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Space Science

Successful First Launch of Aerospike Engine 143

ScottKin writes "CSULB announced that on September 21st they achieved a milestone in aerospace engineering when they successfully launched their 'Prospector 2' rocket powered by an 'Aerospike' engine. What makes this remarkable is that even NASA had trouble with testing their incarnation of an Aerospike engine - but the Linear Aerospike Engine is quite a different beast. More info on this definitely-newsworthy even can be found at the California Space Authority website."
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Successful First Launch of Aerospike Engine

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  • ... out of respect for the family of the just deceased web-server, no slashdotting jokes please.
    • They call this a success (from the article):
      After a smooth countdown and nominal engine ignition, the thirteen-foot long P-2 quickly accelerated up a 60-ft launch rail and entered stable flight. Several seconds later it abruptly pitched ninety degrees and demonstrated unstable operation until finally transitioning into a ballistic terminal descent. The subsequent impact with the desert floor destroyed student payloads provided by a USC/JPL team and another from Cerritos High School, but the aft section wit
      • Sounds like a guidance failure rather than an engine failure, hence the "aerospike test" was a success. When the test vehicles are expensive and few, you have to try to define as many "experiments" on a single event as you can - the overall success of the whole system is just another experiment, possible least likely to succeed. SDI/BMD has caught a lot of flack about "success/failure" in tests of late but the problem is precisely this definition of success.

        Imagine the days when getting time on a compu

  • For the lbf impaired (Score:5, Informative)

    by CausticWindow ( 632215 ) on Sunday September 28, 2003 @06:45AM (#7076458)

    The sea level thrust of this engince (204,420 lbf) is equivalent to 900,404 Newtons.

    In comparison, the Space Shuttle engines produce 2,174,286 Newtons at sea level.

    • can you put this in perspective though what is the size of the SS engines compared to the areospike?
    • What's the idea with all this lbf and Newton units of measurement?

      This is Slashdot for fsck's sake, let's hear about it in terms of elephants, swallows carrying coconuts, the size of San Francisco or SCO licences.

      The rationality that is creeping into Slashdot is disturbing.

    • Read it again: Test rocket, test bed, experiment.

      Do you think MSBs were created out of thin air? Everything in engineering starts small. The family tree of MSBs can be traced back to V2's engines. It is perfectly reasonable to start with something small.

    • Wow, a thing about half the size of a man's foot [california...hority.org] generates 1/20 the thrust of a space shuttle engine. In English units, 1/2 foot is kicking ass.

      If you are not a rocket scientist, that translates to much zoom per pound mass.

      Does the "California Space Authority" bother anyone else besides me? What's next, Arnold calling himself "big chief" of independent California and wearing feathers on his head?

      • Don't forget that California is the world's fifth largest economy. If Russia can have a space program, why not California?
      • Uh . . . I think you're a bit confused here. The aerospike engine tested with the rocked develops 1000 lbf or 1356 Newtons/M, and the shuttle generates 2,174,286. That's 1/1603 the size of the shuttle. I think you were looking at the stats provided for the Boeing angine. All that said, the test vehicle could easily lift several 10's of gerbils. I imagine that the gerbils would hate the part about "transitioning into a ballistic terminal descent"
      • How are those people supposed to hang on when the rocket takes off? Do they have seat belts? Are they wearing oxegen masks so they can breathe in space?
    • by VCAGuy ( 660954 ) *
      Damn, that's impressive. The GE90-115B (exclusive to the Boeing 777) is currently the world's most powerful turbofan engine and is capable of producing "only" 127,000 lbf (which shattered aviation records the world over for turbofan engines). When you consider that the GE90 is 11.25 ft in diameter (without cowling) and 23.9 ft long (again, without cowling) and NASA's/Boeing's aerospike engine is measured in inches, that's like...damn.
      • The Nasa-Boeing aerospike might have its dimensions measured in inches, but there's lots of them: it translates to about 13 by 7.5 by 7.5 feet.

        Turbofans are bulky compared to rockets. Mostly due to the *fan*. Also, most turbofans are designed to run for significant periods (tens or hundreds of hours, at least) between major services, while rockets will only run for tens or hundreds of SECONDS before they need to be stripped and rebuilt. It's like comparing race cars to regular road cars. It all transla
    • So, what article are you reading?

      The 204,420lbf you're quoting is for the Boeing XRS2200 Hydrogen-Oxygen linear aerospike, proposed for the X-33, which never got off the ground.

      The little dinky engine powering the rocket mentioned in the article produces 1,000lbf and runs on Ethanol-Oxygen.
      • While the X-33 spacecraft itself never got off the ground, ground tests of the X-33's linear aerospike engine were quite successful. The reason the project was canceled dealt with the repeated failures of the composite fuel tanks.
        • Actually, the in-flight tests of 1/2 (bisected) of a scale model of the X-33 that was mounted on NASA's SR-71 at Edwards/Dryden were not totally successfull.

