You are on page 1of 16

AIAA 2001-4619

A Study of Air Launch Methods for RLVs

Marti Sarigul-Klijn, Ph.D. and Nesrin Sarigul-Klijn, Ph.D.*
Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering Dept, University of California, Davis, CA 95616

Many organizations have proposed air launch Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs) due to a renewed
interest generated by NASAs 2 Generation Space Launch Initiative. Air launched RLVs are
categorized as captive on top, captive on bottom, towed, aerial refueled, and internally carried.
The critical design aspects of various proposed air launch RLVs concepts are evaluated. It is
found that many concepts are not possible with todays technology. The authors introduce a new
air launch concept that is possible with todays technology called SwiftLaunch RLV.

INTRODUCTION missions. Air launch RLVs can operate free of

national range scheduling constraints, have
Air launching provides mobility and deployment minimum launch site requirements, and they may
advantages over surface launching. Air launch have reduced range safety concerns. Air
Reusable Launch Vehicles (RLVs) can fly over or launching significantly reduces the acoustic
around launch constraining weather. They can energy from the engine since there is no reflection
chase orbits and achieve any launch azimuth from the ground and air density is lower. The
without out-of-plane orbital maneuvers that strength of the thermal protection system (TPS)
consume large amounts of on-orbit propellant - and structures near the base of a surface launch
important for International Space Station (ISS) vehicle are sized by acoustic energy at launch.
emergency access or military launch on demand Finally, some air launch methods can improve
_____________________ mass inserted into orbit over a similarly sized
Copyright 2001 by M & N Sarigul-Klijn. surface launch vehicle.
Published by the American Institute of Aeronautics Shuttle mission STS-101 of May 2000 illustrates
and Astronautics, Inc. with permission. the problem with surface launch RLVs. Its ISS
*Associate Fellow, AIAA logistic mission was delayed by total of 25 days

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
due to a combination of waiting for suitable launch angle () between the vehicle velocity vector and
weather, waiting for other launch vehicles that the local horizontal as soon as possible minimizes
shared the same range resources, and waiting for gravity loss. Typical gravity losses are about
the ISS orbital plane to pass overhead the launch 3,500 to 5,000 fps. Drag loss is another loss and
site. Historically, few surface launch vehicles is caused by the friction between the launch
make their first scheduled launch date. vehicle and the atmosphere. It is given by:
In contrast, air launch RLVs offer the potential
for aircraft-like operations that provide responsive D / m dt (2)
launch on demand or launch on schedule.
However, modifying an existing aircraft into an air
Where both the drag force D, and the mass of the
launch carrier aircraft limits the size of air launch
launch vehicle, m, are continuously changing.
RLVs payloads. Still many organizations have
Drag losses are in the order of about 500 fps for
proposed air launched RLVs in response to
nd medium sized rockets and can be minimized by
NASAs 2 Generation Space Launch Initiative
flying a vertical trajectory to clear the atmosphere
because of the operational advantages since an
as soon as possible and by building a low drag
air launch RLV could complement a large surface
rocket. A long slender cylinder with a pointed
launched RLV. Large payload and volume would
nose is a favored shape since over of drag
be available from the surface launched RLV while
losses are caused by supersonic drag. Also drag
the smaller air launched RLV provides responsive
losses are subjected to the cubed-squared law.
launch on demand or schedule, quick turnaround
As an objects external dimensions increase,
times, assured access, emergency crew rescue,
surface area increases with the square of the
low cost for small payloads, and for some
dimension while volume increases with the cube.
concepts improved safety. Air launch concepts
Since drag is a function of surface area and not
have also been proposed in other countries.
volume, then increasing the launch vehicle size
will reduce drag losses. For example, the huge
Saturn V moon rocket had drag losses of only 150
fps. Finally, steering loss is the mismatch of the
This paper will discuss horizontal take-off launch
engines thrust vector with the vehicles velocity
vehicles that have more than one stage and have
vector and is caused by the need to steer the
some reusable component(s). Our analysis is
launch vehicle. Steering losses are typically 100
limited to information found in the public domain
to 600 fps.
such a companys web sites, journal articles, or
Notice a compromise trajectory must be chosen
press releases and will discuss only the major
to minimize losses. A vertical trajectory that would
deficiencies found in each concept. Limits to the
minimize drag losses increases gravity losses
length of this paper prevent mentioning all the air
while a trajectory that pitches early to the
launch concepts that have been proposed.
horizontal would decrease gravity losses while
increasing drag losses as the vehicle plows
through the atmosphere. Computer programs,
such as NASAs POST (Program to Optimize
The velocity of an object in an 100 nautical mile
Simulated Trajectories) are used to find the
(nm) circular low earth orbit (LEO) is about 25,600
trajectory with the lowest losses. For a typical
feet per second (fps). However, the change of
surface launched rocket the various losses
velocity (called delta V) that a launch vehicle must
amount to about 5,000 fps.
provide is greater than this amount because of
Finally, delta V depends on launch location. The
several losses. Gravity loss arises because part
best place to launch is from the equator in a due
of the launch vehicles energy is wasted in holding
east direction because the Earths rotation helps
it against the pull of Earths gravity (g). It is given
with a free velocity increment of 1,520 fps. The
actual increment depends on launch site latitude
and launch direction. Hence a baseline vertical
g sin dt (1) launch from the surface to the east requires a total
delta V of between 29,000 to 30,000 fps.
with integration carried from ignition to burnout.
Flying a trajectory that zeros out the flight path

