Find a Security Clearance Job!


Space Operations Vehicle (SOV)

The Space Access and Future Strike Systems opportunity area develops and validates technologies to increase responsiveness and reduce the cost of operating a full spectrum aerospace force with a comprehensive range of capabilities to control and exploit the seamless aerospace environment.

The primary focus at this time is on basic research to enable on-demand launch of military access-to-space missions and to greatly enhance the ability of high-speed aerospace vehicles to project power from CONUS bases against heavily-defended global targets. Affordable, responsive aerospace access and effective global power projection will be attained not by development of any single critical technology but by the successful maturation and integration of a number of advanced air vehicle and propulsion technologies, including the development of highly-efficient computational tools to accurately predict aero-thermal, structural, and propulsion responses and more importantly, multidisciplinary design and optimization methods to predict interactions.

Currently, envisioned air vehicle systems/concepts for potential technology application in this opportunity area include Military Spaceplanes with aircraft-like operability and the next generation of Long Range Strike Aircraft (LRSA). Concepts will be developed for the Air Force's first responsive Military Spaceplane, entitled the Space Operations Vehicle (SOV), that provide a highly flexible, reusable space launch vehicle capable of performing a broad range of military missions in and through space. The SOV must provide swift response, affordable cost, assured access to space, global coverage, and reduced vulnerability to enemy defenses; employing either an orbital or sub-orbital profile.

Missions include providing launch-on-demand Spacelift for small to medium payloads, providing ISR and space control by deploying the Space Maneuver Vehicle (SMV) with assorted ISR/space control payloads, use of the SMV to perform limited on orbit servicing operations, and deploying the Common Aero Vehicle (CAV) to perform conventional global strike missions. Concepts will be developed for the Long Range Strike Aircraft (LRSA) that provide the Air Force with the ability to project military power from CONUS anywhere around the globe and respond rapidly to enable combat operations even when it has no permanent military presence or only limited infrastructure in a region. Key concepts of interest include Mach 2-4+ aircraft, standoff high speed/hypersonic missiles, and the global reach CAV concept.

The technologies that enable SOV and LRSA concepts have potential dual use commercial applications on future commercial aircraft and Spacelift systems. Specific technology areas of interest include but are not limited to:

  • Airframe technologies including hot structures, integrated thermal structures, thermal protection systems, propellant tanks, etc.
  • Weapons and payloads including weapons integration, SMV, and CAV.
  • Flight critical subsystems including GN&C, avionics, power systems, electro mechanical and electro hydraulic actuators, modeling and simulation, integrated vehicle health management, etc.
  • Propulsion including aero-propulsion integration and overall system level impacts.
  • Demonstration and Integration including aero sciences, operations modeling and simulation, life cycle costing and systems engineering for technology assessment, and major ground and flight demonstration test articles.

High speed systems such as the Space Operations Vehicle can provide the seamless aerospace operations envisioned by the Global Engagement Strategy and would be an important adjunct to the Expeditionary Aerospace Force. The technologies required by these military systems, provide numerous enhancing opportunities for civilian systems such as the NASA Reusable Launch Vehicle and other commercially driven space access vehicles.

The technologies available today in electric actuation, thermal protection systems, thermal management systems, cryogenic structures, vehicle management systems, and design and analysis tools are insufficient to deliver an affordable vehicle that can be operated at the tempo required for an effective military system. Advances in electric actuation are required to enable the elimination of hydraulic fluids from these vehicles and the attendant maintenance burden. Higher energy densities and improved actuation response are critical needs to be met. Thermal protection systems are heavy, require frequent refurbishment or replacement, and are expensive to acquire. Lighter weight, longer life concepts must be developed. These concepts should eliminate the need for waterproofing such as is done on the Space Shuttle, require little or no inspection (beyond visual) in the field, and be less expensive than those under development within the X-33 program. High temperature cryogenic tanks can reduce and eliminate high temperature insulation and thermal protection systems, which will lower weight. Polyimide, titanium, or ceramic composites are potential candidate high temperature tank concepts. Compatibility with liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen, or peroxide will have to be established. Photonic vehicle management systems will also offer improvements to the system. Coupled with health monitoring/prognostics these systems will allow rapid vehicle turnaround. Finally, design and analysis tools which can rapidly develop concepts, evaluate technology implications, and are more accurate would be beneficial. Proposals in any of these areas would be highly desirable.

A Space Operations Vehicle would benefit in terms of reduced operational cost and simplified logistics for aircraft-like operations if JP-8, available on all Air Force bases, could be used rather than RP-1. In addition to being much higher cost, a specialty fuel such as RP-1 would require a dedicated acquisition and storage system at all operational sites. RP-1 is now used in most current and planned military space launch vehicles, including Delta, Atlas, and Lockheed Martin's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) now in development. A higher density, higher performance, or lower cost hydrocarbon fuel could be substituted into any of these systems once it is shown to be acceptable for rocket engine operation. The logistical advantages of using the same fuel for both booster and gas turbines are significant, in addition to the obvious cost advantage of using a lower cost fuel. As the Air Force "migrates to space", it is to be expected that liquid hydrocarbon rocket fuels will begin to increase their share of the ~$3B that the Air Force spends yearly on liquid fuels.

Most commercial systems, such as Atlas, EELV, and Delta, use RP-1 as the fuel. Any cost or performance improvements to RP-1 or developments of alternatives to RP-1 would be directly transferable to these vehicles. The commercial launch market is now intensely competitive and any cost reductions or payload performance improvements are clearly advantageous in this marketplace. RP-1 and alternative hydrocarbons are good examples of dual use fuels, finding wide use in both commercial and military systems. The LFBB (as discussed above) is an example of this. Potential commercial participants include Lockheed/Martin, Boeing, TRW, and NASA.

Recent developments in synthetic hydrocarbon fuels have demonstrated high energy and density, potentially allowing payload increases of 10 percent or more over current systems and significant savings for military launches or profits for commercial launches. The recent availability of Russian rocket engine and fuel technology has also led to interest in reassessing the formulation and specification of RP-1 (MIL-P-25576C), the standard US kerosene (hydrocarbon) fuel for government and commercial space launch. Russian kerosene (RG-1) is more dense than RP-1, with a high volumetric loading payoff. The US propulsion industry is also assessing lower cost alternatives to RP-1, such as JP-8 ($0.90/gal vs $2.30/gal for RP-1), and high energy-density fuels such as RP-2 (quadricyclane) or JP-8X. Other synthetic hydrocarbons are also being developed in government and industry labs. Data is required to assess performance of these fuels under realistic rocket engine conditions.

Join the mailing list