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RASCAL - Responsive Access, Small Cargo, Affordable Launch / SLC-1

DARPA's Responsive Access, Small Cargo, Affordable Launch (RASCAL) program will design and develop a low cost orbital insertion capability for dedicated micro-size satellite payloads. The concept is to develop a responsive, routine, small payload delivery system capable of providing flexible access to space using a combination of reusable and low cost expendable vehicle elements. The technical objective of the RASCAL program is to demonstrate the feasibility of a rapid, routine small payload delivery system, capable of providing flexible access to space, using a combination of reusable and low cost expendable vehicle elements.

Specifically, the RASCAL system will be comprised of a reusable airplane-like first stage vehicle called the mass injection pre-compressor cooling (MIPPC) powered vehicle (MPV) and a second and third stage expendable rocket vehicle (ERV). RASCAL is a five year program to demonstrate the feasibility of coupled high speed/hypersonic flight, affordable access to space and small payload systems.

The US Air Force, in 2001, issued a Mission Need Statement (MNS) outlining the requirements for Operationally Responsive Spacelift. The RASCAL demonstration objectives are to place satellites and commodity payloads, between 50 and 130 kilograms in weight, into low-earth orbit at any time, with launch efficiency of $20,000 per kilogram or less.

While the cost goal is commensurate with current large payload launch systems, the operational system, through production economies of scale, will be more than a factor of three less than current capabilities for the dedicated micro payload size. This capability will enable cost effective use of on-orbit replacement and re-supply and provide a means for rapid launch of orbital assets for changing national security needs.

The RASCAL program will validate the ability to operate from a 2,500-meter runway with minimal peculiar support equipment and independent of test ranges for telemetry and tracking support. It will also demonstrate mission turn-around time within 24 hours of payload arrival.

This program will utilize reusable an 80,000-pound, winged reusable vehicle for the first stage and will take advantage of low-cost rocket technologies for the expendable upper stages. With recent advances in design tools and simulations, this program will prudently reduce design margins and trade-off system reliability to maximize cost effectiveness. This program will also leverage advancements in autonomous range safety, first-stage guidance; and predictive vehicle health diagnosis, management and reporting to lower the recurring costs of space launch.

The power plant is comprised of conventional, military gas turbine engines but with a technology enhancement called Mass Injection and Pre-Compressor Cooling (MIPCC) that allows for higher Mach number and altitude operation. This capability is required for the MPV to accomplish a zoom maneuver in which the vehicle accelerates as it climbs to very high altitude. There it deploys the expendable upper stage that places the payload on obit. The reusable MPV then decelerates upon reentry and lands on a conventional runway.

RASCAL is a five-year, $88 million program. An operational RASCAL system was initially planned for 2007.

On 22 April 2002 DARPA selected six contractor teams for the first phase of the RASCAL Demonstration program. Each team expected to receive between $1,000,000 and $2,000,000 for the nine-month phase one study. The selected teams were:

  • Coleman Research Corp., Orlando, Fla., teamed with Vela, Pan Aero, and XCOR Aerospace;
  • Northrop Grumman Corp., Rancho Barnardo, Calif., teamed with Orbital Sciences Corp., NASA, and Spath Engineering;
  • Pioneer Rocketplane Corp., Solvang, Calif., teamed with Scale Composite, Microcosm, Orbitec, and HMX;
  • Space Launch Corp., Costa Mesa, Calif., teamed with Scale Composite;
  • Space Access-LLC, Palmdale, Calif., teamed with APRI, Honeywell, and Microcosm; and
  • Delta Velocity, Leesburg, Va., teamed with A 2 I 2 , ATK, and Athena.

Although the leader of one performing team, Coleman Research Corporation, is a traditional defense supplier, three team members are nontraditional and participating substantially in the first phase of this project: Vela Technology Development, Inc.; PanAero, Incorporated; and XCOR Aerospace, Inc. The use of an other transaction provided access to these commercial firms, thereby broadening the technology base.

The use of an other transaction resulted in a more flexible, tailored allocation of intellectual property rights than is possible under a procurement contract. It also allowed the members of this team to utilize their normal operating practices, whether commercial or government oriented, without being forced into standardized government systems and procedures, especially for accounting, reporting, and making changes. This flexibility contributes to innovative pursuit of technical accomplishment, free of rigid requirements which are not appropriate for this collaboration.

The Pioneer Rocketplane/HMX team is an entrepreneurial small business cooperation, established to revolutionize space access by developing low risk, profitable, reusable launch vehicles and associated systems. Not only is the team itself a nontraditional performer tailored to this project, but several of its members are nontraditional defense suppliers in their own right (Pioneer Rocketplane, HMX, Inc., and Aurora Flight Sciences). The use of an other transaction provided access to these nontraditional performers, thereby broadening the technical base. The Pioneer Rocketplane/HMX team will use a disciplined, but innovative, systems engineering approach to integrate government requirements with the commercial marketplace to develop next generation space launch systems. This

Phase one ended with a spiral downselect from these six teams to two teams to continue with system design for a 12-month second phase. On 13 March 2003 DARPA today selected Space Launch Corp., Irvine, Calif., to move into the 18-month second phase of the RASCAL program.

Based on the results of phase two, DARPA will determine whether to continue on into phase three. During phase three, a single winning contractor will fabricate, integrate and flight-demonstrate two payload insertions in FY 2006.

The Space Launch Corporation of Irvine, California, is in the initial development stages of its SLC-1 launch system. The SLC-1 will use a small expendable booster, consisting of multiple, custom-built stages based on existing technology. The booster will be deployed from a turbojet-powered aircraft and be able to place payloads of up to 150 kilograms (330 pounds) into a 500-kilometer (311-mile) orbit inclined at 28.5 degrees.

The company is targeting microsatellites and other small payloads that would otherwise be launched as secondary payloads on larger vehicles.

The Space Launch Corporation was selected as the sole prime contractor for DARPA's Responsive Access, Small Cargo, Affordable Launch (RASCAL) program in March 2003. RASCAL is a new tactical launch system that will provide the US military with the ability to launch time critical space-based assets within hours of detection of an emerging threat. Under the DARPA RASCAL program, Space Launch expects to achieve mission recurring costs of less than $10,000 per kilogram.

In November 2004, the Space Launch Corporation announced successful completion of the second phase of the DARPA RASCAL program. The goal of Phase 2 was to advance the design of the RASCAL system concept and mitigate the technical risks identified in Phase 1. The RASCAL system consists of two major elements; the MIPCC-Powered Vehicle (MPV), a new aircraft employing mass injection pre-compressor cooled turbojet engine technology, and a multi-stage expendable rocket vehicle (ERV). Phase 2 ended with a successful system preliminary design review (PDR).

Phase 3 of the RASCAL program, scheduled to begin in the first quarter of 2005, will culminate in the fabrication and inte-gration of a prototype RASCAL system and two flight demonstrations where a small payload will be launched into LEO. The first RASCAL demonstration launch was expected to take place in 2008.

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