In spacelift, the U.S. once held nearly 80% of the launch market — today we hold only 20%. The legacy spacelift vehicles built upon the U.S.’s historical ICBM systems are gone and have been replaced by the Delta IV and Atlas V. A number of programs encountered numerous problems with parts and technology obsolescence — the significant downside of keeping some systems operational well beyond their intended lifetimes.
The U.S. has made great strides in technologies for space in the past 10 years. The Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technology (IHPRPT) program has reached some significant milestones. Scramjet propulsion saw its first successful flight. Numerous physics-based modeling, simulation, and analysis efforts were started to address industry shortfalls when trying to design outside the empirical database of the past 50 years. Many commercial companies have tried their hand at entering the spacelift business with small, “cheap” launch vehicles. Microsatellites have been trying to get a foothold on space and appear to be making some headway. If we are to understand what the future of propulsion holds, we need to understand the recent past. The future holds many great opportunities, but just as many technical challenges.
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