Air Force wants reusable rocket ships

Air Force also works with NASA to develop reusable rockets

air force space program
The Air Force today said it would launch a program that would bring it reusable rockets that could carry military payloads into space and return to Earth. 

Known as the Reusable Booster System (RBS) Pathfinder, the spacecraft would consist of an autonomous, reusable, rocket-powered first stage with an expendable upper stage.  The reusable first stage would launch vertically and carry the expendable ship to a particular point in orbit. The reusable portion would return to the launch base, landing aircraft-style on a runway, the Air Force stated.  

21 critical future NASA missions

 One of the most direct ways for the return flight to take place is known as a rocket-back maneuver where upon delivery of its payload, the rocket would immediately swing around or reverse direction and use its main engine to fly directly back to the launch site, the Air Force stated.  The return to launch site maneuver is completed with an unpowered reentry and gliding flight and landing.

The Air Force said the Pathfinder also has a number of other requirements, including:

1.       low-manpower requirements

2.       The use of Liquid Oxygen and Kerosene as main propellants

3.       Reusable, highly reliable systems with extensive use of Integrated System Health Management to ensure system operations. 

According  to an Aviation Week article Pathfinder is envisaged as a four-phase, 48-month, $33 million program. Up to three companies would be awarded Phase 1 study contracts totaling $4.5 million, after which one team would be selected to design the demonstrator and conduct first a propulsion-system ground test then at least two booster flights followed by three or more rocket-back tests. 

Such space work is hardly new to the Air Force.  Recently NASA said it would partner with the US Air Force Research Laboratory to develop a technology roadmap for use of reusable commercial spaceships.

The study of reusable launch vehicle will focus on identifying technologies and assessing their potential use to accelerate the development of commercial reusable launch vehicles that have improved reliability, availability, launch turn-time, robustness and significantly lower costs than current launch systems, NASA stated.  The study results will provide roadmaps with recommended government technology tasks and milestones for different vehicle categories.

 NASA and the Air Force will begin the study by soliciting feedback from the emerging commercial space industry regarding emerging or existing technologies that would most benefit their existing and near-term space vehicle systems.

 According to NASA it will look at four categories of space vehicles to develop its roadmap: 

1.Reusable, sub-orbital vehicles

 2.Expendable and partially reusable, orbital vehicles 

3.Reusable, two-stage orbital vehicles 

4.Advanced vehicle concepts, such as single stage to orbit, air-breathing systems, in-flight refueling, and tethered upper stage

 Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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