PacAstro of Herndon, VA was a new transportation service company, formed in 1990 by Dr. Rick Fleeter, the founder of the successful satellite building company AeroAstro and also of ISSO, the small satellite industry association, to provide low cost, high quality transportation of small satellites to low earth orbit for approximately $5 million per launch using proven technology. As of mid-1992 PacAstro had scheduled a test launch for late 1995 and two commercial launches for 1996.
AeroAstro is a leader in the field of low-cost satellites for scientific, defense and commercial applications. The company had a major role in the highly successful ALEXIS satellite program at LANL, the MIT HETE program and the BU Terriers satellite.
The two-stage PacAstro vehicle design is based upon proven, economical, precise, safe and environmentally sound liquid rocket engine technology. Vehicle design and technologies have been selected to minimize overall mission cost to the customer while providing superior capabilities, reliability and performance.
AeroAstro Corporation of Herndon, VA, a small satellite builder founded in 1988, was an equity participant in PacAstro and has a teaming agreement with PacAstro to provide engineering design and prototyping of the vehicle. AeroAstro is also a customer for at least one PacAstro launch. PacAstro currently shares headquarters with AeroAstro.
In July 1992 PacAstro formed strategic alliances with Swedish Space Corporation of Solna, Sweden, Sumitomo Corporation of Tokyo, Japan and AeroAstro, Herndon, VA in the development of its commerical small launch vehicle service. In addition, TRW of Redondo Beach, CA is under subcontract to PacAstro.
Under its subcontract, TRW will provide marketing support for the PacAstro service and will define the engines to be integrated in the launch vehicle. TRW will also perform vehicle and subsystem design and optimization. TRW has a 30 year history of accomplishments in space including manufacture of space vehicle propulsion systems. The engine defined for PacAstro is rooted in the highly successful Lunar Module Descent Engine (LMDE) built by TRW which achieved soft landings on the moon for all of the Apollo lunar modules.
The Swedish Space Corporation (SSC), which has provided the market with close to 400 successful sounding rocket launches in the past 20 years, has signed an agreement with PacAstro to supply engineering work, launch operations, vehicle subsystems and marketing services.
As of 1996 PacAstro had at least three contracts; customers included KITcom of Australia which plans to launch satellites similar to Orbcomm, and the Swedish Space Corp. Much of the technology was to be developed under contract with US Air Force for a sounding rocket dubbed PA-X. The PA-2 will carry 340 kg (750 lbs) to LEO or 225 kg (500 lbs) to a polar orbit for $6 million dollars.
By 1997 AeroAstro was building PA-X, the first in a family of small, low cost, environmentally sound rockets. PA-X is a suborbital demonstration vehicle being built for the Phillips Laboratory of the U.S. Air Force. It was scheduled to be static hot fired in Spring '98, and flight tested a few months later. PA-X, in addition to providing the Air Force with a unique and desirable set of capabilities for suborbital missions, was the precursor for development of a family of low cost, liquid fueled, orbital launch vehicles.
The R210 (world's smallest orbital launcher) was designed for Bitsy class (10kg) satellites, providing the lowest cost complete mission solution available anywhere. The R2150 is also a two-stage vehicle optimized for HETE/ALEXIS class (150kg) satellites. Its low cost/high reliablity design had already attracted launch agreements from KITComm, Spectrum Astro, Swedish Space Corporation and others. Launch costs resulting from its minimum cost design and leverage of low cost technologies developed at AeroAstro, are the lowest by far in its class.
During 1 1/2 years of developmental testing the PA-E engine underwent over 70 hot fire tests, including extensive stability rating tests with a steel workhorse chamber. The PA-X engine was demonstrated to be dynamically stable over a range of chamber pressures and mixture ratios when perturbed by a 50% Pc overpressure pulse. The most recent testing concluded with a 60 second firing on Sept 5th in demonstration of the PA-X flight burn. The PA-E 12k lbf engine testing concluded in January of 1998 and resulted in a flight engine that is qualified for the PA-X vehicle flight. AeroAstro conducted the testing of the PA-E engine at the Air Force Research Laboratory's Propulsion Directorate at Edwards Air Force Base.
The PA-E injector is unique in its use of liquid oxygen cooling of the faceplate. This innovative technology provides the PA-E injector with an exceptional cooling margin that contributes to the design's robust operation. The PA-E chamber is ablatively cooled using conventional technology.
Initial tests of the PA-X engine, operating at 150 psi chamber pressure generated 12,500 lbf of sea level thrust. In June 1998, AeroAstro planned to begin testing a new, lighter version of the injector. During this next round of testing, the engine was to be tested at 26,000 lbf sea level thrust with a Pc of 300 psi. This expanded operational range is allowed by slight modifications to the injector and demonstrates an advantage of liquid oxygen cooling technology.
PacAstro built an engine big enough to launch several micro and nanosatellites to LEO, and cheap enough to do it for a few million dollars. But it didn't raise the many millions of dollars needed to finish building the rocket vehicle. Since 1997, AeroAstro has taken a different tact to navigate the smallest satellites into orbit.
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