          Static tests are good - flight testing is a different matter all together

  • It isn't clear what they did differently from the others who have tried this. Yes, I understand theirs is not a linear engine like Lockheed's. But I doubt the older versions that are discussed in the article were linear. Is there something else that is different? New materials? Some other breakthrough?
    • The only thing different about this that I can see is that this will be the first aerospike engine using liquid propellants to power a rocket in flight.
    • Come on, its not like it's rocket science or anything... ;-)
    • Redefined success (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tap-Sa ( 644107 ) on Sunday September 28, 2003 @08:58AM (#7076726)
      As said in their site the goal was to get off the pad. Anything puffing hot gases generally downwards while being guided by quite a long launch rail achieves that, including 'several' seconds of stable flight. Engineers in the 60s could have done the same easily but they knew the result without even trying and their goal was in the orbit, not one foot above the pad.

      Real innovation in this engine is the use of ablative shielding inside the chamber. But that makes it even harder to overcome the original problem of this type of engine; having steady and stable burn/gas flow (ie. equal thrust) around the annulus. Linear aerospike engine does this by replacing one large chamber with numerous small ones which are easier to control.

      • Not a big deal (Score:2, Informative)

        It's great for some college kids, but it's not bleeding edge like some think. Lots of spin,not many facts (but hey, thats why the marketing guys make the big bucks and we get to try to make what they say work!)

        Linear aerospike rocket engines have been around for more than 30 years. They were created by Air Forc in the early 1960s, Rocketdyne developed the technology for both linear and annular aerospike engines during the mid-1960s, ground testing various designs into the 1970s.Aerospike engines were propo
  • Nice diagram (Score:3, Informative)

    by Sir Haxalot ( 693401 ) on Sunday September 28, 2003 @06:50AM (#7076471)
    here [nasa.gov] ;)
    • It's about damned time someone designed a propulsion system based upon the female reproductive anatomy.
      "Today, we unveil the future of jet propulsion, the key to the successful design and implementation of reusable low-orbit passenger aircraft, the vaginal hyperorifice dri... uh... I mean, Linear Aerospike Thruster".
  • by David Kennedy ( 128669 ) on Sunday September 28, 2003 @06:53AM (#7076482) Homepage
    If you're not a rocket scientist, here's a very readable introduction to aerospike engines [aerospaceweb.org].

    Caution: It is rocket science, and a little bit of maths is required to appreciate even this introduction.
    • Why this obsession with rocket science being so hard? Ever tried quantum mechanics? That makes a manual on rocket science look like a coloring book.
      • Actually, yes, I have tried Quantum Mechanics (needed it for the PhD in Astrophysics).

        No, I don't know why the phrase is "It's not rocket science" either, but I couldn't resist the chance to go with the wordplay.
        • Maybe because of the spectacular nature of early engineering screw-ups?

          Person 1: "Man, another rocket blew up on the launch pad. Those guys must be real screw-ups."
          Person 2: "Watch your mouth, fool! They're defending us from the Commies! You've got to understand that Rocket Science is incredibly hard work..."

    • by Anonymous Coward
      I was a rocket scientist - actually designed things used on the space shuttle fleet and studied Aerospace Engineering at a top 5 school. The equations for these sort of engines are some of the easier to understand and use in this field.

      The propulson class I took used a book from 1965 and covered every theory I've seen put in practice since 1980. Profound improvements have been made due to improvement in materials, but the basic theories haven't changed.
    • Bah. One thing that separates a really good scientist, engineer, or inventor is that they're really good at communicating and explaining. The late Richard Feynman was the most extreme example -- he always refused to accept any job that didn't include teaching duties. He did this because he understood that being able to explain what you're creating is an essential part of creating new science and technology.

      Probably any intelligent person could figure out this convoluted explanation of aerospike engines. B

  • Successful? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Fzz ( 153115 ) on Sunday September 28, 2003 @06:59AM (#7076501)
    After a smooth countdown and nominal engine ignition, the thirteen-foot long P-2 quickly accelerated up a 60-ft launch rail and entered stable flight. Several seconds later it abruptly pitched ninety degrees and demonstrated unstable operation until finally transitioning into a ballistic terminal descent. The subsequent impact with the desert floor destroyed student payloads provided by a USC/JPL team and another from Cerritos High School, but the aft section with the aerospike survived relatively intact. Preliminary analysis indicates that the most probable cause for the observed flight behavior is that part of the engine's graphite exit outer ring experienced excessive and asymmetric erosion, which in turn created a side thrust component.

