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NASA Space Businesses

ARCA Plans 2018 Launch For Revolutionary Single-Stage Rocket ( 44

An aerospace company is building a cheap, simple, lightweight rocket that they hope will redefine the microsatellite industry. Eloking quotes New Atlas: New Mexico-based ARCA Space Corporation has announced that it is developing the world's first Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) launch vehicle that can deliver both a small payload and itself into low Earth orbit, at a cost of about US$1 million per launch. Dubbed the Haas 2CA after the 16th century rocket pioneer Conrad Haas, the new booster uses a linear aerospike engine instead of conventional bell-shaped rocket engines to do away with multiple stages. [YouTube video]
They're working with six different NASA centers and have scheduled their first launch for 2018. The rocket will be 53 feet tall (16 meters) with a diameter of just 4.95 feet (1.5 meters), and will weigh 1,210 pounds when empty, but 35,887 pounds when fueled, "thanks to ACRA's proprietary composite materials for the propellant tanks and other components."
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ARCA Plans 2018 Launch For Revolutionary Single-Stage Rocket

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  • by Eloking ( 877834 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @12:34PM (#54198387)

    I remember back in the early 2000 when I first read about the aerospike engine and saw that stunning picture : []

    Quite an impressing concept, the nozzle compensate depending on the altitude to kept it's efficiency on a wide range of altitude. One of the reason of multistage rocket is, of course, to lower the weight to raise efficiency as you climb, but another more subtle reason is also that conventional bell-shaped rocket are only efficient at a narrow range of altitude.

    Aerospike engine doesn't have this problem, it stay efficient at all time. And on the plus side, as you can see in the picture above, they look freaking cool.

    • by dyfet ( 154716 )

      The old Atlas B effectively came close to doing this, late 50's. It did it by dropping the outer two booster engines, and was call a "stage in a half"...I presume the middle engine was modified to operate more efficiently at high altitude, and I believe simply by operating at lower thrust to better fill out the nozzle at lower pressure. Two sets of engines, but one fuel tank. []

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Aerospikes are really awesome, but they tend to be heavy and difficult to cool. In this case, one property trades off with the other. If you lighten it up, the tip of the spike gets very thin and harder to cool. If you want to cool it more effectively, you have to widen it and make it heavier, and heavy engine designs are exactly the opposite of what you want with a SSTO design.
      That video, like pretty much any material I've read on SABRE/Skylon, registered substantially on my BS-meter. If they have develope

      • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @09:10PM (#54200165) Homepage

        You're confusing aero spike engines with simpler (but heavier) spike engines.

        In an aerospike, aerodynamic forces (often with the assist of gasses injected at the base of the engine) form the "pointy" part of the spike, so there's both the lighter and easier to cool aspect. Also known as a plug-nozzle, but the latter are usually (a) circular and (b) even shallower than this linear aerospike.

        Spike nozzles (circular ones) have also been flight tested, but yeah, the tail of that spike is heavy -- and also not what you want if you're planning to reuse the vehicle, because it aggravates reentry heating. (Doesn't look like this is what ARCA is planning though, I guess they're just going for cheap and disposable. Maybe reusable will follow.)

        NASA never had any problems with their X-33 aerospike, it was all down to the weird-ass V-shape fuel tank configuration.

    • by ShipIt ( 674797 )
      After watching a video of this engine fire, I kept looking for some kind of variable geometry component and didn't see it. It turns out there isn't one. The thrust pattern itself changes shape as a function of altitude to achieve the extra efficiency. This promotional video [] from Rocketdyne shows how it works.
  • Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @12:57PM (#54198465) Homepage

    The rocket equation works out for those figures. But those figures are insanely optimistic. A nearly 30:1 mass ratio? That's nuts. I mean, if they really can do it, go them! But let's just say I'm not holding my breath.

