Space: November 1, 1999


: NASA has begun anew program under which it asks industry to propose deals to provide boosters for package of launches. About 70 unmanned launches (light, medium, and heavy) between 2000 and 2010 could be involved in several packages worth up to $5 billion. --Stephen V Cole

ASTRIUM is the new European space equipment company, created by the merger of the space divisions of Matra, DaimlerChrysler, and Marconi. The Italian company Alenia is expected to add its space division to the new consortium next year.--Stephen V Cole

Rotary Rocket has completed the third test flight of its ROTON single-stage-to-orbit atmospheric test vehicle. In theory, the eventual space booster will launch like any other missile, but after deploying its payload into orbit will land for re-use using large rotor blades. The craft will "auto-rotate" to a safe landing, using small blade-tip thrusters for control in the final stages. The Atmospheric Test Vehicle is designed to test the final stages of flight, since everyone pretty much knows how to put something into orbit and the new landing technology is the key to the system. In the third flight, the Atmospheric Test Vehicle traveled about 3/4 of a mile down a runway at Mojave Airport, briefly hovering at the start and finish. Top speed was 53 miles per hour, and everything went perfectly in the 3-minute and 47-second flight. A real space vehicle, returning from orbit, might have to fly sideways considerable distances to reach a safe or designated landing area. The third flight, like the first two, was under the full power of the blade-tip thrusters.--Stephen V Cole