Kelly Space and Technology and Vought Aircraft Industries have announced the signing of an agreement to develop a 2nd Generation Reusable Space Launch Vehicle (RLV) System and associated technologies in co-operation with NASA.
NASA’s 2nd Generation RLV program, part of the agency’s Space Launch Initiative, is designed to advance RLV system architectures and reduce commercial investment risk.
The team’s submission includes proposals for RLV architecture systems engineering and several technology risk reduction activities. Kelly Space will serve as the prime contractor and lead the architecture definition and systems engineering activities. Vought will lead development and advancement of key technology elements.
Under its proposals, the team will continue to refine its 2nd Generation RLV architectures and system designs, leading to production of a safe, more reliable, commercially viable space transportation system.
The Kelly Space horizontal takeoff, multiple-stage to orbit, piloted RLV concept uses the company’s patented tow-launch technology, which uses a Boeing 747 aircraft and tow cable system to assist in ascent of the RLV system to its 20,000-foot airborne launch site.
Horizontal takeoff and initiation of rocket-powered flight from an airborne location is said to allow increased operational flexibility, facilitate enhanced crew and passenger safety, significantly improve system reliability, and lower the cost to government and commercial customers for launch of their crews, passengers and cargoes.
In addition to satellites and other cargoes, the Kelly Space RLV system may carry astronauts and private citizens to and from space.
In 1998 Kelly Space demonstrated the tow-to-launch technology in a successful US Air Force small business innovative research (SBIR) program, conducted with NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Centre and the Air Force Flight Test Centre.
Airframe design and integration is said to be the cornerstone of Vought’s participation in the RLV program. Vought has said it will leverage its extensive commercial airframes systems engineering expertise to translate requirements into structural design criteria.
The scope of this effort includes developing the vehicle’s computer-aided design, finite element and thermal models. It also includes airframe studies to ensure that system affordability, reliability; safety, operability and performance requirements are achieved.