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spaceSpace and Physics

Revolutionary Aerospike Rocket Could Reach Orbit All In One Go

author

Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

clockSep 25 2017, 20:33 UTC

Artist's impression of the Haas 2CA. ARCA

A US firm has announced that its groundbreaking new rocket engine is ready for testing, which promises to shake up the rocket industry in a manner Elon Musk would be proud of.

The company is called the ARCA Space Corporation, based in New Mexico. They are developing the world’s first single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) rocket, the Haas 2CA, which means there are no parts discarded on the way – the rocket launches and reaches orbit as one.

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“When the Haas 2CA rocket launches, it will be the first rocket in history to place itself entirely into orbit,” ARCA notes on their website. “This opens new frontiers for exploration of the Solar System.”

This is made possible by what’s called a linear aerospike engine. Most modern rockets are multi-stage vehicles, using different parts of the rocket to operate first in the atmosphere of Earth and then in the vacuum of space. This means that, on the way to orbit, they discard their preliminary stages – a costly and complicated architecture.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, for example, uses the first stage to escape the atmosphere and then the second stage to reach orbit. They have been able to start reusing their first stages by landing them on the ground, the first and only company to do so for an orbital rocket so far.

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ARCA, however, is going down a different road. Their SSTO vehicle launches as one, using a revolutionary engine to replace the need for multiple stages.

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The aerospike engine is a tapered rocket bell, which allows the ejection of hot gases to be manipulated to allow for different types of flight. In Earth’s atmosphere, the exhaust is narrowed to provide maximum thrust. Once in orbit, the exhaust can be spread out, increasing what’s known as the specific impulse – the efficiency of the engine.

To prove their rocket works, ARCA are planning to test the engine soon (they haven’t announced a firm date yet) at Spaceport America in New Mexico. Then, they plan to launch a prototype version of the rocket, called Demonstrator 3, to a height of 120 kilometers (75 miles).

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Between August and October 2018, they will then perform the first full launch of the Haas 2CA from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. ARCA has the backing of NASA and several other agencies. Commercial launches are scheduled to begin in December 2018.

The finished Haas 2CA is not reusable. But ARCA claims they’ll be able to launch extremely cheaply, at a cost of $1 million per launch, thanks to using lightweight materials in the rocket’s construction. Each launch will be able to take up to 100 kilograms (220 pounds) to orbit, be that a single satellite or multiple cubesats.

(H/T: New Atlas)

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