    Also: why oh why does every last rocket startup and their cousin start off with HTP as their oxidizer? It never works out well. Performance is bad, and density is no better than a number of other alternatives, and the latter are less likely to kill you if you look at them funny.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      -Great oxidiser density. Best bulk density of any easy fuel combination (saves dry weight)
      -Non cryogenic.
      -Makes higher Isp staged combustion cycle relatively easy even in small sizes.
      Overall it enables a very high mass ratio to be achieved in a small rocket.

      • Re:Well... (Score:5, Informative)

        by Rei ( 128717 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @03:00PM (#54198929) Homepage

        - Net propellant densities are very similar to many others, such as MON, IRFNA, etc.
        - The others are non-cryogenic as well.
        - No difference on staged combustion for the others

          - Not self-pressurizing
          - Detonates if it gets too hot
          - Detonates if there's any contamination in the tank, the plumbing, fittings, anything. The cleanliness requirements can be extreme.
          - You can load it up with stabilizers to prevent explosion, but then they hinder combustion as well, as well as lowering performance.

        It doesn't even win on a "health hazard" perspective, as one may think when they think of alternatives. HTP isn't like household peroxide - it burns your skin, your lungs, causes blindness if it gets in your eyes in tiny quantities, etc. You not only have to wear protective suits, but you have to make sure that they're made of a material that it won't explode on contact with. It's easier to clean up than some of its competitors, but that's about it.

        Everyone tries it. Then subsequently gives up on it.

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Ed: self-pressurization was in reference to MON, not IRFNA. Also, these aren't the only examples, there's quite a few that have been used, and continue to be researched. Nytrox seems to be the new trendy one.

        • I agree. I would rather use NTO or MON than HTP. There's a much longer history of successful rockets using it over decades. Well actually I would rather use LOX than either of those cryogenic or not.

      • H2O2 seems a strange choice instead of Liquid Oxygen. A SSTO rocket really needs high ISP and H2O2 is something like 10% worse - doesn't seem like much but it makes a big difference in the exponential.

        Lox is not that difficult to deal with, not like Hydrogen.

        H2 / LOx is a more typical choice for a SSTO design because of the much higher ISP, but the H2 is difficult to store which offsets some of its advantage.

        Of course with SpaceX demonstrating successful 1st stage re-use, the advantage of a SSTO is much lo

      • ClF5 and HClO4 are denser

    • That's not all. I didn't see any test firings of their engine at all. Not even a cold firing. They're building stuff, sure, but I didn't see anything actually working there.

      There is like one rocket which used HTP (Black Knight) from the UK. Few people have experience handling it. In the USA perhaps you could get some Naval torpedo guys who know how to work with it. That's about it.

      I think the biggest issues are lack of easy access to H2O2 at the required purity and know-how on how to use and design for it.

    • by AJWM ( 19027 )

      RP-1/HTP works fine. The British Black Knight had over 20 successful (suborbital) launches with it, and the later Black Arrow, whose first two stages were RP-1/HTP, put the UK's only independently-launched satellite into orbit, back in 1971.

      Given the number of first-rocket attempts which have failed (sometimes explosively) because of things like frozen LOX valves, going non-cryogenic has a certain appeal. Especially since they can pretty much stockpile the things in a fueled state for rapid launch.

      Any ro

      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        RP-1/HTP works fine. The British Black Knight had over 20 successful (suborbital) launches with it,

        And HTP was just fine aboard the Kursk, until it very suddenly wasn't.

        The history of HTP rocketry is littered with it being just "fine" until something minor goes wrong, and then it explodes. Either in the rocket or on the ground. Even on things that most people wouldn't think of. For example, one of the claimed advantages of peroxide is that once it's well diluted, it's perfectly safe (easy cleanup). Yeah,

  • So, exactly how big is the microsatellite market ?

  • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @02:54PM (#54198905) Journal

    The Lockheed X-33 Single Stage to Orbit Vehicle [] Skunk Works team was making identical claims back in the mid 90's.

    They blew through $1 Billion before grinding to a halt when their carbon fiber oxygen tank delaminated during testing. Their budget was so tight, that a single setback like that one killed the project. They considered ditching CF in favor of an aluminum oxygen tank but the added weight didn't leave enough for any significant payload.

