Boeing studying air-launched addition to launch vehicle family
3 March 2000
Boeing and Thiokol Propulsion are looking at ways of making it easier to get military payloads into space, which could be adapted to civil and commercial use.
The US Air Force has identified a need for a Space Manoeuvre Vehicle (SMV), a small, unpiloted reusable spacecraft that can lift approximately 7,500 lb. (3,000 kg.) to low Earth orbit (LEO). SMV is designed to support a variety of military space missions ranging from satellite deployment to terrestrial and on-orbit support.
The Boeing Thiokol solution is the AirLaunch system, which consists of two basic configurations. The first would support the military and would be capable of placing an SMV into LEO. The second configuration would be available for civil, commercial and military applications using a Conventional Payload Module.
A modified Boeing 747-400F would carry the AirLaunch vehicle to a predetermined launch altitude. During the launch sequence the vehicle's wing and tail assembly would provide the necessary lift and lateral stability until 747/launch vehicle separation was achieved. After ignition, the launch vehicle wing and tail assembly would be jettisoned.
Thiokol Propulsion would provide the AirLaunch solid rocket motors in a multi-stage configuration. Currently, Thiokol has existing solid rocket motors suitable for the first two stages and is working on a design that is well matched for the AirLaunch third stage.
While the AirLaunch system is being developed primarily as a near-term, low-cost, launch-on-demand system for the military, "its additional capabilities would advance the Boeing's overall launch vehicle strategy," said Rick Stephens, vice president and general manager of Boeing Reusable Space Systems. "AirLaunch could be used to support the deployment and replenishment of LEO communications satellites, hypersonic research, remote sensing and technology development."
"The AirLaunch system will revolutionise space transportation for both national and commercial needs by combining new low-risk technologies together with demonstrated legacy systems," said Robert Crippen, Thiokol Propulsion president.
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