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
AIR LAUNCH PERFORMANCE BENEFITS A wingless launch vehicle released from under a
parachute at 30,000 ft altitude gains about 1,200
Air launching can reduce the delta V required to fps delta V over a baseline vertical surface launch.
reach orbit. The forward speed provided by a In contrast, a winged vehicle launched horizontally
subsonic carrier aircraft can provide 600 to 800 from the surface, such as the cancelled X-30
fps. Launch at altitude can reduce gravity and National Aerospace Plane, carries a 700 to 1,000
drag losses as well increase engine efficiency due fps delta V penalty.
to better thrust expansion in the engine nozzle and
due to using a large area ratio nozzle properly MASS FRACTIONS
sized for the launch altitude.
Surprisingly, a typical straight and level subsonic In order to reach LEO, a sizable portion of a
horizontal air launch such as used by the X-15 launch vehicles mass must be propellant. The
research rocketplane does not result in any mass of the propellant (MP) relative to the mass of
significant changes in the delta V requirement as the total vehicle before ignition (Mi ) is called
compared to a baseline vertical surface launch. propellant mass fraction. The mass of the rest of
Horizontal launched vehicles like the X-15 must the vehicle (MF ) relative to the ignition weight is
accelerate to a higher airspeed after being called dry mass fraction. The dry mass fraction
dropped so that their wings can produce enough includes the payload, structures, engines, residual
lift in order to conduct an aerodynamic pull-up and reserve propellant, avionics, on-orbit
maneuver. Typically a descent of 4,000 to 7,000 maneuvering and reentry propellant, reentry
feet (ft) occurs until sufficient airspeed is obtained. thermal protection, and landing system. For
The pull-up maneuver is limited to 2 to 3 Gs due manned vehicles, dry mass fraction also includes
to airframe and wing structural limits and takes the crew, escape systems, and life support
about 1 minute to reach a climb-out angle of 45 to systems. The LEO payloads of current
80 degrees nose-up. During the one-minute pull- expendable launch vehicles are typically only 1 to
up maneuver, aerodynamic pressure increases, 3.5% of the ignition weight. Mass fraction
and the launch vehicle is subjected to both high depends on propellant combination and number of
sideways bending moments as well as high vehicle segments or stages. By staging a vehicle
aerodynamic pressure. For example, the Orbital it is possible to reduce propellant mass fraction,
Sciences air launched Pegasus XL experiences employ different types of propellants or types of
over 1250 pounds per square foot (psf) power plants, and use entirely different
aerodynamic pressure, twice the Space Shuttles, configurations in successive stages of any one
even though it is launched at 38,000 ft. vehicle. A kerosene-liquid oxygen (RP-LOX)
To provide a performance benefit, the carrier single stage to orbit (SSTO) vehicle must have at
aircraft must be capable of releasing the launch least a 94% propellant mass fraction while a two-
vehicle at a positive flight path angle () above the stage to orbit (TSTO) vehicle with optimum staging
local horizon. A subsonic release at = 25 must have 90% propellant in each stage. In other
provides about 1,600 fps delta V benefit for a words, a RP-LOX launch vehicle must carry 9 to
winged launch vehicle. Further increases in 16 times its dry weight in propellant in order to
above 25 provide little additional benefit for reach orbit. Note that optimum staging occurs
winged launch vehicles but does provide when the lower stage is roughly 5 times more
additional benefit for unwinged launch vehicles. massive then the upper stage.
Unfortunately, possible carrier aircraft such as the Also notice that for a TSTO vehicle, one stage
Boeing 747 or Lockheed C-5 Galaxy need thrust can have propellant mass fraction less then the
augmentation in order to maintain a =25 while optimum number. For example, if the first stage of
flying above 30,000 ft. Adding a liquid fueled a TSTO RP-LOX vehicle had a propellant mass
rocket to the carrier aircraft appears to be the best fraction of 50%, then the second stage could
choice, since a jet engines thrust decreases with compensate with a fraction of 92% and still reach
altitude. At 20,000 ft altitude a jet engine orbit. Because staging adds additional engines
produces 1/2 of its sea level thrust and at 40,000 and interstages (the structure that joins the stages
ft, thrust is 1/4 of sea level. In contrast, a rocket together), it is impractical to have more than 4 to 7
engine thrust increases by about 5 to 10% as it stages in a vehicle.
leaves the atmosphere.

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
Liquid hydrogen-LOX (LH2-LOX) is a propellant For example, the X-15 carried propellant equal
combination with a higher specific impulse (Isp). to 55% of its launch mass even though its wings
Isp is a measure of the efficiency of a propellant and landing gear where sized for landing and not
and engine combination. A LH2-LOX SSTO take-off. This is similar to other supersonic
needs a propellant mass fraction of 90% while a aircraft, such as the Concorde. Figure 1 plots the
TSTO needs roughly about 85% to reach orbit. empty weight fraction of various existing aircraft
However, LH2-LOX engines weigh twice as much and some proposed carrier aircraft. Empty weight
RP-LOX engines for the same amount of thrust. fraction is the aircraft empty weight divided by its
This is due to the large passageways in the engine maximum operating weight (MOW). It differs from
required to flow the low-density LH2. LH2 density dry mass fraction in that it does not include
is only 8.8% of RP. Also LH2-LOX propellant payload since aircraft payloads are 5 to 35% of
tanks weigh about 2.8 times more than RP-LOX MOW. MOW includes the aircrafts empty weight,
tanks when carrying the same mass of propellant. aircraft fuel, and payload.
Again this is due to large volume tanks required to
hold the LH2. These factors erode many of the
Fig. 1 - Empty Weight Fractions (%)
benefits of using high Isp LH2-LOX.
X-15 Concorde

Empty Wt / MOW (%)

C-5 An-124
Rockets can carry propellant mass fractions of 40
90% or more. For example the lower stage of the
TSTO Titan II rocket has a propellant mass Astroliner
2 20
fraction of 96.4%. The Titan IIs lower stage Pathfinder
carries 35 times its dry mass in the form of lower
and upper stage propellants, upper stage dry 0
mass, and payload mass. Rockets are basically 0 400,000 800,000 1,200,000 1,600,000
pressurized balloons under compression and are Maximum Operating Weight (MOW in lbs)
subject to very little bending and no twisting
Wing-borne vehicles can not be built with large
propellant mass fractions. In addition to propellant
We have categorized air launched RLVs into five
tanks and engines, wing-borne vehicles have
launch method categories:
wings, control surfaces, and landing gear all
(1) Captive on top
which add to dry mass. Some air launch concepts
(2) Captive on bottom
even add jet engines which increases dry mass
(3) Towed
further. Wing-borne vehicles are also subject to
(4) Aerial refueled
high bending and twisting moments which
(5) Internally carried
increases structural mass. Aircraft are quite
Several examples are used in the following
flexible, especially in fuselage longitudinal
discussion of each launch method.
bending, wing spanwise bending, and wing
torsional deflection. These have a major effect
Captive on top. The advantage of the captive on
upon stability characteristics that in turn affects
top launch method is the capability to carry a large
structural mass. For example, a typical swept-
RLV on top of the carrier aircraft. Disadvantages
wing transport at high subsonic speeds will have a
include penetrations on the windward side of the
reduction in elevator effectiveness of about 50%
RLVs thermal protection system (TPS) for
due to fuselage flexibility effects. Aileron
attachment hardpoints and extensive modifications
effectiveness is reduced by 50 to 100% because
(high cost) to the carrier aircraft. Also the RLV
deflecting the ailerons twist the wing in the
must have active controls at release from the
opposite direction causing a condition known as
carrier aircraft and the RLV wings must to be large
aileron reversal. Thus many parts of an aircraft
enough to support it at separation from the carrier
are not designed to strength limits, but to stiffness
aircraft. Examples include:
requirements which greatly increases structural

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
hydrogen ramjet was run for 25 seconds in a
simulated Mach 4 environment by MBB in 1991.
The program was cancelled due to development