    Perhaps this group has better carbon fiber manufacturing skills than Lockheed's Skunk works did back then and they'l be able to make good or perhaps it's just a "let's find some rubes and fleece them" scheme.

    Time will tell.

    Side story. I took a group of middle school students to Palmdale to see the X-33 chassis that was then under construction. It was the first time any of us had seen anything made with Carbon Fiber. The engineer giving us the tour handed us a CF strut to pass around and said "Carbon fiber is very light and much stronger than steel. It'll take a lot of abuse." When the strut was handed to this one particular kid, he started banging on it to see how much abuse it would take. The kid's mother freaked out while the engineer laughed it off and said "send him to work for us when he graduates. We need his kind of thinking."

      The strut survived the kid's abuse.

    • AFAIK they did get a simpler carbon composite LOX tank to work. But they never got the LH2 composite tank to work. LH2 is deeply cryogenic and the small molecule permeates things easily. Funny thing it an Al-Li LH2 tank would have been lighter than their composite tank design because of the required complex multi-lobed structure in the design. They could have used Al-Li tanks and they would have been globally lighter than their carbon composite designs.

      Actually the major design issue with the X-33 was becau

  • The one down side to this is the booster gets into orbit along with the payload. Unlike the SpaceX boosters that come back down and land to be re-used. These boosters will remain in orbit for a very long time unless you leave enough fuel to de-orbit them. Since this would cost more and the boosters would simply burn up in re-entry and potentially have pieces hit things on the ground I don't think they will want to do this.

    • Just because the booster goes to orbit doesn't mean it has to stay there. SpaceX doesn't recover their second stage, but they do de-orbit it. Likewise I expect this rocket will be required to carry a little extra fuel to take it back to the atmosphere to burn up.

      • Replacing their entire 100 kg payload with propellant wouldn't be enough to bring this thing back through an orbital reentry. This is a purely expendable system.

        • Nevermind...misread. However, any disposal propellant will have to come out of that 100 kg. Most likely it will just be left to's not going to be able to go past LEO anyway.

  • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Saturday April 08, 2017 @04:30PM (#54199273)

    Unless they are planning to recover the entire rocket - extremely difficult due to re-entry heating, the SpaceX first stage recovery just seems better. It allows re-use of a large part of the total rocket mass and engines, and just throws away the upper stage rather than the full rocket.

    If someone figures out a low mass way to recover a stage from orbit, then the SpaceX approach may still be a win rather than trying for very extreme mass ratios.

    Nothing wrong with plug-nozzles in principal, but so far the ISP advantage hasn't been enough to make up for the extra weight in a real application.

    • SpaceX will probably never do a launch for quite as low as $1M, even if they recover the second stage and the faring too. This rocket, if actually able to do that, would fill a niche: micro-satellites that have to be launched on their own instead of as a group for some reason (specific orbit/timing needed).

      • SpaceX will probably never do a launch for quite as low as $1M

        Probably. On the other hand, a Falcon 9 puts something like 100x as much to LEO as this thing will.

        Given the design goal of being able to put a small satellite up on 24 hours notice, this thing seems designed for either short-term spy satellites or small nuclear warheads...

      • Except they have competitors flying two-stage rockets, who are going to be cheaper than an expendable SSTO due to not having to deal with the tight mass fractions and low payloads of SSTO craft...SSTO only makes any kind of sense if you bring the thing back for reuse, which they're not doing with their stated mass ratio. Those competitors are in the $4-10 million range, $1 million is likely wishful thinking. (Keep in mind, ARCA's the group that cooked up a rocket stabilization system based on the pendulum f

  • I wish them the best, no sarcasm attached. But if they can deliver a payload for one million, does that mean we will be able to crowdsource satellites? I mean the price is right, but what about the legal implications.

"I'm not afraid of dying, I just don't want to be there when it happens." -- Woody Allen