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The Environmental Impact Of Licensing New Space Vehicles

coming to a runway near you
 Washington - Oct 22, 2003
The United States Federal Aviation Administration is currently evaluating four vehicle designs within its Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) process. This process is currently at the Public Scoping stage and the time period for this has been extended to October 31, 2003.

The vehicle types under evaluation are grouped based on their proposed launch and landing operations.

The launch operations consist of two types, horizontal and vertical launch. The FAA prepared a PEIS for Licensing Launches in 2001 which addressed the impacts of vertically launched vehicles and therefore, this PEIS will only address the impacts from horizontally launched vehicles.

The landing category is sorted by powered and unpowered landing. The PEIS would address the impacts of launch and reentry of vehicles not previously analyzed with the following characteristics.

  • Horizontal launch with powered landing � Vehicle uses a turbofan jet engine to take off horizontally from a conventional runway. Once the vehicle reaches a six to 12 kilometer (km) altitude, its rocket engines are fired and the vehicle climbs until the rocket propellant is consumed. The vehicle coasts to its maximum altitude or apogee. The vehicle descends and the turbofan jet engines are restarted once the vehicle descends to a six to 12 km altitude. The vehicle is flown to a horizontal landing on a conventional runway.

  • Horizontal launch with unpowered landing � Various vehicle designs include a vehicle that is towed behind or carried on a turbojet-powered aircraft. The vehicle and aircraft take off horizontally from a conventional runway. The vehicle is dropped or separated from the tow aircraft at an altitude from 16 to 20 km. Rocket engines on the launch vehicle are fired as the aircraft pulls away. Another vehicle design takes off directly from a conventional runway under rocket power. Each launch vehicle design climbs until the rocket propellant is consumed and the vehicle reaches its apogee. The launch vehicle then descends and glides unpowered, to a horizontal landing on a conventional runway.

  • Vertical launch with powered landing � Vehicle takes off vertically from a launch pad. The impacts of vertical launch will not be addressed in this PEIS since they were addressed in the PEIS for Licensing Launches. The vehicle rocket engines fire for 80 seconds and the vehicle cruises to its apogee and then descends vertically. As the vehicle descends, various types of equipment could be deployed, including a flexible aero-shield, to reduce the descent rate. At approximately three km altitude, the equipment is retracted and landing power is applied. The vehicle lands vertically on landing gear.

  • Vertical launch with unpowered landing � Vehicle takes off vertically from a launch pad or from within the ocean. The impacts of vertical launch will not be addressed in this PEIS since they were addressed in the PEIS for Licensing Launches. The rocket's engines burn until propellant is consumed. The vehicle coasts to its maximum apogee and descends vertically. Equipment, including parachutes or ballutes, may be deployed during the descent of the vehicle. Various landing designs include vehicles that land by gliding horizontally to an unpowered landing on water similar to a seaplane. Vehicles may also land with a parachute or ballute directly in water or on land. Various types of equipment, including air bags or cones, may be inflated around the vehicle base for ground-based landings.

Related Links
Associate Administrator for Commercial Space Transportation at FAA
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The Deep Secrets Of Deep Space Might Just Be Alien Chit Chat
London - May 14, 2003
If we are not alone in the Universe, why have we never picked up signals from an extraterrestrial civilisation asks New Scientist in this weeks issue? Known as the Fermi paradox after physicist Enrico Fermi, who first posed the question, this long-standing puzzle remains one of the strongest arguments against the existence of intelligent aliens.

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