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2018 New Space predictions, Part I: How did we do last year?

Around this time last year, I was discussing / arguing with another aerospace engineer on the sort of topic which tends to come to mind at the New Year. What could we expect in our industry over the next twelve months? Since I have been a pundit here at Samizdata and in other fora for a bit over three decades, I suggested we turn our arguments into a set of predictions of events we expected in 2017. I wrote up the results and published them in a limited fora and set a reminder in my schedule so that we would revisit it a year later both to see how well the universe obeyed our pronouncements during the previous orbit of the Earth about Sol, and to then produce a new set of pontifications for 2018.

Before I unveil those, I will do what most prognosticators fear to do: discuss our results in public, as evaluated by the two of us last night. The publication last year was to a limited audience, I am reproducing it here. We each placed our initials next to the predictions we agreed upon; DMA for Dale Marshall Amon and DW for Doug Weathers. A few are minority predictions to which only one of us felt comfortable in making.

1) Falcon Heavy will fly this year. [DMA, DW]

Close! The vehicle has been assembled, and was raised and lowered at the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) before the end of the year. It is scheduled for flight this month with a Tesla sports car as an interplanetary payload. We definitely did not see that coming!

2) Red Dragon will be tested in unmanned mode and a landing will be attempted [DW, DMA]
3) Red Dragon will be given a high energy re-entry test by doing a lunar free return. I give it 50% that they do this. DMA.

Both of these fall into a category that we are calling OBE, Overcome By Events. Elon Musk dropped the vehicle late in development due to a massive change in plans for SpaceX. The Big Falcon Rocket design he announced at the IAU conference this year does things a different way so the development was cut.

4) A Raptor engine will not be on a flight vehicle yet this year. [DMA, DW]

Yes. We were correct. The LOX-Methane Raptor engine is still undergoing test and is progressing nicely.

5) There will be a reflight of a Falcon first stage. [DMA, DW]

Yes. Several of them in fact. So much so that from now on people ask why a first stage is not reused rather than arguing that one cannot do it.

6) New Shepherd will fly manned with a test ‘pilot’ on board. [DMA, DW]

No. But they are getting close. The production type capsule flew recently with ‘Mannequin Skywalker’ as the crash test dummy has been dubbed. The flight test was flawless so we can expect a manned trip to happen within the next few test flights.

7) The BE-4 engine will complete its testing and be ready for flight test. [DMA, DW]

No. The Blue Origin engine is still under test, but it is very close to ready and will likely be mounted on a New Glenn hull this year.

8) XCOR will be told to kick the ULA second stage engine program into high gear. [DMA, DW]

OBE. A perfect financial storm, put XCOR into a suspension of trading and then Space Florida filed against them and put them into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. We did not see that coming, and there were signs up until the last moment that they might still pull their goolies out of the fire.

9) Dreamchaser will be flight tested, possibly orbited in an unmanned mode this year. [DMA]

Sort of. They have completed a successful drop test with a new Crew Dreamchaser at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB). They do not appear to be near ready for an actual launch, although we have some ideas…

10) SS2 will do its first suborbital spaceflight this year [DMA, DW]

No. We were actually rather shocked that this did not happen yet as they had successful drop tests of the new ship much earlier this year. This should have happened.

11) Richard Branson and family will not be on board [DMA, DW]

Yes. We got that right!

12) Long March heavy lift rocket will fly successfully. [DMA, DW]

Sort of. They launched it but it did not make orbit.

13) CST100 will execute a pad abort test. [DMA, DW]

No. Slipped to next year.

14) CST100 will NOT fly into space this year [DMA, DW]

Yep. Slipped to next year.

15) EXOS Aerospace will fly their Sarge rocket this year [DMA, DW]

No. They canceled a captive test due to the hurricane that hit Houston, which although not close, was where many people who would have come as guests were to be found. There may also have been doubt about the weather in Central Texas since one never knows what a hurricane has up its wall cloud. There has been no sign of a re-schedule.

16) Stratolaunch will begin flight test of the big carrier aircraft. [DMA, DW]

Yes. They started taxi tests at Mojave before the end of the year.

17) World View will carry out a manned flight. [DMA, DW]

OBE. They had a ground testing accident. My take is they used Hydrogen for ground test because Helium is bloody expensive; they had an issue with a vent and the Hydrogen burned, caused an overpressure, blew out the top of the balloon and exploded into a fireball in the inrush of air.

To be fair, I must also mention one we thought would not happen until the next year: Rocket Lab did get their test vehicle with their revolutionary electric fuel and oxidizer pumps off the pad. They did a destruct late in the ascent, but as they discovered later, the decision was based on incorrect data. The rocket would have successfully made orbit on the first try.

There were many other advances during the year but we did not try to guess everything; we only went for ‘the big ones’.

Next we will unveil our predictions for 2018 and why we made them.

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