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martinbayer

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To me, the saddest thing is that while I never expected the system to make any economic sense with expendable rockets of any size and payload capacity, the longer term vision of a fully reusable spaceplane, which would essentially be a current version of the Interim Hotol concept from almost three decades ago, but with less risky downward release, had the potential to be a true game changer.
 

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martinbayer said:
To me, the saddest thing is that while I never expected the system to make any economic sense with expendable rockets of any size and payload capacity, the longer term vision of a fully reusable spaceplane, which would essentially be a current version of the Interim Hotol concept from almost three decades ago, but with less risky downward release, had the potential to be a true game changer.
How so? An air-launched SSTO is only slightly less technologically difficult than a ground-launched SSTO, but with added logistical difficulties. Since it looks like there was only ever going to be a single carrier aircraft, all the work spent on developing the SSTO could have flushed right down the tubes if the carrier aircraft ever broke down, crashed or kerploded.
 

martinbayer

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If you look at gross weight sensitivity curves, even a *slight* reduction of delta-v requirements for the upper stage of a TSTO (you know, any air launched vehicle really isn't a true SSTO, old chap - the carrier aircraft actually is the first stage, really) can reap significant rewards, and the drop down release eases the logistics challenges as opposed to an off-top separation, plus the aircraft launch gives you flexibility with respect to target orbit inclinations. And if the concept proved to be workable, let alone profitable, chances are the system would have been replicated in some form or another even in case of a disastrous failure, just like the DH Comet accidents didn't prevent the jet age.
 

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martinbayer said:
and the drop down release eases the logistics challenges as opposed to an off-top separation,
But it's far from clear that it easier than vertical launch from a pad. Obviously the best way to prove all these ideas is to build them all, but it is folly to assume before something is even built that it will necessarily be not only successful but superior.
 

martinbayer

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Orionblamblam said:
martinbayer said:
and the drop down release eases the logistics challenges as opposed to an off-top separation,
But it's far from clear that it easier than vertical launch from a pad. Obviously the best way to prove all these ideas is to build them all, but it is folly to assume before something is even built that it will necessarily be not only successful but superior.
I completely agree - that's why I mourn for the lost opportunity of actually putting a fully reusable TSTO HTHL system to the test.
 

Archibald

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somewhere I have a tech paper where japanese engineers mention the exact numbers for Air Launch. I mean, how much delta-v advantage it provides.
Values were 600 m/s, 900 m/s and 1200 m/s according to the aircraft speed but also angle of attack at release - 30 degree seems to be optimal.
I'll seek the paper later and quote it.

Well, so average 1 km/s. Good, earth orbit is 9 km/s. then 1 out of 9 is more or less 10%.
Alas, it doesn't work that way...

The real issue is that the rocket equation is non linear, exponential, and with a logarithm stuck into it.
Hence 1 km/s out of 9 is not 10% but even less - 5% perhaps.

Hence air launch cut barely 5% of the delta-v to orbit.

Well, 5% is not enough to justify all the hassles of carrying a big rocket under a big plane.

Virgin went around that limitation by using a plain old 747 from the Virgin Atlantic fleet. Clever, really, it probably didn't cost much to buy the aircraft. I was barely a transfer from one Branson company to another Branson company ! Still the maintenance cost of a 747 have to be paid. We will see if they manage to get any money out of Launcher one. Maybe Tristar = too small and Roc = too big, hence 747 = right size.
 

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martinbayer said:
I completely agree - that's why I mourn for the lost opportunity of actually putting a fully reusable TSTO HTHL system to the test.
The aircraft still exists. The people who are responsible for it will probably be desperate to figure out how to make money with it. In the end that will probably mean sending it to the chop shop. But if a good case could be made that an air-launched SSTO would make sense, *somebody* might be willing to develop it, and hire the Stratolaunch to lurch it into the sky.

Remember that the original launcher for Strato was to be a modified Falcon 9. But the modifications needed to carry the thing horizontally were too much of a pain and SpaceX pulled out. This should be instructive for the dream of hauling an SSTO with the structure of an eggshell.
 

blackstar

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martinbayer said:
If you look at gross weight sensitivity curves, even a *slight* reduction of delta-v requirements for the upper stage of a TSTO (you know, any air launched vehicle really isn't a true SSTO, old chap - the carrier aircraft actually is the first stage, really) can reap significant rewards, and the drop down release eases the logistics challenges as opposed to an off-top separation, plus the aircraft launch gives you flexibility with respect to target orbit inclinations.
So come at this issue from another direction: if the advantages are so obvious, then why hasn't this been the preferred approach for launching rockets? What we've actually seen over the long history of spaceflight is that there have been very few proposals for air launch, and only one that's been moderately successful (Pegasus). That alone is a strong indicator that there's little advantage to air launch.

