Transformational Space Corp. (t/Space) of Reston, Va., and Scaled Composites of Mojave, Calif., wrapped up three weeks of flight tests June 14 with a drop test of a prototype of its QuickReach 2 boosters for their planned CXV capsule for transporting crews to and from space.
The dummy boosters released by aircraft used a technique that caused them to rotate towards a vertical position without the need for wings. According to a t/Space press statement, this concept makes possible a trajectory in which the air-launched hardware crosses behind the aircraft.
That is a different approach than other air-launched rockets, such as the Pegasus rockets, the X-15 rocket plane and the Scaled composites’ SpaceShipOne, which was released from its carrier plane, the White Knight. These craft use wings to turn themselves from horizontal flight to the vertical position, then head skyward on suborbital or orbital trajectories.
The t/Space technique greatly enhances safety, according to officials working on the project.
The new air launch method is called Trapeze-Lanyard Air Drop launch. The test drops were conducted using the Proteus aircraft built by Scaled Composites. That company, led by aerospace designer, Burt Rutan, also built and flew SpaceShipOne.
According to t/Space, in addition to greatly enhancing safety, eliminating the wings increases the payload a rocket can take to orbit. The innovation developed by t/Space is a device that remains attached to the nose of the booster for all of a half-second after the rocket is released.
That slight tug on the booster’s nose starts the hardware rotating as it drops. A small parachute on the rocket’s nozzle ensures this rotation does not happen quickly.
The Mojave tests involved three sub scale dummy booster drop tests: May 24, June 7 and June 14. The mock boosters were compo sed of two steel tanks welded together with a fiberglass nose and nozzle. They were 23 percent of the size of the actual rockets to be developed for sending a four-person capsule into orbit, according to a t/Space statement.
Since the dummy hardware had no engines, each booster crashed onto the dry Cuddeback Lake, about 35 miles northeast of Mojave, Calif . The wreckage was collected and removed.
t/Space is developing vehicles for NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration. As one of eight companies funded by NASA, t/Space is developing concepts for the agency’s Crew Exploration Vehicle , the planned replacement for the space shuttle fleet for getting crews to and from space.
NASA agreed to let t/Space use some of its $3 million study money to build and test hardware in addition to conducting analytical studies. The successful drop test program, t/Space pointed out, demonstrates that small companies using rapid prototyping can develop new hardware very quickly .
“We went from brainstorm to booster drop in just 135 days,” said David Gump, president of t/Space in a company press statement.
Contractors on the t/Space team include: Scaled Composites Inc., the company that last year flew privately sponsored suborbital flights with its SpaceShipOne, as well as AirLaunch LLC, a firm under contract with the Defense Department to develop a low-cost responsive launch vehicle.