Space Commerce

Reusable Booster System Business Case Incomplete; Underlying Technologies Show Significant Potential

By Keith Cowing
Press Release
October 15, 2012
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Reusable Booster System Business Case Incomplete; Underlying Technologies Show Significant Potential

Due to uncertainties in the business case and yet-to-be mitigated technology risks associated with the Reusable Booster System (RBS) concept, it is currently premature for Air Force Space Command to invest substantially in developing RBS, says a new report from the National Research Council.
However, the report strongly endorses the continued research and advanced technology development needed for future launch systems and concludes that reusability remains an option in the future.

The RBS concept, an unmanned launch vehicle with an autonomous guidance and control system, was designed to address one of Air Force Space Command’s identified four long-term science and technology challenges of providing full-spectrum launch capability at dramatically lower cost. The system consists of a reusable first stage and an expendable second stage. The first stage is designed to return to the launch site so it can be recovered and reused in future launches.

Tasked with reviewing and assessing the RBS concept and business case, the authoring committee found that the business case is not complete, as it does not adequately account for new entrant commercial launch providers, impacts of single source providers, Air Force need for independent launch sources for meeting assured access to space requirement, and technical risk.

The report stresses that the Air Force should continue to develop necessary launch system technologies independent of any decision to proceed with RBS development, as these innovations will be required to support future decisions regarding RBS and may also be applicable to alternative launch system concepts.

DETAILS: Reusable Booster System: Review and Assessment is available at Media inquiries should be directed to the National Academies’ Office of News and Public Information; tel. 202-334-2138 or e-mail

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