's Aquarius Launch Vehicle
is a low-cost launch vehicle designed to carry small, inexpensive payoads into LEO
. The vehicle will be primarily intended to launch into orbit bulk products, like water, fuel, and other consumables, that are inexpensive to replace in the event of a launch failure. The target launch cost is $1 million. As currently designed, Aquarius will be a single-stage vehicle 43 meters (141 feet) high and 4 meters (13.1 feet) in diameter and powered by a single engine using liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants. The vehicle is floated in the ocean prior to launch to minimize launch infrastructure and will be able to place a 1,000-kilogram (2,200-pound) payload into a 200-kilometer (125-mile), 52-degree orbit. The payload, located in the base of the vehicle, will be extracted by an orbiting space tug for transfer to its ultimate destination, after which the vehicle will de-orbit and be destroyed.
Space Systems/Loral studied Aquarius under a $110,000 grant awarded by the state of California in April 2001 and delivered a final report in June 2002. Space Systems/Loral teamed with Microcosm of El Segundo, California, and Wilson Composite Technologies of Folsom, California, for the study. One output of the study was a video summarizing Aquarius's concept, design, reliability, floating launch, and infrastructure; see below for external links to this video in two parts. Funding of $1 million was provided in the FY 2004 Defense Appropriations Act to develop a prototype of the low-cost engine for the vehicle. The engine would provide 400,000 pounds-force (1.8 MN) of thrust using liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen as propellants. For the engine development, Space Systems/Loral is partnered with Aerojet, a GenCorp Company based in Sacramento, California, ORBITEC of Madison, Wisconsin, and Microcosm. This program was conducted under the auspices of the Air Force Research Laboratory and was successfully completed in 2006. It confirmed that an ORBITEC engine design with inherently low cost can be scaled up to an intermediate thrust level, from which the next scale-up step to Aquarius should be achievable.
(from pp. 14–15)
- Part 1 of Aquarius video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mEHawjnn4Ak
- Part 2 of Aquarius video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-Mko5sC5yM
- Space Time magazine, May/June 2001