Volume 1, 2009Progress in Propulsion Physics
|569 - 592
|Air-Breathing, Turbomachinery, and LAPCAT
|16 September 2011
The microspace launcher: first step to the fully air-breathing space launcher
A possible application for the high-speed air-breathing propulsion is the fully or partially reusable space launcher. Indeed, by combining the high-speed air-breathing propulsion with a conventional rocket engine (combined cycle or combined propulsion system), it should be possible to improve the average installed specific impulse along the ascent trajectory and then make possible more performing launchers and, hopefully, a fully reusable one. During the last 15 years, a lot of system studies have been performed in France on that subject within the framework of different and consecutive programs. Nevertheless, these studies never clearly demonstrated that a space launcher could take advantage of using a combined propulsion system. During last years, the interest to air-breathing propulsion for space application has been revisited. During this review and taking into account technologies development activities already in progress in Europe, clear priorities have been identified regarding a minimum complementary research and technology program addressing specific needs of space launcher application. It was also clearly identified that there is the need to restart system studies taking advantage of recent progress made regarding knowledge, tools, and technology and focusing on more innovative airframe/propulsion system concepts enabling better trade-off between structural efficiency and propulsion system performance. In that field, a fully axisymmetric configuration has been considered for a microspace launcher (10 kg payload). The vehicle is based on a main stage powered by air-breathing propulsion, combined or not with liquid rocket mode. A “kick stage,” powered by a solid rocket engine provides the final acceleration. A preliminary design has been performed for different variants: one using a separated booster and a purely air-breathing main stage, a second one using a booster and a main stage combining air-breathing and rocket mode, a third one without separated booster, the main stage ensuring the initial acceleration in liquid rocket mode and a complementary acceleration phase in rocket mode beyond the air-breathing propulsion system operation. Finally, the liquid rocket engine of this third variant can be replaced by a continuous detonation wave rocket engine. The paper describes the main guidelines for the design of these variants and provides their main characteristics. On this basis, the achievable performance, estimated by trajectory simulation, are detailed.
© Owned by the authors, published by EDP Sciences, 2009