Copyright 2015 Robert Clark
I have become enamored of NASA's Morpheus lunar lander project. In the post "NASA Technology Transfer for manned BEO spaceflight", I discussed how it can be used to produce a manned lunar lander, or asteroidal lander, for a few 10's of millions of dollars, far less than the $10 billion estimated to be needed by NASA. And in "NASA Technology Transfer for Orbital Launchers", I discussed how its engines could be used for the small orbital launch system Firefly, resulting in a significant reduction in the launcher's development costs.
I don't think NASA fully appreciates the usefulness of the Morpheus development. Here I'll show how the Morpheus itself can be used to produce suborbital launchers, and also the stages for orbital launchers. For instance the Morpheus can be used to provide the solution to DARPA's ALASA air launched, small orbital system.
The Wikipedia page on the Morpheus gives its propellant load as 2.9 metric tons (mT) and dry mass as 1.1 mT. Its methane/LOX engine has an Isp of 321 s with a thrust of 24 kN, 2,450 kilogram-force (kgf).
Since this will be reaching high velocity through Earth's atmosphere it will have to be streamlined. Then we'll place the two propellant tanks inline vertically. We'll also need an aeroshell. To save weight we could make the aeroshell composite. Another possibility would be to make the aeroshell inflatable. Since the aeroshell would not need to be load-bearing and with the possibility to make it inflatable we'll assume it adds only a small proportion to the weight. We could save additionally weight by making the tanks out of aluminum-lithium alloy, titanium, or composites. Alternatively, we could use a cylindrical tank to hold the propellants to eliminate the need for an aeroshell.
This page gives the required delta-v for a suborbital flight as in the range of ca. 2,400 m/s:
Flight Mechanics of Manned Sub-Orbital Reusable Launch Vehicles with Recommendations for Launch and Recovery.
Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering Department, University of California, Davis, CA 95616-5294
Marti Sarigul-Klijn Ph.D. and Nesrin Sarigul-Klijn*, Ph.D.
An approximate delta V to reach 100 km is 7,000 to 8,000 fps (2,100 to 2,400 m/s) for vertical takeoff, with slightly less delta V needed for air launch, and significantly more required for horizontal takeoff.
Now, at a 1.5 mT propellant load, .5 mT dry mass, .25 mT payload, and 321 s Isp, the vehicle can do a delta-v of 321*9.81ln(1 + 1.5/(.5 + .25)) = 3,460 m/s, sufficient for a suborbital flight.
There are commercial opportunities for suborbital flight with NASA. Also using two to four copies or scaled up that many times this could also be used for a suborbital tourism vehicle.
DARPA Air-Launched Orbital Vehicle.
DARPA is funding research into a small air-launched system called ALASA, As described in the blog post "Dave Masten's DARPA Spaceplane, page 2: an Air Launched System", high altitude supersonic air-launch at Mach 2 can cut 1,600 m/s from the delta-v needed for low Earth orbit. This would reduce the delta-v that needed to be supplied by the rocket from 9,100 m/s to 7,500 m/s.
We'll use two copies of the half-size Morpheus firing in parallel and cross-feed fueling. Cross-feed fueling allows the upper stage to have its full level of fuel after staging, unlike the usual case with parallel staging. As in the earlier blog post, we'll again use the Star 17 solid stage as the final, orbital stage:
Solid propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 124/14 kg. Thrust 19.60 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 280 seconds.
Cost $ : 0.580 million.
Status: Out of production.
Gross mass: 124 kg (273 lb).
Unfuelled mass: 14 kg (30 lb).
Height: 0.98 m (3.21 ft).
Diameter: 0.44 m (1.44 ft).
Span: 0.44 m (1.44 ft).
Thrust: 19.60 kN (4,406 lbf).
Specific impulse: 280 s.
Specific impulse sea level: 220 s.
Burn time: 18 s.
Number: 25 .
Then we can get a payload of 55 kg to orbit by supersonic air-launch:
321*9.81ln(1 + 1.5/(.5 + 2.0 + .124 + .055)) + 321*9,81ln(1 + 1.5/(.5 + .124 + .055)) + 280*9.81ln(1 + .110/(.014 + .055)) = 7,690 m/s.