Garvey Spaceflight Aims High with Nano-Sat Launch Vehicle

Garvey rocket launch in the Mojave. (Credit: Garvey Spacecraft Corporation)
Garvey P-18D rocket launch in the Mojave. (Credit: Garvey Spacecraft Corporation)

Garvey Spacecraft Company is continuing its quest to develop a nano-sat launch vehicle through an incremental series of suborbital rocket tests as well as a small business grant from NASA, according to founder John Garvey.

The small Southern California-based company has conducted 32 suborbital flight tests since 1998, including three during the past year, Garvey said during the recent Space Access Conference in Phoenix. The company’s rockets have provided suborbital flight opportunities for cubesats and the testing of new rocket engines.

Students with Garvey Spacecraft’s P-18D rocket in the Mojave. (Credit: Garvey Spacecraft Corporation)

Customers have include NASA, Air Force Research Laboratory, Missile Defense Agency, the Aerospace Corporation, and other private companies and government agencies. Garvey Spacecraft is continuing to provide test support for HyperTherm’s LOX-methane engine, which features an advanced CMC-lined ablative chamber.  ORBITEC also has tested its Vortex engine aboard a Garvey rocket.

Garvey said his company has focused on low-altitude suborbital launch vehicles for cost reasons. His next goals include implementing thrust vector control and conducting high-altitude flights above 100 km.

The ultimate goal is the development of a dedicated nano-sat launch vehicle, known as the P-19, that would be capable of putting payloads into space rapidly and inexpensively. NASA recently selected Garvey Spacecraft for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) award for work on the new launch vehicle. The maximum amount available under the space agency’s six-month SBIR Select Phase I award program is $200,000.

Credit: Garvey Spacecraft Corporation
Credit: Garvey Spacecraft Corporation

According to the project summary, Garvey plans to use the award for “the continued functional evolution and concept refinement of an incremental series of test vehicles” to serve the nano- and micro-sat launch markets. Initial versions of the launch vehicle will be capable of delivering 10 kg payloads into a 250 km orbit. The ultimate goal is to place satellites weighing up to 20 kg into a 450 km orbit.

Garvey told Space Access Conference attendees that an orbital launch attempt could be made within two to four years if the company obtained full funding.

The company has ended a collaborative arrangement with California State University, Long Beach due to disagreement over payments. It has now teamed with Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), California Academy of Math and Sciences, and Cabrillo High School to give students hands-on experience building rockets and experiments.