Garvey Spacecraft Corporation (GSC), based in Huntington Beach, California, is a small research and development (R&D) company, focusing on the development of advanced space technologies and launch vehicle systems. As part of the California Launch Vehicle Initiative (CALVEIN), GSC and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), are jointly conducting preliminary R&D tasks to establish the foundation for development of a two-stage, liquid propellant Nanosat Launch Vehicle (NLV).
Capable of delivering 10 kilograms (22 pounds) to a 250-kilometer (155-mile) polar orbit, the NLV will provide low-cost, dedicated launch services to universities and other research organizations that traditionally depend on secondary payload opportunities to access space. As part of this initiative, GSC and CSULB are pursuing advanced aerospike engine technology for use on the NLV first stage.
R&D tasks have fallen into two parallel paths. The first involves static fire testing of the LOX/propylene propellant combination that has been baselined for both NLV stages. The second involves testing of full-scale, low-fidelity prototypes of various NLV elements. The Prospector 5 represented the initial such test vehicle.
A joint industry - academic team achieved an important milestone on Saturday, 04 December 2004 when they conducted their initial launch and recovery of a full-scale flight development unit for a proposed Nanosat Launch Vehicle (NLV). The NLV is intended to provide dedicated, primary launch services to small satellite developers and operators whose spacecraft have a mass of 10 kg or less.
Working together through the California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative (CALVEIN), Garvey Spacecraft Corporation (GSC) and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) successfully launched and then recovered their Prospector 5 vehicle by parachute. The team conducted these operations at the Mojave Test Area that is owned and operated by the Reaction Research Society (RRS). The Prospector 5 is an early, low-fidelity version of the NLV first stage. The primary objective for this flight test was the demonstration that the CALVEIN team could develop and handle a vehicle of this scale. In addition, a "fincam" payload provided by a member of the CSULB student team transmitted on-board video of the first several seconds of flight, typifying the kind of academic experiments that are envisioned for operational NLV missions.
Also noteworthy with respect to other small launch vehicle development programs that are focusing on "responsive space launch" was that all field operations for the Prospector 5 flight test - from vehicle delivery through set-up, launch, recovery and loading for the trip back to the CSULB campus - were conducted in less than one day.
The successful recovery of the vehicle means that the CALVEIN team will be able to reuse the hardware in future flight testing. In addition to such full-scale vehicle test and evaluation, GSC, CSULB and other partners are also addressing alternative propellant combinations, the use of advanced materials for engine chambers and innovative approaches to payload accommodations. Previous team achievements include the first ever powered flight tests of a liquid-propellant aerospike engine in 2003. Future versions of such aerospike engines may be used to improve the performance of later iterations of the NLV.
Their current work builds upon the first-ever powered liquid propellant aerospike flight that the team conducted using several of its LOX/ethanol Prospector research vehicles. GSC’s most visible accomplishments include the first-ever flight of a composite LOX tank (conducted in partnership with Microcosm, Inc.), the first-ever powered flights of a liquid-propellant aerospike engine, and the launch and 100-percent recovery of several prototype reusable test vehicles.
Efforts during 2004 focused on refining the basic vehicle design while also maturing assembly, integration, check-out, and launch operation plans and coordinating with the user community to optimize the payload accommodations. CSULB students have developed a full-scale NLV mockup and have assembled the initial flight test vehicle for the NLV first stage. In December 2004, GSC conducted NLV the initial flight test with a full-scale “Flight Development Unit” of the first stage at the Mojave Test Area (MTA), with a successful recovery.