Beyond the performance issues, you also have to look at the logistics and infrastructure issues. People have claimed that one of the advantages of air launch is that the plane can fly anywhere to launch. But that's not really true. For starters, the satellite and rocket have to be serviced before launch, and that requires facilities. In the case of the satellite, it probably requires some kind of moderately clean room facility. The facilities may have to handle dangerous materials like hydrazine. So even though the plane can move, chances are that you still need a fixed facility that is near an airport, and that's going to put constraints on the "anywhere" aspect of launching. Plus add in the fact that maintenance and certification and insurance for the aircraft costs money. And then there's limitations on scalability--you cannot make the rocket any bigger without affecting the aircraft (much less of a problem for a fixed launch site).

When trying to compare standard launch vehicles and their fixed facilities vs. air launch, there are a lot more drawbacks to air launch. That explains why nobody really is doing it (except Pegasus).
 

martinbayer

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I agree that for expendable launch vehicles air launch is probably more hassle than it's worth, but I suspect it still *might* show some advantages for a fully reusable system - after all, it worked well for a number of experimental rocket planes, including the X-15.
 

sferrin

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martinbayer said:
after all, it worked well for a number of experimental rocket planes, including the X-15.
Which of those went into orbit?
 

martinbayer

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sferrin said:
martinbayer said:
after all, it worked well for a number of experimental rocket planes, including the X-15.
Which of those went into orbit?
None, but for a fully reusable orbiter air launch just might make all the difference between being able to achieve LEO with a meaningful payload or not without the use of any expendable components.
 

Archibald

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There it is
https://engineering.purdue.edu/AAECourses/aae450/2008/spring/report_archive/reportfinaluploads/pdfs/Report_Section_7.pdf

"A study by Klijn et al. concluded that at an altitude of 15,250 m, a rocket launch with the carrier vehicle having a zero launch velocity at an angle of attack of 0° to the horizontal experienced a Δv benefit of approximately 600m/s while a launch at a velocity of 340m/s at the same altitude and angle of attack resulted in a Δv benefit of approximately 900m/s. The zero launch velocity situations can be used to represent the launch from a balloon as it has no horizontal velocity.

Furthermore, by increasing the angle of attack of the carrier vehicle to 30° and launching at 340m/s, they obtained a Δv gain of approximately 1,100m/s.

Increasing the launch velocity to 681m/s (= Mach 2) and 1,021m/s (Mach 3) produced a Δv gain of 1,600m/s and 2,000m/s respectively."

Sure, 2 km/s helps... but only a little. And separation issues as mach 3 can be interesting, just ask the crew of Lockheed M-21, the SR-71 that carried a D-21 drone on its back.

A SSTO needs a propellant mass fraction of at least 0.94 that is, the complete vehicle with crew, payload, tank, represents 6% , and 94% is pure propellants.

No 0.94 and then no 9 km/s to Earth orbit;

Air launch substracts 2 km/s out of 9 km/s, fine, but even 7 km/s is still a very high hurdle. 7 km/s can be done with a PMF of 0.90 - still 10% for the vehicle itself, and 90% of the mass allocated to the propellants.
At the end of the day, either 90% or 94% of the mass, being the raw propellants - doesn't change much, building such a thing is still a huge conundrum...

I wouldn't buy a car which would weight 1000 kg with the gasoline tank full, and only 50 kg with the tank empty.
Which mean that 950 kg of the car would have to be gasoline itself. Pure gasoline. no kidding.
The tank around the gasoline, the car around the tank, and the car payload could not mass more than 50 kg. Bad luck, I alone weight a little more than that. And then the car would not work.
Other example
A 450 mt 747-8 is 1/3rd structure (150 mt) 1/3rd payload (150 mt) and 1/3rd kerosene (150 mt). PMF is thus 33% or 0.33. A SSTO would need 95% or 0.95. Air launch just can't change that, or not enough to make a useful difference. That's the issue...
 

martinbayer

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I do think that air launch could potentially make just enough difference (90% PMF vs. 94% - the STS ET had a PMF of 96%) to make a single stage orbiter a la Interim Hotol feasible.
 

steelpillow

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Following up on Archibald's comment. The big problem with a horizontal-launch space stage is the mechanical stresses in the body/fuselage. In a vertical-launch rocket, the optimum aerodynamic cylinder is also the optimal structure, with the fuel pressure able to provide sufficient structural rigidity. But in a horizontal position the cylinder tends to sag in the middle and the fuel pressure is nowhere near enough to stabilise it. A surprising amount of of structural reinforcement needs to be added, and that means weight.

