New smallsat rocket company plans first flight of aerospike engine


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ARCA Aerospace has announced that it will perform the first test flight reaching space of an aerospike rocket engine this coming August.

ARCA Space Corporation has announced the first test-launch of its Demonstrator 3 space vehicle at Spaceport America in August. This will mark the first space flight of an aerospike rocket engine. Aerospike rocket engines are described as significantly more fuel efficient than the current engines and could make launches attempting to bring satellite payloads to space more affordable. Demonstrator 3 will perform a suborbital space flight up to an altitude of 100 kilometers above the New Mexico desert.

Their goal is to build a rocket they have dubbed Haas 2CA for the smallsat industry.

There is an interesting video at the link from the company showing their engineers hand-building this first suborbital test rocket, which the company also says is the first of a weekly series leading up to the test launch. More information about the company can be found at their website. According to their schedule, they hope to make the first orbital flight in 2018, and begin commercial operations by the end of that year.

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11 comments

  • Rex Ridenoure

    If ARCA reaches space altitude (100 km) with their rocket they may have something to brag about. But an aerospike-outfiited rocket has already been launched, years ago:

    http://www.astronautix.com/g/garveyaerospike.html

    Garvey Spacecraft Corp. was acquired by Vector Space Systems (now Vector) in 2016.

  • Rex: The link does not say how high these tests flew, so I am unsure they made 100 km.

  • Tom Billings

    Robert, if these test flights Rex speaks of are the Aerospike flights that Garvey did in cooperation with the California college group, then I believe their maximum altitude was around 16 kilometers.

  • Tom Billings: I believe these are the Garvey student tests, which proves that ARCA’s flight this summer will be the first aerospike launch to reach space, if it succeeds as planned.

  • However, the wording of my post suggested that this would be the first aerospike engine to ever fly, which is not true. I have revised the wording accordingly.

  • Anthony Domanico

    I’m really bummed about the status of Firefly Space Systems as they too planned to use an aerospike style first stage booster. Initially it looked like that company was going to do well. I hope they can somehow regroup and form a new company. Does that seem plausible to anybody? Was anyone else a fan of that company?

    Another bummer is that they didn’t fail due to issues with their technology or business strategy, but rather by a lawsuit. To be clear, I’m not saying they didn’t deserve the lawsuit, just that it was a sad reason to see a launch provider fail.

    Personally, I’m not a big fan of Virgin Galactic. I wish them well, but if they fail it will be even more of a tragedy, for we will have lost two launch providers. Was their lawsuit against Firefly Space Systems (or was it specifically against Tom Markusoc?) well deserved? Are any of the readers here a fan of Virgin Galactic?

  • Anthony Domanico: If you want to spend some time, do a search on BtB for “Virgin Galactic,” click on the earliest stories, and proceed forward in time. You will see me go from a big fan to increasingly skeptical to downright disgusted. They had more than a decade headstart on everyone else, and squandered it badly.

    As for the lawsuit against Firefly, I can make no comment. I was not really privy to all the court records. It does appear however that Virgin Galactic had an airtight case.

  • Rex Ridenoure

    Robert: Yes, a milestone ARCA could claim — if they do it — is “first aerospike-outfitted rocket to reach 100 km” or some such. They can’t claim to be the first rocket to launch with an aerospike engine, however.

  • Rex Ridenoure: I had thought I had revised the text of my post to reflect your correction, and discovered that I had somehow only gotten half done and then saved it. I just fixed it. Thanks for noting this distinction for me.

  • Alex

    Aerospike engines, which are known for 50 or even more years, may increase average Isp during ascent by about 5-8% by adopting more efficient to local atmospheric pressure, are not game changer. This kind of engine have also significant disadvantages in respect to cooling and weight efficiency and other issues.

  • Alex

    I just read the link/article above more in detail and learned that the planned rocket display a single stage (to orbit) design, which is quite a challenge. That’s why they proposed to use an aerospike engine, because the vehicle’s engine Isp has to squeezed to maximum. Please note, the company proposes to use hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) as oxidizer (kerosene as fuel), very different to all other similar launcher proposals and results in additional challenges and hazards.

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