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Space Systems/Loral of Palo Alto, California, has proposed Aquarius, a low-cost launch vehicle designed to carry small, inexpensive payloads into LEO. This vehicle is primarily intended to launch into orbit bulk products, such as water, fuel, and other consumables, that are inexpensive to replace.

As currently designed, Aquarius will be a single-stage vehicle 43 meters (141 feet) high and 4 meters (13.1 feet) in diameter and powered by a single engine using liquid hydrogen and oxygen propellants. The vehicle is floated in the ocean before launch to minimize launch infrastructure and will be able to place a 1,000-kilogram (2,205-pound) payload into a 200-kilometer (125-mile), 52-degree orbit.

Located in the base of the vehicle, the payload will be extracted by an orbiting space tug for transfer to its ultimate destination. After payload extraction is completed, the vehicle will deorbit and be destroyed.

Space Systems/Loral studied Aquarius under a $110,000 grant awarded by the state of California in April 2001 and delivered a final report in June 2002. Space Systems/Loral teamed with Microcosm, Inc., of El Segundo, California, and Wilson Composite Technologies of Folsom, California, for the study.

Funding of $1 million was provided in the fiscal year 2004 Defense Appropriations Act to develop a prototype of the low-cost engine for the vehicle. The engine would provide 1.8 million newtons (400,000 pounds) of thrust, using liquid hydrogen and oxygen as propellants. For engine development, Space Systems/Loral partnered with Aerojet, a GenCorp Company based in Sacramento, California, and Microcosm.

This program is expected to proceed under the auspices of the AFRL. Space Systems/Loral has submitted a proposal for development of the large lightweight liquid hydrogen tank required for this vehicle, which is currently being considered for federal funding.

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