The Air Force Research Laboratory expects to issue a request for information (rfi) “any day now” to industry for a wide spread of structures, systems and control technology that could be used as a the basis for a hypersonic, responsive space launch vehicle X-plane demonstrator.
Booster concept models on display at NSS
(photos Guy Norris)
The rfi is for the follow-on phase to the future responsive access to space technologies (FAST) program which focused on several ground experiments into baseline technology for the future demonstrator. These included an all-composite airframe with warm, cryogenic structures, load-bearing tanks attached to wing box carry-through and thrust structures and thermal protection systems with operable seals and mechanical attachments.
Other ground experiments include adaptive guidance and control subsystems with the ability to re-shape trajectories on-line and mission replanning in response to sub-system failures. Another aspect of FAST has also involved development of a laboratory for exploring concepts for operating a quick-turnaround, reusable space launch vehicle, rapid mission planning, in-flight command and control and ground operations.
Originally dubbed the operationally responsive space (ORS) integrated ground experiment, the new program is expected to be re-named along the lines of the reusable booster system integrated demonstrator to emphasize the X-plane aims of the effort. The AFRL says the rfi is aimed at “maturing technology in areas such as structures, guidance and control and fault tolerance.” The plan will be to demonstrate a high level of integration, culminating in a scaled X-plane vehicle that will show capabilities to technology readiness levels of around 6 (ready for full-scale development) by around the 2017-2018 timeframe.
Concept models of the fly-back winged booster and a similar winged booster with a rocket-powered payload module carried piggy-back, were revealed at the National Space Symposium. The models bore a strong resemblance to the scaled model booster flight tested by Lockheed Martin early in 2008. These tests, conducted in New Mexico, were primarily to investigate guidance and control concepts for the two-stage to orbit vehicle which will be autonomously controlled at speeds for up to Mach 6 for the first-stage and up to Mach 9 and beyond for the second-stage.