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Spacedev to challenge SpaceX after USAF deal

Microsatellite and hybrid rocket motor manufacturer Spacedev has won a $2.7 million US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) contract that will help it develop a launcher to compete with Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) Falcon 1.

Spacedev, which provided the engine for Scaled Composites’ SpaceShipOne, is to develop a 130,000lb-thrust (578kN) hybrid rocket motor for the AFRL. It is a hybrid because it uses a gas or a liquid oxidiser with a solid fuel.

For Spacedev, the motor will form part of its in-development 1t-to-low-Earth-orbit Streaker launcher, and would be the third stage for its proposed vertically launched six-passenger Dream Chaser manned vehicle, which resembles the NASA HL-20 lifting body.

The AFRL motor will be test fired next year. “Its performance will be better than a pressure-fed liquid oxygen [LOX]/kerosene engine, but not as good as a pump-fed LOX/kerosene engine,” says Spacedev chief executive Jim Benson.

Benson wants to develop Streaker to compete with Falcon 1. However, Benson last week placed an open-ended contract for multiple micro-satellite payload launches on Falcon 1 with SpaceX.

The first launch, scheduled for May 2008, could be for the first of three US Defence Department satellites Spacedev is building. The micro-satellite is to fly on a Boeing Delta booster and the Falcon 1 launch would be a fall-back launch.

ROB COPPINGER/LONDON

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