The Stellar-J: A Partially Reusable Horizontal Take-Off Launch Vehicle For Small Satellite Missions

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CONFERENCE: AIAA/USU Conference on Small Satellites

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Kelly, Wes; Royall, Paul
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For a decade our group has worked to develop a partially reusable launch vehicle based on horizontal takeoff and landing of a reusable first stage (RFS) employing both jet and rocket engines. After airfield takeoff and ascent to subsonic stratospheric cruise, rocket ignition and pitch pull-up drives the Stellar-J to high altitude and hypersonic engine cutoff similar to conventional booster rockets – or the X-15. Capable of carrying a separable upper stage (or module that can remain attached), the payload mission continues as the Stellar-J climbs to its apogee and then descends to land at a down-range airfield or its launch base. Owing to hardware and operational considerations, the concept scales from 35-350 tons with the largest configurations addressing Progress or Soyuz type missions. We examined a range of target markets for the Stellar-At the low end, satellite delivery capabilities are determined by whether a “demonstrator” vehicle is customized from an existing airframe to obtain micro-satellite launch capabilities (<250-lbs) or a dedicated airframe is developed to achieve “full” capabilities (~1000-lbs). With backlogs of several hundred payloads and low initial investment for small configurations, the small satellite market scores well for initial Stellar-J application. Also, with an economical, rapid turn-around system, we see merit in rendezvous and retrieval services, seldom discussed in the small satellite context during the “Shuttle era”. Effects of “nominal” vs. “demonstrator” Stellar-J first stages for small satellites and upper stage selections are discussed in terms of performance, economy and critical paths.