Volume 11, Number 2 Summer 2003 Aerospace Technology Development
NASA Tests Future Flight Vehicle Concepts
A hybrid rocket carrying futuristic space vehicle concepts completed its first flight on December 18 from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, VA. Launched at 6:15 a.m. EST, the rocket’s bright plume was seen more than 200 miles away in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
The rocket, built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems, New Orleans, was used to launch a NASA-designed payload containing three test articles.
The purpose of the Suborbital Aerodynamic Reentry Experiments (SOREX-2) payload was to develop new high-speed flight-test and control methods. These techniques may be applied to novel designs for high-speed flight and next-generation planetary entry technology.
“This suborbital rocket flight was intended to test these concepts at more than Mach five or five times the speed of sound during reentry,” according to Marc Murbach, a Research Engineer from the NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA. “We are trying to develop a wind tunnel in the sky. This capability may herald new techniques for the rapid development of innovative hypersonic flight concepts.” The SOREX-2 project team is currently analyzing data on the payload’s performance.
The payload, a joint project between Ames and Wallops, included a “wave rider” flying wedge, a linear aerobrake (or hypersonic parachute) and a Slotted Compression Ramp Probe (SCRAMP), a super-stable planetary reentry probe. The wedge is about 50 inches (127 centimeters) long and was built to free fly like a glider after deployment.
The launch is the first test flight of a large hybrid propulsion system. Lockheed Martin’s Michoud Operations designed and built the 60-foot-long (18 meters) rocket to demonstrate that hybrid-propulsion technology offers a low-cost solution for delivering payloads. The two-foot-diameter (.6 meters) rocket used liquid oxygen and solid fuel to provide a thrust of 60,000 pounds and achieved an altitude of approximately 43.5 miles (70 kilometers).
“Hybrid propulsion offers significant advantages over solid fuel propellants in that hybrids are nonexplosive, able to be throttled, low cost and environmentally benign,” said Randy Tassin, vice president, Program Management and Technical Operations for Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Michoud Operations, LA.
Lockheed Martin signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, AL, in 1999 to develop, test and launch the hybrid sounding rocket. The program goal was to develop a single-stage hybrid-propulsion system capable of replacing existing two- and three-stage sounding rockets. Q
For more information, contact Marc Murbach, Research Engineer at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, Marcus.S.Murbach@nasa.gov, 650/604-3155. Please mention you read about it in Innovation.