X-60 GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight research vehicle
The Air Force designated the GOLauncher1 hypersonic flight research vehicle as X-60A. This is the first Air Force Small Business Innovative Research program to receive an experimental “X” designation. The vehicle is being developed by Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division. It is an air-dropped liquid rocket, specifically designed for hypersonic flight research to mature technologies including scramjet propulsion, high temperature materials and autonomous control.
This project focuses on a single stage liquid rocket, GoLauncher 1, launched from a Gulfstream III, capable of delivering payloads up to 1,000 pounds on high-altitude suborbital and suppressed hypersonic trajectories. Generation Orbit Launch Services is partnering with the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center to conduct a flight test campaign for the GOLauncher1 Inert Test Article (ITA), which is a mass properties and aerodynamics simulator for the GOLauncher 1 vehicle. The campaign includes three major elements: aircraft integration, captive carry, and release testing.
Atlanta-based Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO) focuses on providing fast, flexible, and dedicated space transportation services for small payloads. The unique air launch approach developed by GO and its partners offers flexible launch capabilities, poised to reduce fixed infrastructure needs, launch costs, and the time from contract signature to launch. Air launch system experience at GO dates back over 10 years, providing a distinct advantage throughout the design and analysis process. As a systems integrator, GO compiles multiple aspects of the launch architecture to provide a streamlined service to government and industry customers alike. “The X-60A is like a flying wind tunnel to capture data that complements our current ground test capability,” Col. Colin Tucker, Military Deputy, office of the deputy assistant secretary of the Air Force for science, technology, and engineering said 04 October 2018. “We’ve long needed this type of test vehicle to better understand how materials and other technologies behave while flying at more than 5 times the speed of sound. It enables faster development of both our current hypersonic weapon rapid prototypes and evolving future systems.”
Utilizing new space commercial development, licensing, and operations practices, X-60A is envisioned to provide the Air Force, other U.S. Government agencies, and industry with a platform to more rapidly mature technologies. The X-60A rocket vehicle propulsion system is the Hadley liquid rocket engine, which utilizes liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants. The system is designed to provide affordable and regular access to high dynamic pressure flight conditions between Mach 5 and Mach 8.
NASA is partnering with U.S. companies to advance small spacecraft and launch vehicle technologies that are on the verge of maturation and are likely to benefit both NASA and the commercial space market. NASA secured partnerships with 13 U.S. companies through the Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO) solicitation, "Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Emerging Space Technology System Capabilities.” Through these partnerships, NASA provides technical expertise and test facilities to aid industry partners in maturing key space technologies.
Announced Nov. 19, 2015, the Technology Maturation and Flight Validation for Air Launched Liquid Rockets project with Generation Orbit Launch Services of Atlanta, GA focused on a single stage liquid rocket, GoLauncher 1, launched from a Gulfstream III, capable of delivering payloads up to 1,000 pounds on high-altitude suborbital and suppressed hypersonic trajectories. Generation Orbit Launch Services is partnering with the NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center to conduct a flight test campaign for the GOLauncher1 Inert Test Article (ITA), which is a mass properties and aerodynamics simulator for the GOLauncher 1 vehicle. The campaign includes three major elements: aircraft integration, captive carry, and release testing.
Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO) announced the award of a SBIR Phase II Extension from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division (AFRL/RQHV) to enable wind tunnel and integrated hot fire testing of the GO1 hypersonic testbed. These efforts will further the development of the vehicle by validating aerodynamic models and demonstrating the functionality of the fully integrated GO1 rocket vehicle system. Wind tunnel testing will be accomplished at the AFRL Trisonic Gas Dynamics Facility and Mach 6 Wind Tunnel Facility at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH. Integrated hot fire testing will be conducted at AFRL’s Rocket Lab test facilities at Edwards Air Force Base, CA.
“By the time these two test campaigns are complete, we’ll be well ahead of the curve in terms of our knowledge and understanding of how the vehicle hardware and software work” commented A.J. Piplica, Chief Operating Officer at GO. “The team is excited to apply what we’re learning here toward finalizing the detailed design of GO1 and pressing forward toward vehicle production and test flights in short order.”
Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO) announced the award of a Follow-On Phase II SBIR (Small Business Innovative Research) contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory, Aerospace Systems Directorate, High Speed Systems Division (AFRL/RQH) for development and flight testing of the GOLauncher 1 (GO1). The single stage liquid rocket, launched from a Gulfstream III business jet, will conduct its inaugural flight test in 2019, reaching Mach 6 within the atmosphere. The flight will mark the initial operational capability of the world’s first commercially-available hypersonic test bed, empowering hypersonic researchers with affordable and flexible access to hypersonic flight environments. This effort is a follow-on of the Phase I and Phase II SBIR Contracts awarded to Generation Orbit by AFRL in July of 2014 and August of 2015, respectively.
“Building on the design and prototyping efforts we are currently engaged in for GO1, we are excited about the opportunity to bring the system together in flight,” commented A.J. Piplica, Chief Executive Officer at GO. “With this hypersonic flight capability available, we hope to see the pace of technology development for high speed flight accelerate in the coming years. From a commercial standpoint, we look forward to taking the first steps toward the operational hypersonic flight systems of the future, creating new markets and truly shrinking the world.”
AFRL project manager, Barry Hellman, also commented on the program. “The design of GO1 builds upon the successes of AFRL’s Hypersonic International Flight Research & Experimentation (HIFiRE) program. GO1 has the potential to significantly increase the rate of hypersonic testing and support testing of a wide range of hypersonic payloads. We have been very pleased with the innovative ideas incorporated into GO1 and the opportunity that the SBIR program has enabled to develop this capability.”
NASA Armstrong flew an inert test article of AFRL funder GOLauncher1 in Dec. 2017. This test gathered aerodynamic, flight dynamics, and structural data for carrying GO1 under a Gulfstream-III. This testing including the launch maneuver up 30deg flight path angle at Mach 0.7
Generation Orbit Launch Services, Inc. (GO) completed the GO1 Inert Test Article captive carry flight test program. Under a public-private partnership with NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center, GO developed the GO1-ITA, a mass properties and outer mold line simulator for the GO1 hypersonic flight testbed and earned NASA airworthiness approval for flight on NASA’s C-20a.
NASA’s C-20a was originally modified to add a centerline hard point to carry the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) pod. Together with the NASA Armstrong team, a campaign of three flight tests was conducted, successfully completing all test objectives including clearing the operational flight envelope of the C-20a with the GO1-ITA mounted to the centerline hard point, as well as demonstration of the unique launch maneuver designed for air launch of the GO1 on operational flights starting in 2019. Data collected during the campaign will be used to validate models and inform the ongoing design and development of GO1.
The GO-NASA partnership was conducted under a 2015 NASA Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Announcement of Collaborative Opportunity (ACO): Utilizing Public-Private Partnerships to Advance Emerging Space Technology System Capabilities entitled “Technology Maturation and Flight Validation for Air Launched Liquid Rockets.” The non-reimbursable Space Act Agreement was signed in April 2016.
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