The U.S. Air Force’s Office of Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) has teamed up with the University of Hawaii and Aerojet to develop a new small-sat launch vehicle that will make its maiden flight later this year from a missile range on Kauai.
The rail-launched Spaceborne Payload Assist Rocket Kauai (SPARK, a.k.a., Super Strypi) will be capable of launching small satellites and CubeSats into low Earth and sun synchronous orbits at a low cost. The objective is to place 250 kg. (551 lb.) payloads into a 400-km (249 mile) sun-synchronous orbit from Kauai.
“Over the years the launch vehicle concept has evolved, as has the U.S. Government’s interest in developing low-cost launch systems for an emerging small satellite capability,” ORS says on its website. “The Super Strypi Project, once successful, could support the future development of the U.S. aerospace work force as it provides space access to University programs, encourages entrepreneurship and industrial relations within the scientific community.”
SPARK can be configured to carry one or two small satellites as well as multiple CubeSats using the NASA Ames Payload Adapter and Deployer (PAD). The precise number of CubeSats depends upon their size and the number of small satellites carried on the mission.
The rocket consists of three Aerojet solid stages, with LEO-46 engine on the first stage, LEO-7 motor on the second stage, and a LEO-1 engine on the third stage. It is based on the Strypi rocket developed by Sandia National Laboratory, which is one of the program’s partners. The Hawaii Space Flight Laboratory (HSFL) at the University of Hawaii is the prime contractor on the program.
ORS is funding the development and its LEONIDAS program, which stands for Low Earth Orbiting Nanosatellite Integrated Defense Autonomous System. The goal of the program is to increase access to space for defense, NASA, and university payloads.
The first two missions, which will be launched from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, will include the following:
STU-1: First LEONIDAS Mission
- Objectives : Deployment of rideshare satellites in low-Earth orbit, flight test of SPARK launch vehicle and insertion accuracy, dynamic test of launch rail.
- Payload Mass : 50-60% mass capacity (~165 kg)
- Potential Payloads : CubeSat Payload Adapter and Small Satellite
STU-2: Second LEONIDAS Mission
- Objectives : Full payload deployment test, deployment of HawaiiSat-1 and rideshare satellites in low-Earth orbit.
- Orbit : 550 km Sun-synchronous orbit
- Payload Mass : Full capacity
- Potential Payloads : CubeSat Payload Adapter, HawaiiSat-1, Small Satellite
The inaugural STU-1 flight is scheduled for later this year.