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I attended Makin’ Orbit ’93, a space technology conference in Berkeley, CA in January of that year. By this time I’d giving up on getting VC funding for my own SSTO designs and did not have confidence that liquid fuel rocket development could be done safely as amateurs, given the propellants needed to reach orbit.

I saw a flyer out on the freebee table calling for people interested in forming such a liquid fuel design and test group in the Bay Area, and had discounted it on the grounds that the individual likely didn’t fully understand the dangers and safety risks involved, and that he didn’t know how to attract good, competent people (“Solid fuel rocket weenies need not apply!” was a prominent element of the flyer).

Late Friday night, I met Mitchell Burnside-Clapp, then a Captain in the US Air Force. Mitch had been sitting on a chair in an alcove telling stories and entertaining a throng of people arrayed at his feet. The stories were funning and entertaining; he’s a good storyteller. When things broke up about 2 a.m. we ended up in an elevator together and it turned out in conversation that I knew his wife (T.J. Burnside). He gave me a copy of the paper he was to present Sunday afternoon and I said I’d read it in the morning.


That paper, “A Single Stage To Orbit Rocket with Non-Cryogenic Propellents“, was what I had been looking for. At the presentation, Mitchell took a mostly skeptical audience, many of whom who had been designing and building rockets for government and industry for decades, through the paper. The frost in the room melted quickly and by the end, whenever anyone came up with a problem someone else in the audience would answer “We’ve already solved that. Let the kid speak!” before Mitch could address the issue. It was a truly amazing transformation.

Afterwards, I came up to him and mentioned that the paper seemed to have been very well received and I’d have to find the guy who had the fliers out to start a liquid fuel test group because these were propellents we could safely use as amateurs and build and test hardware that proved out his numbers. The guy standing next to me said “That would be me. Hi, I’m Kevin.”

A few years later I asked Mitchell if this paper were available on the web and he said no. I asked if E.R.P.S. could post it for him since it had been so pivotal in our founding and he said yes. Over the years I’ve tried several times to put the paper together in HTML but it’s never been finished because of the limitations related to formulae and formatting. Then I lost track of the paper. Then we had a fire.

Recently, while sorting through stuff we salvaged, I found a spare photocopy of the paper that had been in with other things. Yesterday I managed to scan it and create a PDF file. That file is now posted at:

http://www.erps.org/docs/SSTORwNCP.pdf

I’d suggest it as Recommended Reading for all E.R.P.S. members and anyone else interested in a different approach to reaching orbit.

The Paper That Started It All