The problem is even worse with Pegasus because the cylinder is chopped into discontinuous stages, with the structural forces having to be transferred across multiple joints.

A subsonic hike to a few miles up is no compensation at all. Whether SSTO or air-dropped, launch to orbit is on the edge of impossible. Stratolaunch could probably send up a sub-orbital second stage that could in turn launch an orbiter, but it's an awful lot cheaper to do it the SpaceX way. My guess is that this was why Elon Musk parted company - he woke up and smelled the coffee before Paul Allen did.
 

Archibald

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martinbayer said:
I do think that air launch could potentially make just enough difference (90% PMF vs. 94% - the STS ET had a PMF of 96%) to make a single stage orbiter a la Interim Hotol feasible.
I respect that opinion, the jury is really split over what PMF can be done with present technology. 0.85, 0.88, 0.90 ? no idea. For example, Skylon C1 manual give a PMF of 0.87 (I have to check that).
Did Elon Musk ever made public Falcon 9 stages weight budgets ?
What is sure is every single % of PMF gained, is a hard fought battle. Even 0.85 and 0.90 makes a huge difference, either in delta-v or propellant. There is also the case of weight creep during prototype construction, even the 787 or A350 ended overweight by 10 or 15%, despite Airbus and Boeing strict controls and best efforts.
 

sferrin

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Could they pool resources with Virgin Orbit? Or maybe VO buys Stratolaunch and uses the plane for a future, larger rocket?
 

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Archibald said:
There is also the case of weight creep during prototype construction, even the 787 or A350 ended overweight by 10 or 15%, despite Airbus and Boeing strict controls and best efforts.
I don’t know about 787 but A350XWB -900 went like this;- 2007, target MTOW 265T, MWE 112T;- As certified in 2014 (wv000) MTOW 269T, MWE 116T. Next cert update (wv001) MTOW 275T, MWE 116T. So the structural mass growth during development +3%, but given the payload increased beyond the pro-rata, the effective mass growth was zero, maybe even slightly negative.
 

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martinbayer said:
sferrin said:
martinbayer said:
after all, it worked well for a number of experimental rocket planes, including the X-15.
Which of those went into orbit?
None, but for a fully reusable orbiter air launch just might make all the difference between being able to achieve LEO with a meaningful payload or not without the use of any expendable components.
not really.
 

Byeman

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martinbayer said:
I do think that air launch could potentially make just enough difference (90% PMF vs. 94% - the STS ET had a PMF of 96%) to make a single stage orbiter a la Interim Hotol feasible.
No, because a tank/vehicle is going to have a much lower PMF due to the difference in loads for horizontal launch
 

martinbayer

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Byeman said:
martinbayer said:
sferrin said:
martinbayer said:
after all, it worked well for a number of experimental rocket planes, including the X-15.
Which of those went into orbit?
None, but for a fully reusable orbiter air launch just might make all the difference between being able to achieve LEO with a meaningful payload or not without the use of any expendable components.
not really.
It comes down to the actual final numbers - that's why I said "might".
 