    I guess that's a form of success. But there's probably a reason why everyone else is still doing ground tests.

    • Read this article [csulb.edu]. Their primary objective was to "get the vehicle into the air using the liquid-propellant aerospike engine.". They certainly achieved that.

      Incidentally, anyone else thinks that the Lineair Aerospike engine on the Boeing site (link in main Slashdot article) looks like something out of the movie Dune?
    • Yes...
      Anyone else think they really ought to deal with that graphite before they put people on it?
      It just seems like stupidity to be trying to put a payload up in it when every test I've seen the graphite ring has corroded.
    • The aerospace industry cracks me up. Nobody spins like they do.

      I was on the team of a science payload that was launched on a Pegasus a few years ago. The rocket entered its intended orbit, but the batteries feeding the explosive bolts went flat, so the payload was trapped in the third stage of the rocket. Mission failed.

      Orbital Sciences issued a press release stating that the launch was a "success", but that unfortunately "the payload failed to separate itself" from the booster. That pesky payload scr
    • I guess that's a form of success. But there's probably a reason why everyone else is still doing ground tests.
      They had already done ground tests. There comes a time in any successful flight program when it is time to fly. This thing has already had a factor of infinity more stable flight time than LockMart's $1Billion+ X-33.

      Crash and learn.

    • "The subsequent impact with the desert floor destroyed student payloads provided by a USC/JPL team and another from Cerritos High School"

      Jesus, they were carrying students on this thing?!?!?!

  • Sounds like though the engine worked as planned, everything else that had anything to do with the rocket, it's payload, camera, and rescue chute were fucked...
  • ... we hear that Nigeria has blasted a satellite into orbit [google.com]. No comments have been made about a purported increased need for broadband satellite internet access...
    • in other news: a 1300% increase in SPAM(tm) has been noticed by internet users worldwide. Particularly the nigerian scam version.
    • Dear Friend,

      I am Dr Joseph Akinyede, Director of the Nigerian National Space Research and Development Agency. I have an urgent and very confidential business proposition for you.

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      If you are interested, please reply immediately via the private email address below. Upon your response, I shall then provide you with more details and relevant documents that will help you understand the transaction.

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  • Great.
    Though the benefit of a aerospike nozzle is effective only in a flight through which the back pressure varies (i.e. sealevel to very high, like SSTO), at now, the aerospike-nozzle-powered flight itself is important.

    Besides, this rocket was made by students. What kind of other space engine development are there in the world?
    • >What kind of other space engine development are there in the world?

      What kind of other space engine development by students are there in the world?
      • The joint Manchester University and UMIST Rocket Team have been doing some research on hybrid rocket motors (they use a solid fuel, but a liquid oxidiser, allowing the engine to be throttled). I believe they have several prototypes built. Of course, getting permission to launch rockets to a decent altitude in the UK is rather difficult...


        • Hybrid rocket motors are a very interesting subject - Burt Rutan's Scaled Composites [scaled.com] will be using a Hybrid engine design in their "Spaceship One" X-Prize contest entry.

          Per their Spaceship One FAQ [scaled.com] that their solid-fuel component of the engine will consist of HTPB (basically, rubber) for the fuel and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) for the oxidizer - a very safe combination, because they will not directly combust when in close proximity to each other and that both are fairly easy to handle individually and do not req

    • It's not strictly a space engine, but the ARLA design seems to be very interesting. (The idea in ARLA is to eliminate the use of rockets for atmospheric work, using a ramjet instead. To accelerate to the point where ramjets work, they use a gas cannon. Personally, I think a linear motor or a linear accelerator would be better, as you wouldn't squish the vehicle's occupants in the process.)
  • Sadly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by panurge ( 573432 ) on Sunday September 28, 2003 @07:54AM (#7076571)
    The article has more spin than a British Government press release.

    The motor worked except that, well actually it went badly wrong very soon after launch. Combustion gases went the wrong way and caused the engine to malfunction.
    Result: crash. Destruction of payload.

    I guess the definition of success came from the people who defined "interception" of Scuds by Patriots in Gulf war 1 as meaning more or less that both missiles were in the air at the same time.

    Meanwhile, relatively primitive Russian rockets continue very reliable and Ariane just put up another two comms satellites last night, plus the European moon mission which is aiming for some sort of record as the slowest trip to the Moon ever. Far from being an endorsement of private research versus NASA, it suggests that caution and extensive testing remains the norm in anything to do with rocketry. Even if the next flight is successful, I guess a huge amount of further work would be needed before anyone would risk a real commercial payload on a rocket using this nozzle technology.

