Lockheed Martin and Boeing have each been awarded $1 million contracts from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama, to conduct an "in-depth concept-definition" of upgraded Space Shuttle rocket boosters. The new liquid-propellant boosters would be able to fly back to land at the Kennedy Space Center, in Florida, rather than splashing down in the sea for recovery, like the present solid-rocket boosters (SRBs). Liquid boosters would be more controllable than the SRBs.

The unpiloted boosters would use jet engines to fly back to the launch site for landing on the Shuttle runway, during a 9min flight after separation from the Shuttle about 2min after launch.

The possible upgrade is part of a programme to improve the Shuttle system within agreed financial constraints. The scheme will also include substantial upgrades to cockpit and other systems.

NASA has also selected four proposals for negotiation leading to contract awards for the initial design of a new low-cost launch system-technologies flight demonstrator. The anticipated total funding for the awards in fiscal year 1997 is $8 million.

Contracts for the Bantam project are expected to be awarded later this month. During the next six months, Universal Space Lines of Newport Beach, California, Summa Technology of Huntsville, Aerojet-General, of Sacramento, California, and Pioneer Rocketplane, of Bladewood, Colarado, will analyse the small payload market and develop low-cost launch system concepts and business plans for commercial operation. The new launch system will focus on small experimental payloads which typically are not funded because of the expense of launch.

Small payloads such as communications satellites and other commercial ventures in space also will benefit from inexpensive access to space. The Bantam project will adapt common manufacturing techniques and existing commercial, off-the-shelf hardware to aerospace applications to develop new technologies and a resulting test vehicle.

Source: Flight International