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Bat Ship Begins

Published by Robin on Mon Jul 11, 2005 8:59 pm
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Orion Propulsion Inc. unveiled Tim Pickens’ patented concept for a reusable, fly-back booster at the 41st AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference & Exhibit that begins today in Tucson, Arizona. The concept has been proposed to the Air Force’s Hybrid Launch Vehicle Study and Analysis program, formerly known as ARES (Affordable, Reusable Spacelift). Hybrid, in this case, doesn’t mean a rocket powered by laughing gas and rubber, but refers instead to something that’s part rocket and part plane and can give the Air Force, well, affordable, reusable spacelift without the war-god acronym.

Pickens has been thinking about this design ever since he left his job as the original lead propulsion designer on SpaceShipOne and went home to Huntsville, Alabama, to head up HARCspace’s X Prize team and start his own propulsion company. Orion’s main business is propulsion expertise, testing and ground support equipment, but if there’s a bat-themed superhero out there in need of space transportation, this could be just the ticket.

It’s a conventional-looking rocket with side boosters that launches vertically from a coastal spaceport, but after that things get different. At 200,000 feet, the second stage fires as the first stage peters out. The second stage continues to 600,000 feet and gets ready for orbital insertion burn. The first stage coasts to 300,000 feet then begins its descent. Parachutes pull the flyback booster out of a dive, angle the nose up and the jet engine starts at the same time the parachute is cut away. (Yes, that is the rocket nozzle on the nose.) At 20,000 feet the side boosters deploy as wings, and the jet-powered paraglider flies back to base for a runway landing.

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