ARCA Space Corporation has announced that it will launch its aerospike rocket engine – a type of engine that can boost a rocket from the ground into space in only one stage – in August this year.
Although the aerospike engine design has been around for many years and has been extensively tested by both NASA and Rocketdyne, it has yet to perform an actual space flight.
ARCA hopes to eventually use the engine in its Haas 2CA single-stage-to-orbit rocket (SSTO) – a rocket with exceptional mass ratio, that is fuelled with hydrogen peroxyde and kerosene. In order to increase the flight readiness level of the Haas 2CA, ARCA will first fly the engine in the company’s Demonstrator 3 rocket as it performs a suborbital space flight up to an altitude of 100 km above the New Mexico desert.
“Soon we are going to know if the hopes and dreams of generations of aerospace engineers, in their pursuit to create what is supposed to be the most efficient rocket engine in the world, will materialize,” the company said.
With the launch, ARCA will measure engine thrust variation with increasing altitude using a vast array of sensors placed on board the rocket. The company also advised that “the type of fuel tanks that will be installed in the Haas 2CA SSTO Rocket will also be flight tested to pressure and acceleration similar to what is encountered during an orbital flight.”
With its dense propellants and advanced fabrication techniques for the composite propellant tanks, the Haas 2CA SSTO Rocket is able to launch 100 kilograms of payload into low earth orbit at $1million per launch.
One of the key factors of the aerospike engine is that it maintains its efficiency from ground level all the way to space, meaning it needs significantly less fuel than current engines – up to 30 percent less. The engine was a strong contender for the Space Shuttle but due to schedule and budget constraints, the design was not implemented.
ARCA is also considering using the Demonstrator 3 to begin commercial suborbital flight services as the simple and low cost rocket can carry a payload of 30 kilograms up to 100 kilometres altitude. “The payload will experience low accelerations during the powered flight and will experience around 5 minutes of microgravity,” the company said.
The Haas 2CA, a Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) rocket. Image ARCA