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Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT)

The Commission on the Future of the U.S. Aerospace Industry states - "Aerospace is a technology-driven industry. Long-term research and innovation are the fuel for technology. U.S. aerospace leadership is a direct result of our preeminence in research and innovation…. reducing the cost to orbit is an essential ingredient for progress. The expense per pound of lifting humans, cargo and satellites into orbit has effectively limited us to utilizing space for only the most critical national missions. The result has been a narrowing, rather than a broadening, of our space ambitions."

NASA's Integrated Space Transportation Plan (ISTP) implemented a long-term investment strategy to increase safety and reliability and reduce the cost of space access. As a component of the ISTP, the Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT) Program was to make launch systems more safe, reliable and affordable, enhance national security, support future NASA exploration needs, and inspire and motivate students to pursue science and math careers.

The Next Generation Launch Technology program combines elements of two previous research efforts: the original Space Launch Initiative program – which sought to reduce the risk associated with flying a second-generation reusable launch vehicle in the 2012 timeframe – and NASA ’s former Advanced Space Transportation Program,which pursued propulsion, launch and flight technologies intended to yield options for third-generation launch vehicle concepts capable of flight in the 2025 timeframe.

The Next Generation Launch Technology program sought to develop and mature innovative technologies based on these predecessors.The program is pursuing new research in the areas of propulsion, structures, vehicle systems, and ground and flight operations. Overall, the NGLT program focused on the development of new technologies that provide NASA the means of improving safety and lowering launch costs.

  • NASA's Booster Engine Prototype (BEP) effort seeks to deliver a large-scale, prototype liquid-oxygen/kerosene engine system that will enable development of full-scale, flight-ready engines for a next generation reusable booster.
  • The Integrated Powerhead Demonstrator (IPD) project — which seeks to double the capability of booster engines providing access to space — is contributing new engine technologies for NGLT and Department of Defense propulsion research.
  • The X-43A, the first demonstrator vehicle in NASA's "Hyper-X" series of experimental hypersonic ground and flight test vehicles, will demonstrate "air-breathing" engine technologies for future hypersonic aircraft and/or reusable space launch vehicles, achieving speeds above Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.
  • The Turbine-Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) engine project seeks to deliver a Mach 4+ hypersonic propulsion system in this decade. Prime among its enabling technologies: the Revolutionary Turbine Accelerator (RTA), intended to demonstrate high mach turbine and TBCC propulsion for space access.
  • The Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (RBCC) engine system is for ground demonstration in this decade. The Integrated System Test of an Air-breathing Rocket (ISTAR) project is NASA's first flight-type system development and ground test of an RBCC propulsion system.
  • The RS-84 is one of two competing efforts now under way to develop an alternative to conventional, hydrogen-fueled engine technologies. The RS-84 is a reusable, staged combustion rocket engine fueled by kerosene — a relatively low-maintenance fuel with high performance and high density, meaning it takes less fuel-tank volume to permit greater propulsive force than other technologies. That benefit translates to more compact engine systems, easier fuel handling and loading on the ground, and shorter turnaround time between launches. All these gains, in turn, reduce the overall cost of launch operations, making routine space flight cheaper and more attractive to commercial enterprises.

Next Generation Launch Technology (NGLT) architecture definition efforts required innovative system analysis tools to determine the impact of critical technologies on the overall launch system infrastructure. Next generation of launch systems will require high overall vehicle payload mass to lift-off mass ratios, propulsion systems which deliver higher thrust to engine weight ratios, increased trajectory-averaged specific impulse, reliable overall vehicle systems performance, and extended reusability in order to achieve cost and crew safety goals.

US Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center finalized a research agreement that aims to certify a next-generation system to carry top-secret payloads into orbit, rocket manufacturer Orbital ATK said in a press release 05 January 2018.

"Orbital ATK announced it has signed a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the US Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC)," the release said on Thursday. "The CRADA provides the framework and plan for data exchanges needed to certify Orbital ATK’s Next Generation Launch (NGL) system to carry National Security Space missions."

The Orbital ATK system will be able to launch satellites that are too heavy for other launch vehicles, the release explained. An added benefit of Orbital's launch platform is that it shares subsystems such as common propulsion and avionics with other company products such as "missile defense interceptors, target vehicles and strategic missile systems," the release noted. Orbital ATK said the orbital system can also be used to launch scientific and commercial payloads.

The next chapter of Orbital's of next-generation launch development will take place in mid-2018, when the company plans to begin manufacturing the rocket and building launch sites planned for the states of Utah, Mississippi, Arizona, Florida and California, according to the release.

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