X Projects and a spacefaring nation

Chaos Manor View, Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Masten & XCOR partnering to re-create the DC/X with DARPA funding.



Roland Dobbins

I am overjoyed that the idea of X projects has not been completely killed by the Lockheed X-33 fiasco.

DC/X was designed in the Great Hall, my upstairs office I don’t get to as much as I would like. Actually, we designed the SSX, a 600,000 pound Gross liftoff Weight (GLOW) Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) ship, reusable; that, as Max Hunter said, might not get to orbit, but it would scare it to death. The point being that SSX was savable – it would survive many booster failures that would destroy most rocket ships – and reusable, and did not have to make orbit to have a successful flight. The first tail numbers probably would not achieve orbit – but could land safely and be reused.

By designed I mean what in the aerospace industry was called a preliminary design description, describing the goals of a design; obviously we did not do the actual design work; that would be the point of an X project contract. We described what we wanted and believed would be possible.

The notion was to learn how to build SSTO by flying the ship with partial fuel loads on missions not intended to achieve orbit. Refuel and fly it again. Examine strains and problems. Improve, lighten the ship, and try again. Bore holes in structures overly strong, which most would be until we had flying hardware data on strains and stresses.

This is how we went from the plane the Wright brothers designed to the DC-3; in increments, learning what we were doing; and this in an era without computers. Now we had computers. This was to be our path to becoming a space-faring nation. The concept of using X projects to get to space is summarized in How to Get to Space, http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/gettospace.html, which I posted in 2010 but comes from the 1980’s. A technical paper on the SSX concept from those earlier times https://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/SSX.html is old but the basic physics do not change; the concepts apply, except that we now have many new materials and the weight of needed structures is lower, thus affecting the achievable mass ratios.

SSX was never built. Max Hunter, General Graham, and I sold the concept to then Vice President of the United States and Chairman of the National Space Council Dan Quayle in the White House in early 1989. Quayle had been a space defense advocate in the Senate (to the media he was “the respected Junior Senator from Indiana” up until the day he was nominated for Vice President, after which he was a clown) and asked RAND and other experts to reevaluate the SSTO concept; and although he could not swing the financing for the full SSX, he did get funding for a 60,000 pound GLOW scale model, which, after being awarded to Douglas, became known as the DC/X. DC/X successfully proved a number of SSTO principles and the feasibility of single stage to orbit, by flying successful missions, landing, refueling, and flying again.

Lockheed then absorbed $4 billion in NASA funding for SSTO in new designs that never flew; the money was entirely wasted, and the notion of reusable space ships died away, much to the relief of successful vendors of expendable rockets. Meanwhile NASA had built the rebuildable Shuttle and flew a few missions a year – the multi-billion Shuttle budget did not vary from year to year whether NASA flew 8 missions or none that year – but no one continued to build and fly actual reusable rocket craft, learning by flying. The Shuttle wasn’t reusable. It wasn’t designed to be. It was salvageable, and could be rebuilt to fly again; but it couldn’t simply be refueled and take off. It was never intended to.

I am pleased to see that after 30 years, my notion of how to get to space is revived although I doubt that many of the participants ever heard of me or know how the DC/X came to be; but the best way to get to space is to fly ships that will get you there. Elon Musk is trying one reusable concept. Others favor two stages to orbit. No one is trying to fly reusable space ships on ac routine basis. We think we can go from the Sopwith Camel to the 747 in one jump. And over the years we have spent billions. I applaud Elon Musk, and it may be that capitalism will do what the government cannot; but X programs taught us much about airplanes, and a real X program, not given to a major aerospace company who sells competing concepts, can teach us a lot about getting to space.

For more see https://www.jerrypournelle.com/slowchange/SSX2.html


Going back to basics
I guess the Navy finally accepted their wonderful electronics, even shielded, are vulnerable, as are satellites. They’re back to sextants. Personally, if I were going to attack any United States military, I would start with the electronics; we seem to rely so much on them.
Seeing stars, again: Naval Academy reinstates celestial navigation:

David Smallwood

The best way to start a conflict with the United States Navy is to loft a 20 Kt weapon above your own nation and detonate it; it will do you no harm, but it will pretty well blind the United States. Of course your own officers will be trained to navigate and direct fire without electronics.


Admiral: North Korea can hit US with long-range nuclear missile | Fox News


I continue to be confused by your comments regarding the demise of SAC. While we no longer have a huge force of manned bombers at a high state of reediness to ensure that some could survive a preemptive attack, we have a small force of somewhat survivable ICBMs and a larger force of very survivable submarine based missiles. The accuracy of nuclear armed missiles based either in silos on land or more notably the Trident II on submarines at sea has evolved to the point that they are nearly as capable of destroying hardened targets as large force of manned bombers might be. Given the fact that potential adversaries have air defenses but not significant missile defenses, our missile forces are more capable than the bombers. We still have the capability to destroy North Korea’s fledgling nuclear forces with a preemptive strike until such time as North Korea deploys it’s nuclear forces in a survivable mode such as advanced, ballistic missile submarines.


The only relevant, “nuclear war fighting capability” that we lack is antimissile defenses and credible civil defenses. By “credible civil defenses” I mean hardened bomb shelters rather than half baked ideas for emergency evacuation of prime targets areas. While the technological potential for antimissile systems is more promising than ever before, President Obama and the establishment intellectuals have decreed that enabling America’s enemies to kill Americans by the millions is a good thing.

