NASA

January 18, 2013

‘Gliding’ to space: A novel means of launching space satellites

Early artist rendering of the Towed Glider Air-Launch Concept, showing the towed glider following rocket launch. A notional tow aircraft is seen clearing the launch area.

NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center is developing a novel rocket-launching technique called the Towed Glider Air-Launch Concept that could significantly reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of sending satellites into orbit.

The idea is to build a relatively inexpensive remotely or optionally piloted glider that will be towed to altitudes approaching 40,000 feet by a large transport aircraft. The glider will carry a booster rocket capable of launching payloads into low Earth orbit.

Engineers continue working trade-offs with launching the rocket either with the glider still in tow, or following release from the tow aircraft. Either way, after the rocket has launched, the glider will return independently of the tow aircraft to its base to be used again.

Gerald Budd, a NASA Dryden business development and towed glider project manager, displayed a 24-foot wingspan, twin fuselage proof-of-concept model of the glider that was constructed in NASA Dryden’s model shop during a presentation at the Academy of Model Aeronautics’ 15th Annual Expo in Ontario, Calif., in mid-January. The model will fly later this year, towed aloft by one of Dryden’s small DROID – for Dryden Remotely Operated Integrated Drone – unmanned aircraft.

Recent feasibility analyses done by independent contractors indicate that a performance gain of up to 40 percent may be realized by use of Budd’s towed-glider technique over vertical launch of a similar-sized rocket from the ground.

Additionally, air launch of rockets has the potential to lower the cost of placing payloads to orbit through operational efficiencies that are simply not available through vertical ground launch, Budd explained. Cost savings may be as much as 25 percent, based on recent Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency studies.

Historically, air-launched rockets have been carried and dropped from underneath modified, existing aircraft, such as Orbital Sciences’ Pegasus rockets that are launched from the firm’s modified L-1011 “Stargazer” launch aircraft. Currently, a huge new custom-built carrier aircraft is under construction by Stratolaunch Systems, Inc.

Early artist rendering shows the concept of operations of the Towed Glider Air-Launch Concept, beginning with the aero-tow of the glider carrying a rocket booster, launching the rocket, then returning to land independently of the tow aircraft.

Budd maintains the Towed Glider Air Launch Concept has the potential to realize the operational flexibility of a custom airplane, but without the price tag.

“It’s a real-estate problem,” said Budd. “You’re limited in what you can fit underneath an existing aircraft. Launching off the top of a carrier aircraft is problematic from a safety perspective. Our approach allows for significant payloads to be carried aloft and launched from a purpose-built custom aircraft that is less expensive because of the simplicity of the airframe, having no propulsion system (engines, fuel, etc.), on board,” Budd said.

This initial research and development effort is being funded internally by NASA Dryden at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist. Potential Department of Defense and industry partnerships are being explored.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

News Briefs July 25, 2014

Focus group Here’s your chance to be heard. The Edwards Commissary is looking for volunteers to participate in a group discussion about your Commissary. They will be conducting focus groups July 29 from noon to 2 p.m. and again from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. If you would like to participate, send an e-mail to...
 
 
aafes-school

Exchange moves to the head of the class with extra back-to-school savings

With the first bell about to ring on a new school year, the Army & Air Force Exchange Service is giving lessons in savings. The Exchange is helping military shoppers make the grade with competitive prices and tax savings on...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Kenji Thuloweit

Major wins major bucks on ‘Price Is Right’

Air Force photograph by Kenji Thuloweit Maj. Kevin Van Stone, Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 5, and his wife, Melinda (right), speak to a representative from CBS after being handed a giant check for...
 

 
NASA photograph by Tom Tschida

NASA Armstrong Support Center receives LEED platinum certification

NASA photograph by Tom Tschida Large expanses of windows and curved rooflines highlight NASA Armstrong’s new Facilities Support Center. The 38,000-square-foot structure has been certified that it met the Leadership in Ene...
 
 

Exchange shoppers can keep on ticking with Hello Kitty sweepstakes

Military shoppers can keep time with Hello Kitty thanks to the latest sweepstakes from the Army & Air Force Exchange Service. Twenty-five winners will take home a Hello Kitty watch, valued at $85. From July 25 to Aug. 22, Exchange shoppers can enter to win by emailing patriotfamily@aafes.com and putting “Hello Kitty Sweepstakes” in the...
 
 

Leadership Lessons: Who would you follow?

GRAND FORKS AIR FORCE BASE, N.D.†-†Over the last year I have enjoyed reading articles from our wing leadership on their perspectives and experiences which have made them better leaders. I have great admiration for their words of wisdom and have benefited from their shared experiences. When I was asked to write a leadership piece I...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>