    • The engine itself worked. It launched the vehicle and most likely would have continued had a gasket not failed.
      While The russians have a very reliable design, the aerospike and linear aerospike hold promise of being able to deliver more power in a much more reliable fashion. far fewer moving parts and much less stress throughout.
      The linear aerospike engines from the X-33 were tested at stennis and apparently showed awesome results. If we really do replace SSTO (we should) with a series of rockets, the ae
    • Re:Sadly (Score:3, Funny)

      by gilroy ( 155262 )
      The launch was successful. The landing, however, needs some work... :)
    • I'd like to point out that the Patriot 1 missiles were scaled back in capability because of the treaty with the Soviet Union on missile programs, which Bush rightfully said "what Soviet Union" when he came into office.

      Further, the Patriot 2 system in the 2nd Gulf War (also known as the Liberation of New Texas) has saved the lives of several coalition servicemen on multiple occasions. This is not counting the British pilot that was wrongly identified as an incoming threat (that'll teach them to leave their

  • At last, we're one step closer to the X302. Now, if only we can get the Goa'uld hyperdrive to work, we're in business.
  • I was wondering how long before a Spike plug engine would fly.

    Altho it terminated after a couple hundred feet, we know one thing. It can lift off. The hardest part of any flight.

    All you nay-sayers, go fly a god damn kite.
    • Clearly you haven't done any work with amateur rockets. Believe me, liftoff is relatively easy. So long as you can generate an initial combustion thrust greater than the weight of the vehicle, you get liftoff. It then starts to get difficult, as the equipment has to keep functioning despite heat buildup, vibrational effects on components, and changes in fuel levels in tanks. Also navigation becomes a pressing issue.

      I think you are confusing liftoff of a rocket with takeoff of an aircraft, where sufficient

    • "All you nay-sayers, go fly a god damn kite"

      I did. It crashed. It was the most successful kite fight ever!
  • A plug nozzle is a tapering nozzle; ideally tapering down to infinity, you always chop it off short for obvious reasons.

    An aerospike nozzle is a plug nozzle but it gets its name because you're supposed to inject gas in the base to provide extra pressure - that gas is the 'air' spike. And the main advantages come about because you dynamically adjust the pressure of the base dependent on the vehicle speed to optimise the shape of the aerospike and give maximum possible thrust. (Basically the air spike push

    • Exactly right. I was thinking the same thing when I saw the pictures.

      Two other advantages of the aerospike over the plug: an aerdynamic spike is much lighter than a material one, and the blunter base of an aerospike can stand up to reentry heating on a tail-first reentry much better than a material spike. Oh, and you don't have to worry about asymmetric heating and erosion with an aerospike. Um, the three other advantages... ;-)
  • What makes this remarkable is that even NASA had trouble with testing their incarnation of an Aerospike engine...

    Can you back that up? From what I read, the aerospike tests went fine. A friend, one of the Shuttle engine designers and who was in contact with the linear aerospike group at Rocketdyne, said he heard that the aerospike delivered the expected thrust during its ground tests. So what troubles are you referring to?

    I often wondered if NASA didn't screw up cancelling the X-33. The only major failure

    • I believe you are correct. I currently work on the shuttle main engine controller and know people at Rocketdyne that were involved in testing the Linear Aerospike Engine. There were 12 successful tests at Stennis and no real failures (compare these results to the original shuttle engine tests, those things blew up like firecrackers all the time).

      • I stand corrected. The only failures/trouble that I'm familiar with were the problems encountered when they mounted the single-side scale model to the SR-71 at Edwards/Dryden for Mach 3+ aerial testing.

        The Tests at Stennis were, I believe, of a single unit of the entire X-33 Linear cluster, and not the entire 8-engine cluster that was originally spec'ed for the X-33.
  • This has some of the exact same quotes from above so it might be a mirror. [spacedaily.com]
  • but i find space an amazing field of study what would i have to do to get a job writing code for nasa or another space authority and what systems would i have to study i know nasa runs on solaris and other unix. thanks
  • we should actually forget mars for now develop a space station on the moon use that for our launches cuz the gravity is less we'll need less power aka less money to launch from there and it'll give us a bigger place to perform experiments*the moon that is* forget these orbiting space stations they are stupid the moon owns.
  • From the site [csulb.edu] provided in another link:

    The graphite outer ring (blue) was not perfectly sealed with the bottom of the chamber (grey) and moved downward very slightly. This opened several gas paths between the ring and the ablative material (beige) which then melted the back of the chamber and led to thrust vectoring. This phenomenon did not occur during the static fire test.

    So it looks like the test did ultimately fail due to a problem with the engine. Nevertheless, the rocket did fly.


    Why yes, I AM
  • Even though the motor failed in flight, this was still a 'successful' test that 'met its objectives". In the process of destroying the vehicle, the flight demonstrated nothing not already demonstrated on the test stand.

    These guys have been learning PR from NASA and Microsoft.

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