        by crafoo (6639) on Thursday January 20, @05:47PM (#1214240)

        Are the Falcon reusable boosters economically efficient today compared to disposable boosters? Probably not

        curious about this assessment, as the falcon launches are about 1/10th the cost to put a satellite in orbit compared to competitors.

        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Thursday January 20, @06:07PM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Thursday January 20, @06:07PM (#1214249)

          I am curious as well, but we will never really know: what were the total program development costs? How much is being subsidized from various sources? (don't forget tax breaks, low cost use of launch/recovery facilities) etc.

          What we do know is: they're working, pretty darn reliably, and that's the real accomplishment: first long term working demonstration of the tech. Even if the true cost of lbs to LEO is 2x what SpaceX could have done a disposable for, doesn't matter. They're launching payloads valuable enough to justify the cost of the running system.

          --
          Україна не входить до складу Росії.
      • (Score: 3, Interesting) by Spamalope on Thursday January 20, @06:23PM (2 children)

        by Spamalope (5233) on Thursday January 20, @06:23PM (#1214257) Homepage

        ?? The Falcon boosters were cheaper than alternatives even before they were able to recover them.

        This thing though - $30B is more like it. $30M won't get it done to develop and certify a new Cesna. SSTO has far too many difficult (aka $$$) unsolved problems to overcome before you even know if it's a good idea.

        SSTO - even if that happens, it doesn't mean it's going to be the best way. Vehicle weight matters, and dual capabilities as well as initial liftoff ability is heavy.

        Scaled Composites Stratolaunch two vehicle design looks more viable. The space vehicle doesn't have to carry the 1,300,000 lb takeoff weight of the carrier craft, the fuel tanks or huge wings for that while still having a large payload. It's inefficient to make the orbital vehicle carry fuel tanks and wings for low altitude. Engines that work at low and high altitude both are heavier and less efficient than specialized ones and neither work in a vacuum. Re-entry heating and rocket engine stresses mean both need significant manpower put in between flights. Separating the initial lift onto a 'conventional-ish' aircraft that doesn't need that labor looks like a win once you've amortized the cost of developing that aircraft. Stratolaunch certainly looks viable, though they have all of the 'new type' hurdles and teething pains to deal with.

        Meanwhile, SpaceX Starship is under rapid development and looks to be pushing 'conventional' rockets into both more reuseable and much heavier payload regimes. Neat stuff. ~30 years of not much new happening and now we've got a new space race on again. Yay!

        • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @07:13PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @07:13PM (#1214287)

          Unless you are going to at least mach 3 or 4, putting the second stage on a plane just isn't worth it. It's 9km/s to orbit. Even mach 3 is only 10% of the way there. The rocket equation means that's probably 20% of your fuel use, but it's still not enough to justify the complexity of a second stage takeoff from a horizontally flying plane. A disposable (or re-usable) stage one booster is 4 or 5 km/s and 80% of your fuel.

        • (Score: 1, Interesting) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, @12:55AM

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, @12:55AM (#1214410)

          The aircraft carrier of Stratolaunch and similar doesn't impart a big amount of energy to the rocket. Its advantage is that you can fly it to whatever latitude is optimal for the trajectory you want to put the satellite into, and you can launch it over international waters where it doesn't really matter where the booster falls. Flying over populated areas is kind of a problem for rockets going south from Cape Canaveral. Not a problem in China though, they just don't worry about it if a rocket booster falls on Beijing.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @08:50PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @08:50PM (#1214332)

        The Shuttle wasn't just an early attempt, it was the worst of the proposed designs. It was only picked for political reasons (got to spread that pork as widely as possible).

      • (Score: 2) by Beryllium Sphere (r) on Thursday January 20, @10:16PM (1 child)

        by Beryllium Sphere (r) (5062) on Thursday January 20, @10:16PM (#1214370)

        "During an interview with Ars, Holder and Radian CEO Richard Humphrey explained that they realized it would require significantly more funding to build such an ambitious orbital space plane."

        "Significantly" is an understatement.

        • (Score: 2) by JoeMerchant on Friday January 21, @12:29AM

          by JoeMerchant (3937) on Friday January 21, @12:29AM (#1214398)

          I worked at a startup that eventually did build and market combined MRI / radiotherapy machines. They were blowing smoke about making the first demostrator machine for $5M. In reality, I believe the investors had put in over $40M before the first prototype came together, and were close on $100M before the first one was placed with a paying customer.

          --
          Україна не входить до складу Росії.
    • (Score: 1) by fustakrakich on Thursday January 20, @07:05PM

      by fustakrakich (6150) on Thursday January 20, @07:05PM (#1214282) Journal

      It's not even a good idea.

      Sure it is, says right there:

      Funding will pace their development efforts.

      Right now the financial markets are full of mad money. Let's see if they use it for anything

      --
      Ok, we paid the ransom. Do I get my dog back? REDЯUM
    • (Score: 2) by Beryllium Sphere (r) on Thursday January 20, @10:20PM

      by Beryllium Sphere (r) (5062) on Thursday January 20, @10:20PM (#1214372)

      From the article, "the substantial amounts of money it will need to bring an orbital space plane on line—more than $1 billion, almost certainly".

  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @03:14PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 20, @03:14PM (#1214173)

    Their Holy Grail appears a optimal money vacuum. (Old space has perfected this quite a bit, but these new folks might still find a new trick?)

    The current Grail is actually getting to space cheaply and reliably.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, @01:40AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, @01:40AM (#1214420)

    had a $700 million budget and looked how fucking horrible that turned out.

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