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Sat, Apr 09, 2005

They Call It The Streaker

SpaceDev Begins Development of New Launch Vehicle

SpaceDev of Poway, California has started development of rocket motors for its new small expendable launch vehicle, SpaceDev Streaker. In support of that development program, SpaceDev has expanded in Poway, leasing 11,000 square feet for a flexible fabrication and development facility.

Much of the development equipment is being installed on flatbed trailers to make it transportable. The key component is the test stand; SpaceDev is planning a mobile rocket motor test stand that can handle a motor or cluster producing up to 250,000 pounds of thrust. Currently SpaceDev has a 120,000 pound thrust motor in preliminary design, the Small Common Booster motor which will form the first stage of the Streaker. "The portable test stand is expected to open more potential sites for rocket motor firings and is expected to cost less than renting existing government facilities," SpaceDev officials told ANN in a prepared statement.

"This new rocket motor test equipment should be applicable to a wide variety of future hybrid rocket motor developments," Jim Benson, SpaceDev Chairman and CEO, said.

Along with the test stand, SpaceDev is constructing a transportable command center/launch control, and a test support trailer which can store, upload, download and maintain the nitrous oxide oxidant used in SpaceDev's motors.

The Streaker's second stage will use clustered Hybrid Upper Stage motors, which are expected to produce 20,000 pounds of thrust each. These motors are being developed under contract to the Air Force Research Laboratory. The first stage will be a single Small Common Booster motor.

The Air Force contract was announced last October, and SpaceDev has been working fast. Benson indicated that test firings would begin this summer. "We are working closely with our Air Force customer, and hope to soon begin work designing and developing the Small Common Booster motor for SpaceDev Streaker."

SpaceDev acquired its initial hybrid rocket technology from concept pioneer AMROC (American Rocket Company) and continues to develop it further. Hybrid rocket motors are so-called because they share some characteristics of solid and liquid fueled rockets. SpaceDev has experimented with many fuels and oxidants; now its hybrids generally burn solid rubber (HTPB) and use gaseous nitrous oxide (laughing gas) as oxidant.

They are among the safest rocket motors ever designed; they're non-explosive, the fuel and oxidant are non-toxic, and all are storable. "The combination of HTPB or PMMA and N2O is totally benign and non-toxic," SpaceDev says. The company hammers the point home by noting that Vandenberg AFB's rocket range rates the SpaceDev motor as equivalent of O grams TNT, and nitrous oxide is used as a pressurant for whipped cream. If this safety pitch sounds familiar, it should: a SpaceDev motor with 15,000 pounds of thrust powered SpaceShipOne to outer space and the Ansari X-Prize last year.

The Hybrid Upper Stage motor, already 20k lbs thrust to SpaceShipOne's 15k, is expected to gain even more performance as company works to improve it and incorporate new developments. Plans are to follow the Small Common Booster motor with -- what else? -- a Large Common Booster motor.

What are they going to do with all these motors? Of course, they will fly launch vehicles for customers, like the Air Force... and they will build an engine for "Aussie Invader" Rosco McGlashan 900-mph rocket car (above), if he can raise the money... but SpaceDev has also announced its DreamChaser manned vehicle, and expects to use these motors in the sub-orbital and orbital versions of DreamChaser.

FMI: www.spacedev.com

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