Interim HOTOL. The British Aerospace Interim

HOTOL was studied from 1989 to 1991 and was
an air-launched version of the original HOTOL that
eliminated the ambitious RB-545 combined cycle
air-breathing propulsion system for four modified
Russian RD0120 LH2-LOX rocket engines. The
carrier aircraft was to be a Ukrainian An-225 Mriya
Spiral 50-50 credited Dan Roam (Dream) aircraft, currently the worlds largest
aircraft. Modifications to the aircraft including
Spiral. The Sprial 50-50 represents a very adding two Lotarev D-18 engines to increase
advanced concept that is still not possible with number of engines to 8. The Interim HOTOL
todays technology since it requires advanced would separate from the carrier aircraft at Mach
materials, TPS, and engines. It was funded from 0.8 at 30,000 ft. It wings would assist its pull up
1965 to 1978 by the Soviet government and for the ascent to orbit and it would return via a
consisted of an air-breathing Mach 7 booster gliding re-entry and conventional runway landing.
aircraft powered by 4 hydrogen-burning air-
breathing turboramjets, an expendable two-stage
rocket, and a one-person orbital spaceplane.
Take-off gross weight was projected at 280,000
pounds (lbs). A proof-of-concept prototype of the
orbital spaceplane was flown at least 3 times from
1976 to 1978 after being airdropped from a Tu-95
aircraft. As an example of advanced technologies
needed for this concept, NASAs is just now
testing a small prototype hydrogen-burning air-
breathing Mach 7 engine in the X-43 flight
demonstration program. Interim HOTOL credited British Aerospace

Interim HOTOL represents an advanced concept

that is still not possible with todays technology. It
required fueling with densified super cooled LH2
and LOX to prevent propellant boil-off during the
climb and cruise to the launch point. External
carriage of the Interim HOTOL meant that its
propellants were subjected to both radiation
heating from the sun and convective heating from
the atmosphere. As an example of propellant boil-
Saenger II credited Mark Lindroos off, the X-15 that carried 1,000 gallons of LOX
3 internally needed to be topped off from its B-52
Saenger II. Saenger II represents a very
carrier aircraft with 600 to 800 gallons of LOX
advanced concept that is still not possible with during the 45-minute to 1-hour climb and ferry to
todays technology. It was funded from 1985 to
the launch point. The B-52 carried 1,200 gallons
1994 by the MBB company and the German
of LOX in an internal insulated tank.
Ministry for Research and Development. It Interim HOTOL needed new materials for its
consisted of a large air-breathing Mach 6.6
tanks and wings in order to achieve the dry mass
booster aircraft powered by 6 co-axial
fraction required for LEO. To improve Isp, the
turboramjets and a small rocket-powered upper engines would incorporate a two-position nozzle
stage (HORUS). The HORUS would deliver a
that would be deployed while the engines were
crew of two and 6,600 lbs of payload to LEO.
operating something that has never been
Take-off gross weight was projected at over attempted before. Although two-position nozzles
750,000 lbs. As part of the program a liquid
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
are currently used, they are deployed and locked tanks for Lockheeds X-33 demonstrator weighed
into place before the engine is started. more than 3.4 times (at 2.16 lbs/ft^3) than the
Finally, the designers of Interim HOTOL were Shuttles expendable LOX tanks (0.62 lbs/ft^3)
unable to achieve a satisfactory solution to its even though the X-33 tanks factor of safety was
stability and control problems. Reusable launch only 1.25. Pushing the external tank also allowed
vehicles must control their center of gravity (CG) for aborts without the weight of escape rockets
position both during ascent and reentry. During since during the atmospheric portion of the ascent
the wing borne portion of flight, the CG must be trajectory the external tank was always denser
reasonably close to the wings lift or center of than the orbiter. This meant the orbiter and
pressure (CP). With engines mounted in the rear, external tank would naturally separate if released.
then empty CG is dominated by the engine The orbiter and external tank concept also
reduced the amount of orbital maneuvering
location, and the wings must be in the rear for
propellant required. Finally, the external tank
reentry. The resulting configuration suffers from a
concept solved the stability and control problem
severe CP / CG mismatch during ascent as the
that plagued Interim HOTOL.
CP shifts forward, due to the wide Mach range, the At the time of the cancellation, a 20,000 pound
large fuselage cross section to wing area ratio, force (lbf) thrust experimental engine with 19
and the long overhang of the forward fuselage injectors had been tested with 50 test burns
while the CG moves aft as the propellant is burnt. demonstrating a smooth switch between RP-LOX
and LH2-LOX operation. The RD-701 would have
had a thrust of 440,000 lbf each. Also, mock-ups
of both the orbiter and the external tank had been
The MAKS concept required the development of
new TPS materials for the orbiters leading edges
since it had a smaller radius (and hence higher
heating rate and temperatures) than the Burans
leading edges. It also required the use of
MAKS-OS credited NPO Molniya supercooled propellants to prevent propellant boil-
off. The orbiters payload capability appears a bit
MAKS. NPO Molniya developed MAKS in a optimistic, equaling 50% of the orbiters empty
draft project that was completed in 1989. The weight. The larger Space Shuttle is capable of
MAKS was to consist of a manned version less than 30% of its empty weight. Finally, the
(MAKS-OS), and unmanned cargo carrier (MAKS- fully reusable MAKS-M would require advanced
C), a sub orbital demonstrator (MAKS-D), and an materials for the tanks as well as a solution to
advanced fully reusable unpiloted version (MAKS- ascent and reentry stability and control problems.
M), similar to Interim HOTOL. The MAKS-OS is
shown and it weighed 1.3 million lbs on takeoff. It
consisted of a An-225 carrier aircraft that would
piggy-back the 600,000 lb MAKS to an altitude of
about 30,000 ft and 480 kts, an external tank, and
a 40,000 lb and 63 ft long spaceplane designed for
100 reuses. It would carry a crew of two and a
payload of 18,000 lbs to a 100 nm 51 inclination
orbit and was powered by two RD-701 tripropellant
engines designed for 15 re-uses. These engines
initially used RP-LOX and then switched to higher
specific impulse LH2-LOX at reduced thrust later
in the trajectory. This reduced the size of the
external tank and was expected to reduce the Boeing AirLaunch credited Boeing
mass of the engines to half as compared to pure
LH2-LOX engines. Boeing AirLaunch. Conceived in 1999,
MAKS pioneered the idea of an orbiter pushing AirLaunch is feasible system design based on
an external tank. This significantly reduced the todays technology. Its design goals were to keep
tanks weight as compared to a fully reusable development and recurring costs to a minimum. It
integral tank. For example, the reusable LOX
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
can support two configurations, placing a Space launches to its credit. It consists of expendable 3-
Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) into LEO, or launch civil, stage solid rocket booster with wings attached to
commercial and military payloads with a the 1 stage. It is launched from Orbital Sciences
Conventional Payload Module (CPM). Thiokol L-1011 Stargazer carrier aircraft. Estimated
Propulsion would provide existing Castor 120 solid launch price is $12 - $15 million and maximum
rocket motors for the first two stages and a new payload is 1,000 lbs to 100 nm equatorial launch.
design for the third stage. Solid rockets have Only the carrier aircraft is reusable.
shown that they can withstand both the sideways
Gs and the high aerodynamic pressure of a Yakovlev HAAL. Initially conceived in 1994 as
horizontal air launch with little penalty in weight. Burlak (barge-hauler) and now called High Altitude
This is because their outer motor case must be Aerial Launch (HAAL) , this concept is possible
sized to withstand the internal pressure of with todays technology. The system would
combustion. Solid motor wall thickness is several consist of a two stage expendable rocket launched
times thicker (and heavier) than a liquid fueled from the Tu-160 Blackjack swing-wing
propellant tank wall thickness. Also the solid supersonic bomber at an altitude of 45,000 ft and
propellant itself provides some structural Mach 1.7. The 70,000 lb launch vehicle is based
strengthening, particularly in compression. Note on a Russian ICBM and is fueled with non-
that the SMV is a small, unpiloted reusable cryogenic propellants (N2O4/UDMH) and is
spacecraft designed to support a variety of military carried under the Tu-160. Payload is 2,500 lbs to
space missions ranging from satellite deployment a 100 nm orbit. Launch price is estimated at $5
to terrestrial and on-orbit support. million and development cost is estimated at $100
The AirLaunch is basically the Lockheed Martin million. Getting the necessary permission to use
Athena rocket on its side with wings attached. the big Tupolev bombers - the most advanced
The launch price of the Athena is currently $22 to bombers the Russians have ever built required
$26 million. Adding a wing will increase the cost that the US and the Ukraine agree to lift certain
by a few more million. Unfortunately, the Athena conditions of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty.
has demonstrated a poor launch record, with 2 The aircraft were modified so that they cannot
failures in 5 launches. The extra drag of the again be used for weapons delivery.
AirLaunch limits launch altitude to about 24,000 ft
since mounting it on top of its 747 carrier aircraft
causes a great amount of drag. The inherent low
Isp (280 seconds) and low propellant mass
fraction of solid propellant motors limits AirLaunch
to about 6,600 lbs for inserted orbital mass.
AirLaunch would need a specially modified 747,
which Boeing estimates at $500 million to build
and ten of millions of dollars a year to operate.
Boeing AirLaunch is an expendable launch vehicle
except for its 747 carrier aircraft and the SMV.
Yakovlev HAAL photo by Vic Stathopoulos
Captive on bottom. The advantages of the
captive on bottom launch method includes proven
Yakovlev Skylifter. Conceived in the late 1990s,
and easy separation from carrier aircraft, leeward
Skylifter is proposed as a large twin fuselage
side penetrations and hard points on the RLV that
aircraft that could carry a 900,000 1 million lb
eliminates some TPS concerns, and the option of
payload. It would use modified landing gear from
sizing the wing smaller then required for flight at
the Antonov An-225, the outer wing sections from
the release altitude and airspeed. Disadvantages
an Antonov AN-124, and the cockpit, nose and
include limits to RLV size due to under the carrier
forward fuselage from the Yakovlev Yak-40
aircraft clearance limitations and the high cost of
airliner. Twin boom assemblies support a pair of
carrier modifications. A new carrier aircraft can
vertical stabilizers connected by a high-mounted
eliminate clearance limitations.
horizontal stabilizer. Two tall vertical pods that
would house the landing gear, hence the wing and
Pegasus. Pegasus is the worlds only
fuselages would sit high above the runway. The
operational air launch vehicle with over 30
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
resulting configuration can carry a large RLV (23 ft Concorde supersonic airliner requires 152,000 lbf
high by 79 ft wide) below the wing and between from its engines to take-off at a 400,000 lb gross
the twin fuselages. weight for a take-off thrust to weight ratio of 0.38.
The Astroliner not only weighs 80% more then the
Towed. The primary advantages of a towed Concorde but also has more drag because its
concept are easy separation from the towing truncated tail, which houses its rocket engines,
aircraft and low cost modifications to the towing greatly increases subsonic drag. For example, the
aircraft. Safety concerns include broken towlines drag of the Space Shuttle is 70% more with its tail
and a towing aircraft take-off abort. Propellant fairing off than with it on. The 80,000 lbf of
boil-off can be a major problem unless excess thrust from the 747 is only capable of
supercooled propellants are used since there is no towing off about a 200,000 lbs Astroliner. A
means to replenish the propellant from the towing 720,000 lb Astroliner would need enormous jet
aircraft. Another disadvantage is sizing the RLVs engines installed in it to augment the 747 tow
wings and landing gear for take-off with a full aircrafts thrust.
propellant load. The Astroliners published empty weight fraction
is only 29%. No supersonic aircraft has achieved
this low empty weight, and certainly not one that
has to carry both jet engines and rocket engines.
The Astroliners wings and landing gear must be
sized for take-off with a full load of propellant and
payload on board. The Astroliner is expected to
carry 3.5 times its empty weight in propellant,
crew, and upper stage when current supersonic
aircraft can only carry 1 times their empty weight.
Even if the Astroliner worked as published, the
launch method does not make economical sense
since the upper stage, the most expensive part, is
expended. It contains tanks, a high performance
engine, telemetry, flight computer, flight
Astroliner credited Kelly Space termination system, and avionics.