martinbayer

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Byeman said:
martinbayer said:
I do think that air launch could potentially make just enough difference (90% PMF vs. 94% - the STS ET had a PMF of 96%) to make a single stage orbiter a la Interim Hotol feasible.
No, because a tank/vehicle is going to have a much lower PMF due to the difference in loads for horizontal launch
Once again, it comes down to the specific numbers of an actual design, i.e. whether the difference between the required 90% PMF and the ET like 96% PMF allows to integrate all required additional systems, modifications and load conditions plus a meaningful orbital payload. For concrete related analyses, I recommend the AIAA Papers 1979-879, "Utility of High Bypass Turbofans for a Two-Stage Space Transport", by Len Cormier (formerly of North American Aviation, where he was project engineer for space transportation systems at the Los Angeles Division for several years), and 1991-5006, "The An-225/Interim Hotol Launch Vehicle", by Robert Parkinson (who started his career working on propulsion systems for rocket engines and missiles at the Rocket Propulsion Establishment, Westcott, before moving to industry and at the time working as an aerospace engineer on numerous European space projects, including HOTOL, at British Aerospace Space & Communications Ltd., Stevenage), for two examples of concept studies for reusable delta winged orbiters with cryogenic rocket propulsion and subsonic air launch separation at Mach 0.8 and about 9 - 10 kilometers altitude. Both designs had an orbiter air launch mass of 250 metric tons, which exactly (and perhaps not coincidentally) corresponds to the Stratolaunch 'Roc' payload lift capacity, and both studies arrived at a corresponding orbital payload capability of around 7 metric tons to LEO.
 

Byeman

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martinbayer said:
Once again, it comes down to the specific numbers of an actual design, i.e. whether the difference between the required 90% PMF and the ET like 96% PMF allows to integrate all required additional systems, modifications and load conditions plus a meaningful orbital payload. for two examples of concept studies for reusable delta winged orbiters with cryogenic rocket propulsion and subsonic air launch separation at Mach 0.8 and about 9 - 10 kilometers altitude. .
Neither of them are going to approach even 90% PMF

martinbayer said:
Both designs had an orbiter air launch mass of 250 metric tons, which exactly (and perhaps not coincidentally) corresponds to the Stratolaunch 'Roc' payload lift capacity, and both studies arrived at a corresponding orbital payload capability of around 7 metric tons to LEO.
yes, coincidental
 

martinbayer

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Byeman said:
martinbayer said:
Once again, it comes down to the specific numbers of an actual design, i.e. whether the difference between the required 90% PMF and the ET like 96% PMF allows to integrate all required additional systems, modifications and load conditions plus a meaningful orbital payload. for two examples of concept studies for reusable delta winged orbiters with cryogenic rocket propulsion and subsonic air launch separation at Mach 0.8 and about 9 - 10 kilometers altitude. .
Neither of them are going to approach even 90% PMF

martinbayer said:
Both designs had an orbiter air launch mass of 250 metric tons, which exactly (and perhaps not coincidentally) corresponds to the Stratolaunch 'Roc' payload lift capacity, and both studies arrived at a corresponding orbital payload capability of around 7 metric tons to LEO.
yes, coincidental
True - the design specific analyses yielded total PMFs (including residuals and RCS/OMS propellants) of 0.855 and 0.843, respectively, which, while notably below 0.9, for the chosen and/or optimized propulsion systems, launch conditions, ascent trajectories, and target orbits, were in both cases found to be sufficient to achieve the stated payload performance.

Since you confidently assert that the Roc payload mass determination was coincidental to the sizing assumptions of both studies, did you take part in the Stratolaunch requirements definition process?
 

Archibald

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delta winged orbiters with cryogenic rocket propulsion
Delta wing = heavy

Cryogenic propulsion: ISP red herring, cryogens makes tanks giant PITA.
 

martinbayer

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Archibald said:
delta winged orbiters with cryogenic rocket propulsion
Delta wing = heavy

Cryogenic propulsion: ISP red herring, cryogens makes tanks giant PITA.
I'd recommend to read the two papers and evaluate the specific designs and how those aspects were addressed, rather than make sweeping generalizations. It should go without saying that things like required wing and tank masses for the chosen design approaches were included in the mass budgets that resulted in the PMFs provided above. I'd also like to point out that Boeing is currently *building* the Phantom Express/XSP (Experimental SpacePlane), a delta winged reusable booster with LOX/LH2 rocket propulsion, for DARPA. The planned flight test program calls for 10 launches in as many days to demonstrate the viability of fast turn-around operations with cryogenic propellants. Boeing's design was the winner of a competition among three contending teams, and I doubt DARPA would have chosen an inferior concept with overweight wings and "PITA" tanks.
 

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martinbayer said:
I doubt DARPA would have chosen an inferior concept with overweight wings and "PITA" tanks.
Phantom Express is a booster and not an orbital vehicle. And the choice of propellants was based on existing engines and not optimization.

