NASA has selected Gloyer-Taylor Laboratories (GTL) and the University of Tennessee Space Institute for a Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase II award to develop a new small-satellite launch vehicle.
“GTL has developed the conceptual design for the Advanced Cryogenic Expendable (ACE) nano-launch vehicle,” according to the program’s technical abstract. “The 7700 lb gross lift-off weight ACE vehicle is capable of delivering a 154 lb payload to 400 nmi circular orbit at 28.5 deg inclination.
“With a launch cost of less than $1M at low launch rate, ACE is directly competitive with existing large launch vehicles on a $/lb basis. This affordability is enabled by a combination of high performance, reduced stages and parts count, and simplified operations,” the abstract reads.
STTR Phase II contracts are valued at up to $750,000 and last no more than two years. Phase III, or the commercialization of an innovation, may occur after successful completion of Phase II.
A summary of the project follows.
Research Subtopic Title: Small Launch Vehicle Propulsion Technology
Gloyer-Taylor Laboratories, LLC
Tullahoma, TN 37388
University of Tennessee Space Institute
Tullahoma, TN 37388
Principal Investigator/Project Manager
Estimated Technology Readiness Level (TRL) at beginning and end of contract:
GTL has been developing a suite of transformational technologies that have the capability to disrupt the traditional launch vehicle paradigm. BHL composite cryotank technology provides a four times improvement over large aluminum iso-grid tanks, offering a 6 percentage point improvement in small stage PMF. Superior Stability Engine is an innovative liquid rocket engine configured to maximize combustion stability margin while also maximizing engine performance. NORPS is a non-helium gas generator system that can be used to pressurize the propellant tanks for 1/3 the mass and 1/10 the volume of a comparable helium based system.
Using these and other technologies, GTL has developed the conceptual design for the Advanced Cryogenic Expendable (ACE) nano-launch vehicle. The 7700 lb gross lift-off weight ACE vehicle is capable of delivering a 154 lb payload to 400 nmi circular orbit at 28.5 deg inclination. With a launch cost of less than $1M at low launch rate, ACE is directly competitive with existing large launch vehicles on a $/lb basis. This affordability is enabled by a combination of high performance, reduced stages and parts count, and simplified operations.
The proposed Phase II effort will seek to reduce the ACE vehicle development risk by increasing the technology readiness level of critical technologies. Specifically, GTL will fabricate and test a prototype NORPS gas generator and pressurization system. Along with this, GTL shall fabricate a full-scale BHL composite cryotank for use in the system testing using modular manufacturing techniques. The integrated system shall be tested for operational capabilities to demonstrate the effectiveness of the technology and optimize the system design. The data from these tests will be used to refine and optimize the design of the ACE vehicle.
Potential NASA Commercial Applications
The ACE nano-launch vehicle offers small payload launch capability for a cost that is competitive on a $/kg basis with that of large launch vehicles. This represents more than an order of magnitude improvement in affordability over what can be achieved with existing small launch vehicles. This launch capability would provide NASA with the means to affordably launch numerous small scientific and exploratory spacecraft, without having to bundle them together on large launch vehicles. This will provide NASA with enhanced flexibility in mission design that will increase space mission effectiveness.
When the ACE vehicle design is eventually scaled to heavy-lift size, the cost of payload delivery to orbit would be reduced to less than $500/kg to LEO. This would represent an order of magnitude improvement in affordability compared to existing large heavy-lift launch vehicles. This level of launch affordability would enable large scale access to space that would facilitate permanent habitation of the Moon and Mars.
In the near term, the suite of ACE technologies can be used to upgrade NASA space systems. For instance, the NORPS non-helium pressurization system could be used to reduce helium use on Orion and SLS. The high performance BHL cryotanks could be used to improve performance of SLS and other NASA vehicles under development. The Superior Stability Engine technology could be used to reduce development costs for new NASA engines.
Potential Non-NASA Commercial Applications
The ACE nano-launch system would provide commercial and DoD customers with an affordable means to launch small payloads to orbit that is competitive with large launch vehicles. As a small launch vehicle with the capability of austere operations, ACE can be used to provide DoD with tactical launch capability that can be used to increase resiliency of US military space assets. Additionally, the affordability of ACE would allow it to be adapted for weapons delivery, thereby providing low-cost global strike capability.
The suite of ACE technologies can be used to upgrade commercial and DoD space launch systems. Several commercial launch vehicle developers are already considering BHL cryotanks for their vehicles. The Air Force is currently considering the UCDS and SSE technologies for insertion into their Oxygen Rich Staged Combustion engine development effort. The Missile Defense Agency is considering using the UCDS technology to improve the stability and performance of missile defense systems.
Technology Taxonomy Mapping
- Cryogenic/Fluid Systems
- Hardware-in-the-Loop Testing
- Launch Engine/Booster
- Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE; NDT)
- Pressure & Vacuum Systems
- Space Transportation & Safety
- Vehicles (see also Autonomous Systems)
- HJ Science & Technology, Inc.