Kelly Spaces Astroliner. Conceived in 1993 and Aerial Refueled. The principal advantage of
receiving over $6 million in NASA funding, the aerial refueling is that it reduces the size of the
Kelly Space and Technology Astroliner concept is carrier aircraft's wing and landing gear. Note that
a combined jet and rocket powered aircraft that aerial refueling does not reduce the size of the jet
was to be built using existing technology and off engines they must be sized to maintain level
the shelf components. The fully fueled 720,000 lb flight for a fully fueled carrier aircraft.
Astroliner would be towed off of a runway using
the thrust of its own jet engines and the excess Pioneer Rocketplane. Conceived in the late
thrust from a stripped down Boeing 747 acting as 1990s and receiving $2 million in NASA funding,
a tow aircraft. At 20,000 ft, the tow line would be 10
the Pioneer Pathfinder Rocketplane concept is a
dropped and once clear of the 747, the Astroliner combined jet and rocket powered aircraft that was
would light its rocket engines and it was expected to be built using existing technology and off the
to accelerate to Mach 5 and then coast to 65 nm shelf components. It would use its two turbofan
altitude. Clear of the atmosphere its nose would engines for take-off, rendezvous, and refueling
open and release a 56,000 lb upper stage capable with a 747 aerial tanker where it would take on
of placing a 10,000 lbs into LEO. Except for 130,000 lbs of LOX, effectively doubling its gross
towing, new technologies were not expected to be weight to 274,000 lbs. This refueling concept
needed for the Astroliner. would reduce the size of the Pathfinders wings
Although the Astroliners basic towing concept is and landing gear to about 1/2 of an aircraft that
sound, its current sizing is not possible with had to carry all its oxidizer at take-off. Once clear
todays technology. A stripped-down 747 has only of the 747, it would light its single RD-120 engine
about 40% of its 192,000 lbf of sea level thrust and it was expected to climb to 70 nm altitude and
available for towing. As a comparison, the Mach 15. Clear of the atmosphere it would open
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
its payload bay doors and release a 34,000 lb style on the Gryphon. Like the Pioneer
upper stage capable of placing a 4,400 lb satellite Rocketplane, the Alchemist takes off without any
into LEO. Except for LOX aerial transfer, new oxidizer on board. An on-board LOX production
technologies were not expected to be needed for plant makes over 900,000 lbs of LOX from the
Pathfinder. atmosphere by using compressed air from its 4
turbofan engines and 70,000 lbs of on-board liquid
hydrogen (LH2). Onboard LOX generation would
reduce the size of the Alchemist wings and landing
gear to less than 1/2 of an aircraft that had to carry
all its oxidizer at take-off. LOX generation takes 1
to 3 hours during which time the Alchemist flies to
the launch point. After LOX generation is
completed, all 7 rocket engines fire and the
combined vehicles climb. Staging of the Merlin
orbiter is proposed at Mach 8 and the Gryphon
booster would restart its 4 turbofan engines after
reentry to fly back to the launch site.
The published empty weight fraction of the
Gryphon booster is an unachievable 0.19. Also its
four turbofans produce only 75,000 lbf of thrust at
20,000 ft altitude, insufficient by a factor of at least
Pathfinder credited Pioneer Rocketplane 3 to keep a 1.5 million lb aircraft airborne
(especially with the drag caused by the boosters
Although the Pathfinders basic aerial refueling truncated tail and the piggybacked orbiter).
concept is sound, its current sizing is not possible Serious stability and control problems may occur
with todays technology. Its published empty during LOX generation since the LH2 used to
weight fraction is only 22%. Even with the savings generate the LOX would occupy a 15,900 cubic ft
in landing gear and wing weight, the Pathfinder is (equal to four X-33 LH2 tanks) while the LOX
expected to carry 4.6 times its empty weight in would occupy a 13,500 cubic ft. Unfortunately,
propellant, crew, and upper stage. Furthermore this volume must be located in different tanks.
the published empty weight fraction is too large to Also when Alchemist begins its rocket powered
allow staging at Mach 15. The rocket equation ascent, it must carry the dead weight of large
shows staging at Mach 7 using published weights empty LH2 tanks and a LOX generation plant.
and expected gravity and drag losses. However Finally, the Alchemist uses a total of its seven
with realistic weights using todays technology LH2 - LOX engines plus its four turbojets for a total
Pathfinders staging would be much slower. It of 11 engines. The probability of an engine failure
would still be subject to significant aerodynamic is very high with this number of engines. A
pressure during staging making release from catastrophic engine failure can be expected once
Pioneers payload bay extremely hazardous. every 200 to 300 missions and a safe shutdown
Like the Astroliner, Pioneer Rocketplane launch failure can be expected every 30 to 40 missions if
method does not make economical sense since the failure rate data for the Shuttle Main Engine is
the upper stage, the most expensive part, is assumed. The Alchemist does not represent a
expended. feasible system that can be implemented as
designed or accomplish its design goals with
Andrews Space Alchemist. Conceived in the current technology.
late 1990s and receiving over $3 million in NASA
funding, the Andrews Space & Technology (AST) Internally Carried. An advantage of internally
Alchemist TSTO RLV uses an airbreathing / rocket carried concepts include little or no modifications
combined cycle propulsion system where each to the carrier aircraft (lowers both development
system operates largely independent of the and operations cost). Most propellant boil-off
The AST concept consists of a first stage concerns are eliminated since the launch vehicle
booster called the Gryphon and a second stage is not subject to either radiation heating from the
orbiter called the Merlin which rides piggyback sun or convective heating from the airstream.
Maintenance crews have access to the launch
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
vehicle until just before the launch, which reduces missile was also considered. In January 1997, the
the safety concerns of carrying a launch vehicle second stage of a Minuteman I was successfully
with a manned carrier aircraft. The launch vehicle parachute airdropped from a C-130.
is in a benign environment inside the carrier A disadvantage of internal air launch is that the
aircraft and maintenance and safety problems can launch vehicle must be sized to fit inside the
be detected and resolved. Also, internal carriage carrier aircraft. Also LH2-LOX powered RLVs can
eliminates weather induced launch failures (such not be carried because air and gaseous hydrogen
as the Shuttle Challenger) by launching into a explode over a wide range of mixture ratios 4%
known and benign environment (the stratosphere) to 76% by hydrogen volume ratio not a safe
from the protection of the carrier aircraft. situation for the interior of a cargo airplane.
Also, all the internal carriage concepts can
jettison the launch vehicles quickly. This
compares to some concepts that we have already
discussed that propose a manned rocket-powered
booster with no means of jettisoning the internally
carried rocket engines and no rapid means of
dumping the internal propellant load. Flight crews
are exposed to the risks of carrying and firing
internally carried liquid fueled rocket engine(s). In
contrast, internally carried launch concepts require
carrying rockets inside manned aircraft, but not
firing them.
Internally carried launch concepts are also able
to carry heavier RLVs and release at the higher
altitudes as compared to externally carried RLV Vozhushny Start credited Air Launch Aerospace Corp.
concepts. Externally carried RLVs increase the
carrier aircraft drag while internally carried RLVs Vozdushny Start (Air Start). The Energia, Polyot
dont. Since the carrier aircrafts jet engine thrust and Antonov companies are currently developing
must equal its drag, then either its gross weight or 12
Air Start. Like Boeing AirLaunch, its design
launch altitude is reduced for externally carried goals are to keep development and recurring costs
RLVs. to a minimum. Air Start would carry a 100 ton,
two-stage expendable liquid-fueled (RP-LOX)
Polyot rocket inside a four-engine Antonov An-
124, the world's largest operational aircraft.
Payload is expected to be 6,600-8,800-lb to LEO.
The rocket is packaged inside a special launch
canister and at the launch point and altitude, a
charge of air injected into the canister ejects the
rocket. Compressed air is proposed to extract the
rocket due to the unavailability of high load
capacity parachutes in the Ukraine and Russia.
After a five-second drop the rocket engine ignites.
How the Air Start achieves an upward launch
trajectory is unclear from the published data. The
Polyot rocket does not have wings and our
Drop of Minuteman missile from C-5A in 1974 trajectory simulations show that a horizontal
photo US Air Force launch results in the rocket impacting the ground.
Other than this concern, it appears to be a feasible
Internal air launch has been done before. On 24 system concept based on todays technology.
October 1974 a C-5A Galaxy dropped a 78,000 lb
LGM-30A Minuteman I missile using drogue BladeRunner. The BladeRunner concept is a
chutes to extract the missile and its 8,000 lb fully reusable vehicle concept sponsored by the
launch sled. Parachute airdrop of the 195,000 lb Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL). It calls
and 92 inch diameter LGM-118 Peacekeeper MX for using high-pressure air expulsion to launch a

