Space: November 17, 2001

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RASCAL is a new Pentagon system for launching small military satellites. The Responsive Access Small Cargo Affordable Launch system would have a special aircraft as its first stage, then use a two-stage rocket for the second stage. The aircraft portion will take off, climb to 30,000 feet, initiate a mach-5 zoom to 90,000 feet, cut its engines and coast to 130,000 feet or more, deploy the booster rocket (which will be carried internally), launch it, then glide back down to 50,000 feet where its engines will take over for a powered landing. The aircraft will use turbofan engines, but during its zoom climb a special system will inject liquid oxygen into the oversized inlets. This will cool the engine (so it won't burn out any faster than it would used at subsonic speeds), and increase the power (by providing more oxidizer for high-altitude operations). The booster rocket will be carried internally so that it can be cheaper and lighter, without the expensive nose cone to cover the satellite and without having to be particularly aerodynamic. Because the aircraft portion could operate from a normal runway, it would be possible to launch these small military payloads (110 pounds or so) without months of preparation and without waiting for a "launch window". The aircraft portion could simply fly to any point where a launch window exists. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency expects to have the system operational in four years and that it will cost about $22,000 per "pound in orbit".--Stephen V Cole

 


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