GE Aircraft Engines (GEAE), in co-operation with NASA’s Space Launch Initiative Propulsion Office, has begun a study to develop a jet engine to power reusable flyback rocket boosters for a second-generation reusable launch vehicle.
The Space Launch Initiative Propulsion Office launched the study to assess military and commercial jet engines that could power a reusable booster.
The Space Shuttle currently uses solid rocket boosters that are parachuted into the sea and retrieved for reuse after launch. The Space Launch Initiative is considering vehicle concepts that would fly first stage boosters back to a designated landing site after separation from the second stage vehicle.
These flyback boosters would be powered by jet engines once the booster rocket engines have shutdown and have been separated from the second stage.
The powered flyback booster would include several jet engines integrated into the booster capable of providing over 100,000 pounds of thrust. The booster would land on a designated runway shortly after launch.
NASA’s new study is set to determine the requirements for the engines and identify risk mitigation activities including understanding the impact to current engine designs, the approach to addressing risk issues, and the costs associated with jet engine development and production.
In addition to the flyback study, GEAE recently began developing a high-speed turbine technology for a new Mach 4 jet engine in conjunction with NASA’s Glenn Research Centre.
GEAE was selected for the development of a Revolutionary Turbine Accelerator (RTA) technology demonstrator that may lead to installation on a third-generation reusable launch vehicle.
The RTA features an augmentor/ramburner, a key technology to be developed for the Turbine Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) engine. During take-off and transition to supersonic flight, this device will serve as a conventional augmentor, boosting the turbine engine thrust approximately 50%.
Between Mach 2 and 3, the augmentor transitions to a ramburner, accelerating the vehicle to speeds above Mach 4. In addition, GEAE is constructing a fan to demonstrate the performance and efficiency of the new augmentor/ramburner.
Research is being conducted on several possible concepts for third-generation reusable launch vehicles that would incorporate the RTA. In one such concept, the RTA would be used on the first stage of a two-stage vehicle capable of hypersonic flight. At Mach 4, the second stage would take over and propel the vehicle into orbit.
The two combined propulsion systems are a said to be candidates to help NASA meet the agency’s goal of developing safe, cost-effective access to space.