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
70,000 lb liquid fueled (RP-LOX) two stage rocket ground support. The SwiftLaunch RLV concept
from a C-141 cargo aircraft. The BladeRunner allows a high visibility space activity to be
uses a composite, folding scissors biplane wing for stationed in a part of the country that traditionally
lift during ascent. The fuselage is built mostly from has no space industry. A hangar and a
metals, titanium for the upper stage and aluminum compatible runway (10,000 ft long) are required.
for the lower stage. Parachutes are used for When a launch mission arises, carrier aircraft
recovery of both stages. arrive to pick up the SwiftLaunch RLVs.
Although the BladeRunner looks like a rocket, it Redundant carrier aircraft and SwiftLaunch RLVs
is actually rocket powered airplane, but with are recommended to ensure a successful launch
moveable wings. The BladeRunner should have on demand or launch on schedule mission with a
mass fractions similar to the X-15 or the X-34 90% or better schedule completion rate.
since it is subjected to similar sideways launch The two carrier aircraft candidates are the U.S.
and climb-out loads. The propellant mass fraction Air Forces C-5 Galaxy and the Ukrainian An-124
for the horizontally air launched X-15 was 55% Ruslan commercial transport. The U.S Air Force
and the X-34 was 63%, far less than the 90% currently has 126 C-5s while 59 An-124s were
required to reach LEO. Although the BladeRunner built and 20 are commercially available worldwide
is carried internally, it is launched at a horizontal from Volga-Dnepr Airlines, Air Foyle or Polyot
flight path angle that provides no significant airlines. The An-124 carried a world record
performance gain over a similarly sized surface payload of 377,473 lbs to 35,269 ft on 26 July
launch vehicle. It will lose over 5,000 to 7,000 feet 1985. The SwiftLaunch concept does not require
in altitude before it starts climbing. The published any permanent modifications to the carrier aircraft.
payload of 2,000 lbs for the fully reusable Unlike other air launch concepts, no money is
BladeRunner is optimistic since it is twice that of spent modifying an aircraft and more importantly,
the similarly sized but fully expendable Pegasus. no money is spent maintaining a one of a kind
carrier aircraft.
SwiftLaunch RLV. The SwiftLaunch RLV is a Propellant is loaded into the SwiftLaunch ETank
privately funded concept that uses the lesson in about 6 hours at a coastal airport near the
learned from previous air launch concepts. It is launch point. The ETank consists of a LOX tank
feasible system based on todays technology with made of Aluminum-Lithium (Al-Li) flanked by two
a design goal to keep development and recurring carbon-epoxy composite RP tanks. This concept:
costs to a minimum. It consists of a reusable - Is lighter since it eliminates a compressive
orbiter and an expendable tank (ETank) carried on intertank between a RP and LOX tank, a
a launch sled that is extracted with parachutes compressive truss structure between the orbiter
from a cargo aircraft. No permanent modifications and ETank, and compressive loads on the orbiter.
are required to the cargo aircraft. Like MAKS, the - Increases exit clearance through the aft airdrop
SwiftLaunch RLVs are air-launched 1 stage opening in the carrier aircraft.
launch vehicles that expend their propellant tanks - Limits heat transfer area between the RP and
prior to reaching orbit. A reusable single engine LOX tanks.
powers the orbiters. Several orbiters are - Reduce the mixing of LOX and fuel in the event
proposed including a 3-person crew transfer of a leak, minimizing accidental explosions. Note
vehicle, an ISS cargo transfer vehicle, a space that a RP-LOX propellant combination has an
maneuver vehicle, and a commercial cargo explosive yield 1/6 of LH2-LOX and 1/10 of solid
vehicle. The orbiters are capable of executing an rocket propellant combinations.
abort throughout their powered ascent and - Eliminates attaching the engine directly to the
parachutes recover the orbiters after reentry. The propellant tank, which further reduces the chance
SwiftLaunch RLVs are described in detail in a of an accidental explosion. Instead the engine is
patent application. The SwiftLaunch RLV consist attached to a firewall located on the backside of
of the orbiter and ETank and are 89 feet long the orbiter.
when attached together with an ignition weight The weight of the ETank is conservatively base-
currently base-lined at 264,000 lb. The lined at 3,100 lbs, which is 32% heavier than the
SwiftLaunch RLV and launch sled are collectively Shuttles 1 generation external tanks (0.82 lb/ft^3
called the parachute load, estimated at 290,000 lb. versus the Shuttles 0.62 lb/ft^3). Note that the
The SwiftLaunch RLV uses horizontal integration Shuttles current 3 generation Al-Li tanks weigh
with the launch sled providing almost all of the only 84% of the 1 generation tanks.
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
The launch sled supports the SwiftLaunch while EXTRACTION & SEPARATION TRAJECTORY
inside the carrier aircraft. The SwiftLaunch RLV is
extracted by two 54 ft diameter Shuttle solid rocket 30,000
booster (SRB) drogue parachutes and three 136 ft Parachute RLV
diameter SRB main chutes stabilize the descent. Extraction
During parachute extraction there are no sideways