Also, DARPA is not really a relevant organization when it comes to space launch. Their choice is not a validation of the concept.
 

martinbayer

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Byeman said:
martinbayer said:
I doubt DARPA would have chosen an inferior concept with overweight wings and "PITA" tanks.
Phantom Express is a booster and not an orbital vehicle. And the choice of propellants was based on existing engines and not optimization.

Also, DARPA is not really a relevant organization when it comes to space launch. Their choice is not a validation of the concept.
I completely agree that as a booster it is lacking a number of systems and capabilities that would be required for a reusable orbiter, but if the flight test program works out as planned and it can demonstrate repeated one day turn-arounds with cryogenic propellants while boosting up to Mach 10, Phantom Express, which is conceived not just as a demonstrator but eventually intended to form the core of a commercial launch system, *would* validate the concept (which *is* kind of the point of a demonstrator) and, taken together with aspects of the X-37B long duration orbiter (which was also developed and built by Boeing), could well be a design point of departure for future developments towards fully reusable winged launch vehicles, irrespective of whether DARPA currently really is a relevant organization when it comes to space launch or not.
 

steelpillow

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As a matter of interest, would the Phantom Express fit underneath the Roc? Would make a spectacular three-stage launcher!
 

martinbayer

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I haven't really looked at potential compatibility, but I highly suspect a Roc/XSP combo as is would be a less than satisfactory match for example in terms of general arrangement and interfaces (with the expendable stage having to be sandwiched between Roc and Phantom Express, and with mechanical and other connections on either side to new attachment points on top of the reusable stage), loads (horizontal air launch instead of vertical ground launch), and sizing. Besides, any potential performance or cost benefits would likely be incremental at best. I'm thinking instead of a new winged orbital platform based on a scaled up Phantom Express fuselage and tank concept (and either a Phantom Express or X-37B layout of aerodynamic surfaces or, depending on what is found to be preferable, possibly some adaptation thereof) that retains cryogenic propulsion while including all additional elements needed for a payload carrying orbiter based on X-37B technologies and approaches and is sized to the full 250 metric ton Roc payload capacity, i.e. a direct equivalent replacement for the original Stratolaunch "Black Ice" spaceplane concept.
 

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For what it's worth, I wonder if Stratolaunch is looking at alternative uses, like carrying outsized cargo in some kind of attached pod or something.
 

blackstar

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NUSNA_Moebius said:
For what it's worth, I wonder if Stratolaunch is looking at alternative uses, like carrying outsized cargo in some kind of attached pod or something.
It's very limited in terms of airfields that can handle it. Few places could even park something that big. Cargo wouldn't work.
 

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blackstar said:
NUSNA_Moebius said:
For what it's worth, I wonder if Stratolaunch is looking at alternative uses, like carrying outsized cargo in some kind of attached pod or something.
It's very limited in terms of airfields that can handle it. Few places could even park something that big. Cargo wouldn't work.
I would have thought anywhere a B-52 can land so could this.
 

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kitnut617 said:
I would have thought anywhere a B-52 can land so could this.
The B-52 is nowhere close to as big as the Stratolauncher carrier aircraft. It's not even as big as the larger commercial airliners these days.

Stratolauncher wingspan (the likely limiter) is 385 ft. Compare to 185 ft for a B-52 or 262 ft for the A380, which is also limited in airport options.
 

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I'm sure the same things were said of the An-225, and it's eeked out quite a living.

The major problem to me is the accommodation of the landing gear footprint. The wingspan isn't unmanageable for airfields already designed to larger aircraft, especially if you limit operations to less busy parts of the day.
 

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TomS said:
kitnut617 said:
I would have thought anywhere a B-52 can land so could this.
The B-52 is nowhere close to as big as the Stratolauncher carrier aircraft. It's not even as big as the larger commercial airliners these days.

Stratolauncher wingspan (the likely limiter) is 385 ft. Compare to 185 ft for a B-52 or 262 ft for the A380, which is also limited in airport options.
What I meant was if the a B-52 can land with all it's wheels on a runway, then the Stratolaunch can land there. But at YYC (Calgary International) where I worked for a few years just recently, it's designed to operate the biggest aircraft, the An-225 comes in quite ofte
 

kitnut617

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Exactly sferrin, exactly what I mean. B-52's used to land at YYC almost every year during the airshow season. I watched them more than a few times landing and taking off and now that YYC has a much bigger second main runway (longest in Canada too) it would be all the more easier. YYC is also gearing up to be a major cargo destinations hub too.
 
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