Given these realities, I believe that Americans should seriously reevaluate the fundamental premiss that the US should be willing to confront a nuclear armed North Korea. In the wake of the 9-11 attacks and President Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, South Korea adopted an extremely pacifist approach to foreign policy and decreed that a policy of negotiation and appeasement was preferable to confrontation and preemption. Japan was also reluctant to cooperate with aggressive preemption. The failure to find “significant” WMD in Iraq compelled the US to acquiesce to South Korea’s and Japan’s intransigence. As a result, North Korea now has nuclear weapons and either has or in the not to distant future will have the capability to launch a limited nuclear attack on the United States. Perhaps the time has come for the United States to abandon it’s alliances with South Korea and Japan? Since the pacifists populations of America’s “allies” were demanding that the US negotiate until North Korea was able to develop nuclear weapons, it is they rather than the people of the US who should have to cope with a nuclear armed North Korea.

James Crawford=

Well, perhaps I have overly regretted the demise of SAC, and I hope you are correct, because we seem headed for some serious situations. I will not comment on your last paragraph at this time.

I hope you are correct and that our nuclear war fighting forces are adequate and well trained now that SAC is gone.


DNC Debate

Well, the DNC debate was so uninteresting that I watched a few clips of it and didn’t bother with much more. Clinton did the normal stuff that she does, speaking while smirking and then switching to her authoritative voice. It’s like she can’t quite figure out what facial expressions and tones to use and there’s a bit of a matching error as if someone got the video and audio transcodes on their DVD off by more than a second, denying the brains ability to automatically correct the same.


Hillary Rodham Clinton revised history in the Democratic debate when insisting she’s not a flip-flopper on a trade deal she promoted as secretary of state but turned against as a presidential candidate.

Bernie Sanders overstated the share of wealth being taken by the richest Americans, a subject that goes to the core of his campaign.



The article gets into the facts. Looks like more of what we expect from the left; they change directions more often than a spinning top and they try to drive a harder bargain than the facts justify.

Situation normal at the DNC. Let’s hope they don’t manage to get themselves elected again.

◊ ◊ ◊ ◊ ◊

Most Respectfully,

Joshua Jordan, KSC

Percussa Resurgo

I watched very little of it; it was hardly a debate, and Mrs. Clinton’s absolution with regard to leaking secrets was not in that company’s power to give, although of course that was the main purpose of the enclave. Mrs. Clinton’s path to coronation goes forward.


A blast from the past. This is from https://www.jerrypournelle.com/chaosmanor/x-projects-a-day-after-the-debate/ October 17, 2012

As Possony, Kane, and I showed in The Strategy of Technology, technologies can be created on demand through proper strategies. That is vital to military capabilities.

“A gigantic technological race is in progress between interception and penetration and each time capacity for interception makes progress it is answered by a new advance in capacity for penetration. Thus a new form of strategy is developing in peacetime, a strategy of which the phrase ‘arms race’ used prior to the old great conflicts is hardly more than a faint reflection.

There are no battles in this strategy; each side is merely trying to outdo in performance the equipment of the other. It has been termed ‘logistic strategy’. Its tactics are industrial, technical, and financial. It is a form of indirect attrition; instead of destroying enemy resources, its object is to make them obsolete, thereby forcing on him an enormous expenditure….

A silent and apparently peaceful war is therefore in progress, but it could well be a war which of itself could be decisive.”
–General d’Armee Andre Beaufre


This can be true in the development of critical national capabilities as well.

One such capability is access to space. Yes, the aeronautical business was developed by private enterprise – but much of its technology was done in partnership between industry and government. The same can be true for space. I wrote most of this in “How to Get to Space” http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/gettospace.html. Sometimes government action is needed. The problem is that government isn’t very good at picking and choosing winners: funding companies is not a good way to build an industry.

Fortunately there are ways of developing technology without betting on winners and losers. This is all described in my Getting to Space presentation. We used X Projects to develop the aerospace industry, and we can do that for Green Energy and other national resources. The best developers of new technology are not always the best at commercial exploitation – as was proved in the growth of the aviation industry. It is true in many other cases.

Government can develop technologies without investing in companies.

I have explained X Projects many times. The basic idea is simple: the government puts out a contract for competitive bids. The contract will be to build, with the best technology available as of now (or in the very near future) working models of something that illustrates the best we have in the technology we are developing. One example was flying higher and faster. No one expected the X projects to come up with prototypes of commercial – or even military – aircraft. Instead you build the best thing you can and learn from it. An example was the Douglas X-3 Stiletto. It was the first airplane to take off from a runway and go faster than sound. That’s what it did – and while the Stiletto wasn’t a useful prototype of anything, we learned from it, and from that came the F-104 which dominated military airspace for more than a decade. What the X Project did was develop technologies. After that the aerospace industry could develop actual fighters.

The same principle can apply in other areas of technology. About twenty years ago Dr. Rolfe Sinclair of the National Science Foundation and I co-chaired a panel at an annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on the applicability of the X Project concept to development of non-military technologies. It’s hardly a new idea; but it would work.

If much of the TARP money had been given out as funding for high technology X Projects, not in subsidies to technology companies, we would have learned a lot from that; and the “stimulus” effect would have been pretty well the same. The money would have been spent.

Another blast from the past: http://www.informationweek.com/desktop/jerry-pournelle-a-short-biography/d/d-id/1103785?

I found it while searching for my old posts on x projects.


I have just read it over again, and I recommend my How to Get to Space for everyone interested in the subject. 







Freedom is not free. Free men are not equal. Equal men are not free.




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