Altitude (ft MSL)

accelerations from the parachutes and the launch 29,000
Separation at
sled absorbs any bending moments caused by 10 seconds
temporary off-alignment of the parachutes with the
launch sled. The launch sled takes all the 28,000
extraction parachute loads (estimated at only 1.3
G) which means that the SwiftLaunch can be
designed to normal rocket loads and does not Sled
need any heavy reinforcements for extraction 27,000
loads. Wheels, in the front and back of the sled, 0 1,000 2,000 3,000
guide it out of the carrier aircraft. Downrange Travel from Extraction Point (ft)
The SwiftLaunch launch point is selected based
- It has suitable launch weather
1.50 - It has an over the water ascent trajectory
- It is locally clear of other aircraft, ships, and
Deceleration (G's)

1.25 launch vehicles

- It is directly under the desired orbital plane. For
1.00 ISS missions there is no need to wait several days
1st Dis-reefing 2nd Dis-reefing
of Parachutes of Parachutes for the ISS to pass over a fixed ground location.
- It has proper orbit phasing that allows a direct
ascent rendezvous in one orbit. This reduces
electrical power requirements, which maximizes
0.50 payload weight.
0 5 10 15 For high inclination launches (such as to the
Time since Launch Sled Extraction (seconds) ISS), the carrier aircraft can chase the orbital
plane by flying to the west when at high latitudes.
A zero G maneuver is used to prevent This capability can increase the launch window
overloading the carrier aircrafts rear ramp and to time.
prevent the aircraft from experiencing an SwiftLaunch RLV does not need active flight
uncontrollable pitch up as the parachute load controls and engines at extraction. Engine starts
moves aft. Our analysis shows that while flying about 10 seconds after extraction and when it is
within the parachute airdrop airspeed limits of 150 more than 2,500 ft horizontally and 1,000 ft below
+ 10 knots indicated, over 10 seconds of zero G the carrier aircraft. The SwiftLaunch RLV ascent
flight is available, far more than the required 4 trajectory does not cross the carrier aircrafts flight
seconds. The zero G maneuver also eliminates path. When the SwiftLaunch RLV climbs through
most carrier aircraft structural loads and provides the carrier aircrafts altitude, the carrier aircraft is
plenty of structural margins for piloting errors. more than 3 nm away and it is flying away from
The SwiftLaunch RLV descents only 2,000 ft and perpendicular to the RLV and not parallel to it
under its SRB parachutes before rocketing as in other air launch concepts. There is no risk of
upward, which compares favorably to the 4,000 ft collision with the manned carrier C-5 or An-124
to 7,000 ft lost in a typical horizontal air launch aircraft.
(such as the X-15). After launch, the launch sled The SwiftLaunch separates from the sled when
is towed back to shore for reuse. It is half the the sled pitch attitude is about 60 degrees below
length and less than 1/3 the mass of the Shuttle the horizon and the launch sled slows down
SRBs which are towed over 110 miles after every quickly once relieved of the launch vehicle load,
shuttle launch. which ensures separation. Our analysis shows

