Thursday, June 7, 2018

Half-size Ariane core stage for a reusable launcher.

Copyright 2018 Robert Clark

 Long-time space advocates will recall back in the late 90's there was a push for large numbers of communication satellites for the purposes of cell-phone communication. This led to the creation of several private launch companies then to serve what was expected to be hundreds to thousands of required launches.

 However, it turned out the great majority of cell-phone communications could be served by terrestrial cell towers. The large satellite constellation plans were then abandoned, and those private launch companies then collapsed.

 But now once again there are renewed plans for satellite megaconstellations containing hundreds to thousands of satellites, such as OneWeb or SpaceX's StarLink. This time it is primarily for high speed internet service. This time there is billion dollar backing for the projects and there have been preliminary launches to test the idea.

 It's very likely now that the projects will take place. For space advocates, an important result of the large numbers of launches required is that it provides a clear advantage for low cost reusable launchers.

 SpaceX always believed reusable launchers could be financially feasible. But other space launch providers were skeptical. They didn't think the number of launches under the current market would pay for reusability.

 But now with the advent of the new megaconstellation plans even previously skeptical Arianespace plans to transition to reusability. See for example the articles here:

 One project Arianspace is planning is called Callisto. It is to be a small sized hydrolox test vehicle to test reusable, vertical landing boosters. It is to be analogous to the SpaceX Grasshopper tests.

 However, unlike the SpaceX Grasshopper that used the original Merlin engines and the same F9 propellant tanks, though perhaps only partially filled, the Callisto plan is to use an entirely newly designed and built stage.

 I see a problem with this. For the money spent on Callisto, it will not be an actual operational vehicle. This mirrors a problem with the X-33 test vehicle that was supposed to test the technologies for an operational SSTO vehicle. But for all the money spent on the X-33, it itself would not have been an operational vehicle.

 I believe this was a mistake. It would have been better if the X-33 itself was to be used as an operational vehicle. It could have been used as a reusable first stage booster to cut costs for a two-stage to orbit system, a la the SpaceX plan:

DARPA's Spaceplane: an X-33 version.

 Then my recommendation is not to repeat the mistake of the X-33 program by instead actually using operational stages to test reusability and vertical landing.

 This could be done with two existing Arianespace stages. The Ariane 5 core stage and the Ariane H10-3 cryogenic upper stage. In both cases you would use partially filled tanks, approx. half-filled so that the stage could lift-off on their single engines.

 For the operational versions, you would make the tanks themselves half-size, instead of half-filling a full-sized tank, to save dry mass, at least for the Ariane 5 core. For the Ariane H10-3 for the upper stage use it might be able to carry its full propellant load dependent on the propellant load on the Ariane 5 core to be able to lift off on its single Vulcain engine.

 Another advantage of this approach is that it would finally provide Europe with an independent manned spaceflight capability.

 There is a key problem that would need to be solved. Discussion on on a space forum was that the Vulcain II is not throttleable. The HM7-B engine used on the Ariane H10-3 upper stage is also not throttleable. Then both engines would need to be upgraded to be throttleable. As support for the idea this should be feasible, it should be noted the original versions of the SpaceX Merlin engines prior to the Merlin 1D were not throttleable. SpaceX has also shown with its "hoverslam" approach to vertical landing, it would not have to have a high degree of throttleability. Probably the degree of throttleability common to liquid fuel engines in the range of 60% would be sufficient.
See discussion here:

A half-size Ariane for manned spaceflight.

 Bob Clark

UPDATE: 6/10/2018

 In the discussion above I forgot a key point. The most important factor in
regards to cost is not the development cost.
The key cost factor is what they would charge per flight for a reusable
launcher. Robert Zubrin made this point insightfully in one of his books. He
recounts that he made the argument for reusable launchers in his former job
with one of the big launch companies.

 He argued that they could cut the cost of launch by an order of magnitude.
The company execs responded: why would we do that? Their view was their
revenue would then be slashed by a factor of ten. They were assuming the
market would still be the same but they would be getting one-tenth the

 So the OldSpace companies were acting quite rationally in a business sense
in discounting reusability. They were saying the market was not enough to
make it advantageous to them.

 But if there were a large market then they would make more money making more launchers at the lower price. That is, the price would be reduced by a factor of ten but the number of launches would be increased by more than a factor of ten.

 Also, the importance of the large market and lowered prices for satellite
launches extends beyond that of just the satellite market. By making
launches at such reduced prices, that increases the possible market for
passenger flights to space. So the impending megaconstellation launches may
also bring to fruition the long desired routine passenger flights to space.

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