Here's a bomb-shell:RLV and Space Transport News » Blackstar - secret 2-stage spaceplane systemRLV and Space Transport News » More Blackstar info...RLV and Space Transport News » Blackstar discussion...
OK. I have enough respect for AvLeak, having read them religiously through the 80' and 90's, that I'm going to take them at their word, pending strong refutation from an equally reliable source (note to self: what does Jane's have to say about it?)
So assuming the the story is true overall, here are some bits & pieces that appear to support it:
- As mentioned by AvLeak, SR-71 cancellation makes a great deal more sense now
- Given the timeline, it also makes sense that the SR-71 was brought back into service for Gulf War 1 (Blackstar is already on the horizon, but not yet in service)
- Aurora is probably related too (unless it's the red herring referred to by one of Clark's commenters) - AvLeak has done some major stories on it in the past, I'm surprised it's not mentioned in the article - did I miss it in my rush to read?
What are the consequences?
1. The A-12 is dead - USN is without a carrier based, stealthy, mid-size penetration bomber - the F/A-18 is not even in the same league as far as payload/range and survivability goes - this could cost us very seriously if we ever had to go after Iran or DPRK. Arguably, it would have died anyway, but at this point, we no longer know for sure.
2. The NASP is dead - again, it might have died anyway, but the opportunity cost of both the budget and the management focus is stunning. I don't even know how to begin taking stock of it:
- The money is gone - probably 10's of $B, w/o any tangible results
- Think of what Rutan, Truax, Henson could have done with that money. Yeah, I know, they wouldn't have seen that money anyway, but still....
- The RLV concept was sullied for a decade
- STS is still flying, and will continue for the foreseeable future. God help us if the we have a falling out with the Russians
- The STS replacement is still a half dozen years away, realistically more, quite possibly for ever
- Damage to NASA's credibility is enormous
3. After all that sacrifice and damage, to even think of canceling the program beggars the imagination. Therefore, I have to think that we're not seeing all there is to see. What's underneath this? The operational requirements haven't gone away. None of the other systems, either airborne or orbital, even come close to fulfilling them. So the argument for this being the result of budget cuts is not credible. I'm left with no alternative but to conclude that there's something better either in production or close enough as not to matter.
4. The last time a similar thing happened (when SR-71 was being terminated), a number of analysts postulated that it's being retired because there's something better. They were right. All those who disparaged this idea at the time turned out to be wrong. Even if I'm wrong, this is a good working assumption.
5. So what could it be?
- Well, it could be something evolutionary. Instead of XB-70 based carrier, a purpose designed and built first stage of some as yet unknown configuration (DH-1? :-). The second stage would be highly dependent on the first stage design. This would be good in the long term. Short term, alt.space will have to pitch in (NASA won't). As with all black programs, eventually, this one will come out too. I may not live long enough, but my kids might.
- Or, it could be something revolutionary – let you imagination run wild: anti-grav, star gate, teleport, what have you. That could be A LOT of fun. No, I don't really think this is what's going on. Just reading a lot of SF lately :-)
The costs, real and consequential, of fielding it in the first place are huge
Offered reasons for cancellation are not credible
This is either incredibly, astoundingly stupid, or the silver lining is so good we will laugh at the costs in a few years.
Jeez, I hope so.