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
that separation steadily increases with no danger vehicle mishaps. The single engine SwiftLaunch
of sled to launch vehicle impact. has less risk of a catastrophic failure as compared
to any multiple engine launch vehicle by a factor
equal to the number of engines. The SwiftLaunch
is expected to have a loss of vehicle probability of
less than 1 in 1,000 due to its single engine
design. Its SafeAbort capability (discussed below)
gives it a loss of crew or mission equipment
probability of less than 1 in 10,000.
The SwiftLaunch RLV is statically stable during
ascent since its center of gravity is forward of its
center of pressure because its low-density orbiter
and its fins are located aft of the of the high
density ETank. Unlike other launch vehicles which
are statically unstable (since the low density
payload is on top), the SwiftLaunch does not need
to constantly gimbal its engine to prevent it from
flipping over end to end. The SwiftLaunchs
statically stable configuration minimizes steering
The ETank separates after main engine
shutdown. SwiftLaunchs single staging event
minimizes separation and staging failures as
compare to other launch vehicles. The ETank is
too slow to enter orbit so it burns completely up
during reentry because of its high velocity and its
construction (no steel or titanium components).
Although the SwiftLaunch could be considered as
an air launched stage and a half vehicle, it has
many of the operational range safety benefits of a
SSTO vehicle.
Only one of the orbiters two redundant Orbital
Maneuvering System (OMS) engines is needed to
SwiftLaunch RLV during ascent circularize its orbit. They are currently base-lined
as two shuttle Reaction Control System (RCS)
The engine is throttled to maintain 3 Gs of thrusters. Either the standard nitrogen tetroxide
ascent acceleration, except for the final 70 and hydrazine Marquardt engines or the LOX-
seconds when acceleration increases to a peak of ethanol Aerojet 870 lbf thrust engines could be
5.2 G (due to main engine throttle limits). The used.
main engine is currently proposed as the 3,260 lb The orbiter is located below the ETank so that
RP-LOX Aerojet AJ26-60, which is the former an emergency separation, called SafeAbort, can
Russian NK-43 engine. Thrust to weight of 122 to occur anytime. Separation is exactly like a normal
1 compares to the Space Shuttle Main Engines upper stage and lower stage separation event
(SSME) 67 to 1 and specific impulse (Isp = 348.3 since the partially full ETank is denser compared
seconds vacuum) is 50 to 60 seconds better than to the orbiter throughout the atmospheric portion
the Atlas II, Delta II, or Delta III RP-LOX engines. of the ascent. If the rocket engine is shut down,
A total of 831 engines have been tested for the orbiter and ETank will separate naturally.
194,000 seconds. These engines are available for Because of parachute air launch the SwiftLaunchs
$4 million each, which is about 10% the cost of a peak dynamic pressure (Max Q) is only 325 psf,
SSME. less than that experienced by jet airliners, and half
The SwiftLaunch uses a single main engine to of the Space Shuttles. The low dynamic pressure
minimize the possibility of propulsion leaks that of the SwiftLaunch RLVs trajectory makes
are the cause of over 70 percent of current launch SafeAbort possible and it also reduces drag
losses. Escape rockets, which can weigh 30 to 60
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
percent of the orbiters weight, are not needed and payload bay doors depending on version.
the orbiter experiences no high escape rocket Proposed orbiters include a 3-person crew transfer
abort acceleration loads. Escape rocket abort vehicle, an ISS cargo transfer vehicle, a space
loads can account for up to 1/3 of an orbiters maneuver vehicle, and a commercial cargo
structural weight. After a SafeAbort separation vehicle. They all share the same outer mold line
the SwiftLaunch orbiter is statically stable since it hence their aerodynamic and mass property
has a full load of OMS propellant in its nose. The characteristics are similar. This will reduce
OMS propellant is then dumped during the coast development time and cost by eliminating
to trajectory apogee. After dumping the OMS duplicate analysis, ground tests, and flight tests.
propellant, a normal lifting reentry and parachute Customers seldom know what they want or need
landing is possible. Some cross range is available and system objectives rarely remain fixed
depending on when the SafeAbort is executed and throughout the life of a system. The SwiftLaunch
a water landing is survivable because a parachute concept accepts upgrades to modify the vehicle to
recovery is used. SafeAbort even works if the accommodate broader objectives and to satisfy
engine fails to start during a parachute air launch future customer needs without having to repeat
since there is plenty of time (about 4 minutes) to expensive analysis, ground tests, or flight tests.
separate the orbiter from the launch sled and POST shows that a 14,700 lb orbiter can be
ETank, dump the OMS propellant, and deploy the placed into a 150 nautical mile circular orbit at the
landing parachute. Finally, note that the ISSs 51.6 inclination using a 30,000 ft parachute
SwiftLaunch RLVs uses its normal ETank air launch. Payload is estimated at a very
separation equipment and its redundant landing conservative 12 % of the orbiters weight or 1,800
parachutes as its emergency system. This means lbs. Payload size may be increased 3,500 to
that it is operated and proven in every flight. 5,000 lbs by flying a Once Around the Earth (OAE)
Equipment designed purely for emergency use orbit. An OAE orbit is an elliptic orbit with a 100-
has a poor history of actually working. For mile apogee and a 35-mile perigee. The payload
example, only 50% of flight crews survive an is released at apogee and it circularizes itself with
ejection in ejection seats. onboard propulsion using about 150 to 200 lbs
propellant for a circular 100-mile orbit. OAE
trajectories have been proposed before for ground
launched RLVs but have been found not to be
practicable due to the limited number of return to
launch site orbital inclinations. Air launching
allows launching into almost any orbital inclination
while still having a single orbit return to the landing
site. The carrier aircraft would position itself to the
east of the landing site with the separation
distance depending on launch inclination and

SwiftLaunch RLV Gross Ignition Weight

SwiftLaunch RLV Weights Percent
(lbs) (%)
SwiftLaunch RLV orbiter during reentry Etank Propellant 242,300 92.1
Etank Dry weight 3,100 1.2
The orbiter shape is currently base-lined as the Residuals & Ullage gas 800 0.3
Japanese flight-tested HYFLEX shape (launched OMS Circularization Burn 2,300 0.9
on the J-1 rocket in February 1996). This shape Common Core Orbiter 14,700 5.6
has a high volume to external surface area ratio
Total 263,200 100.0
and the minimum number of sharp leading edges
that would require heavy or advanced TPS.
Internal cabin or payload volume is similar to the Upon completion of its mission, the SwiftLaunch
Soyuz descent module. Orbiters are equipped fires its redundant OMS engines again for a
with either an ISS docking port or a shuttle like reentry burn. The SwiftLaunchs HYFLEX shape
is capable of a shuttle like lifting reentry. Its
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
moderate L/D of about 1.1 results in a reentry system is much lighter than a wing and wheel
cross range of over 500 nautical miles and a based recovery system. Powerful examples
maximum reentry acceleration of 1.8 G. A trailing include the 11,300 lb 1-man Dyna-Soar as
body flap trims the orbiter for a range of center of compared to the 3,200 lb Mercury capsule or the
gravity locations, which allows for a variety of 33,000 lb and 3-man Hermes space plane as
reentry payloads. Determining exact weight and compared to the 6,600 lb and 3-man Soyuz
balance is very difficult while on orbit, and is not descent capsule. Parachutes allow SafeAbort
required for the SwiftLaunch orbiter because of its throughout the ascent without having to find a
central cabin/payload location and its trailing body suitable 12,000-ft runway and autonomous
flap. At Mach 2 (about 80,000 ft altitude and 7 nm operation with parachutes is simple, requiring only
up range from the landing zone) a supersonic a timer and accelerometer based control system
drogue chute is deployed to stabilize the orbiter. as compared to a much more complicated system
At subsonic speeds the drogue is steerable and required for winged vehicles. Currently, Apollo
provides a lift over drag (L/D) ratio of about 0.1, style circular parachutes are base-lined since they
sufficient to correct reentry errors and ensure are much lighter than an X-38 type parafoil and
touch down within 600 feet of the intended aim three parachutes provide redundancy in the event
point. Precision landing using small drogue that one chute fails to open.
chutes is under development by the US Army. Pneumatic retractors under development by the
The recovery system has a powerful multiplier U.S. Army pull the SwiftLaunch and the
effect on the orbiter weight, since it must be parachutes together just before landing and
carried to orbit and then returned. Each additional reduce landing impact. They allow normal land
pound of recovery system then increases TPS touchdowns or emergency ocean landings.
weight, OMS propellant, structures, etc. Historical The SwiftLaunch concept is a near (0-5 years)
data shows that a parachute based recovery term concept that would cost approximately $1

Orbital velocity with

Variety of On-Orbit OMS engines
Orbit circularization

SwiftLaunch /
ETank separation

Reusable engine
powers SwiftLaunch

1.8 G Lifting Reentry-

500 mile cross range ETank burns up during
Shuttle SRB Reentry
Airdrop at 30,000 + ft

Parachute airlaunch

Separation & Ignition

at 28,000+ ft
SwiftLaunch RLV
Operational Concept
and Flight Profile

Sled recovered
from Ocean

Horizontal Integration inside a hangar

C-5 or AN-124 takes off
with SwiftLaunch RLV Lands within
in cargo hold 600 ft radius

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics
billion to develop to initial operating capability. ACKNOWLEDGEMENT
The ETank production price is estimated at
$200,000 to $1.5 million each and a launch would The authors would like to thank Mr. Ken Doyle
cost $5 million to $15 million. These cost and Mr. Jonathan Byron for their drawings.
estimates are based mostly on parametric studies
and are preliminary Pre-Phase A cost estimates. REFERENCES
The SwiftLaunch RLV concept has technology
maturity level of 5 or greater. J.C. Whitehead, Single Stage to Orbit Mass
The SwiftLaunch RLV represents a conservative Budgets Derived from Propellant Density and
stage and half launch vehicle design. It is based Specific Impulse, AIAA paper, July 1996. (AIAA
on the idea that a simple single engine design with 96-3108)
an inherent SafeAbort capability is the safest. It is S.J. Isakowiz, International Reference Guide to
also based on the idea that the lightest vehicle is Space Launch Systems, AIAA, Reston, Virigina.
the one with the lowest loads imposed on it. Mark Wades Encyclopedia Astronautica at
Lightness then leads to the best payload
performance and the lowest operation costs. It V. Ya.Neiland and R.C. Parkinson, The An-
225/Interim HOTOL Launch Vehice, 42
can be implemented as designed and it can
Congress of the International Astronautical
accomplish its design goals.
Federation, October 1991. (IAF-91-197)
Skorodelov, V.A., The MAKS Multipurpose
Aerospace System accessed from June 2001.
Air launching provides mobility and deployment 6
X-33 RLV Critical Design Review, American
advantages over surface launching. It can also Space Encyclopedia Series, 2000.
provide performance advantages over surface 7
W.B. Scott, Tu-160 Launch Program
launching, but only if the release flight path angle Revamped to Cut Costs, Aviation Week & Space
is above the horizon. Technology, June 12, 2000.
Many air launch concepts require advance accessed June 2001.
technologies. Of the concepts discussed in this E.J. Saltman, K.C. Wang, and K.W. Iliff, Flight-
paper only the following are possible with todays Determined Subsonic Lift and Drag Characteristics
technology; Orbital Sciences Pegasus, Boeing of Seven Lifting-Body and Wing-Body Reentry
AirLaunch, Yakovlev HAAL, Yakovlev Skylifter, Vehicles Configurations with Truncated Bases,
SwiftLaunch, and perhaps Vozdushny Start. AIAA paper published 1999.
The SwiftLaunch RLV introduced here is based accessed June 2001.
upon the lessons learned from earlier air launch J. Andrews, RLV Design Issues for Future
concepts. The SwiftLaunch RLV concept: Commercial Space Applications. AIAA Paper,
Lowers cost since it does not need a September 2000 (AIAA 2000-5104).
dedicated carrier aircraft and it only expends
its propellant tank. accessed 6 June 2001.
Provides a significant improvement in safety K.R. Hampsten and J.M. Walker,
BladeRunner Aerospace Vehicle, AIAA Paper.
over other concepts due to its simple single
(AIAA 99-4616)
engine design, reusability, ascent stability, and 14
Patent filed with the United States Patent and
SafeAbort capability throughout its ascent.
Trademark Office, June 2000.
Can return payloads from orbit. 15
I-Shing Chang, Investigation of Space Launch
Has orbiters that can be configured as a 3- Vehicle Catastrophic Failure, AIAA Paper, July
person crew transfer vehicle, an ISS cargo 1995. (AIAA 95-3128)
transfer vehicle, a space maneuver vehicle, or 16
L.B. Bush and C.A. Lentz, Structural Design
as a commercial cargo vehicle. Considerations for a Personnel Launch System,
Has the range safety benefits of a SSTO Journal of Spacecraft and Rockets, Vol. 29, No. 1
vehicle since its ETank is expected to burn-up. January 1992.
Minimizes technical risk by using current
technology, off the shelf components, and
generous weight margins.

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics