Low-Cost Technologies

The Low-Cost Technologies (LCT) project is primarily focused on removing the complexity from launch vehicles; and overcoming the paradigm that lightweight and high performance is essential to space launch. LCT is focused on design to cost, low-cost commercial manufacturing, aerospace applications of COTS hardware, robust margins, and simple operations. LCT, like the other ASTP projects, takes a system approach to cost reduction in which technologies culminate in a system level flight demonstration at a small, affordable scale. The technology can then be applied to larger boosters, even to the scale of a super heavy lift. The “test ” of these low–cost concepts will be the flight demonstration of a small launch system that could set the stage for the commercial development of a small payload launch capability–the first opportunity along the path that leads to the vision.

LCT is systematically attacking the hardware cost drivers, starting with the boost stage propulsion system, the highest cost system; then to the rocket engine, the propulsion system cost driver; and finally to engine subsystems, turbopumps, thrust chambers, and valves. The first phase of low cost engine technology is progressing with the X–34 engine development, projected to demonstrate a 3 % reduction in today’s engine cost. The X–34 flight demonstration program is the first opportunity to merge very low-cost hardware into a reusable system. X–34 will also demonstrate highly reusable thermal protection systems, autonomous avionics, and other reusable concepts. Subsystem technologies in turbopumps, thrust chambers, and valves will be demonstrated that will push engine cost toward a 10 % cost reduction goal. Low–cost propellant tanks, feedlines, sensors, and avionics will be demonstrated at the system level in a complete propulsion test article (PTA1).


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X-34 Engine Development

The second engine built from the PTA1 design will be provided to the X-34 program for flight demonstration. This engine will be a mission specific configuration developed to meet the X-34 engine requirements as listed in the addendum of the Fastrac 60K Engine System Requirements Document (SRD).

As of March 1, 2001, the x-33 project as well as the x-34 project were discontinued by NASA. See the following

Customer and Mission Analysis; Business Analysis

The needs of the future customers of a small (100-kg to 250-kg) low-cost boost vehicle will be analyzed to determine the market base, customer requirements and business goals. Three areas will be addressed: (1) customer and market base, (2) reference mission model, and (3) business analysis. Task 1 will include listing existing customers in the university, government, and commercial community; identifying any anchor tenets; and identifying any potential customers enabled by reduced launch price. Once the customers are identified, Task 2 will determine mission requirements such as payload size and weight, trajectory, flight rate, and processing needs for potential customers. These requirements will be combined into a mission model for each user group and a composite reference mission model covering the spectrum of customers identified. Task 3 provides an analysis of the business potential for the reference mission model. The business analysis will establish a figure of merit parameters that indicate a viable business venture, development and recurring costs estimates based on system concepts developed in vehicle studies, and business success criteria considering previously mentioned figure of merit parameters, operating costs, and flight rate.

PTA1; LOX/RP-1 Propulsion Test Article

Low-cost booster technologies will be designed and tested in a LOX/RP-1 Propulsion Test Article (PTA1). This test article will act as a ground test-bed for low-cost propulsion and avionics experiments. Experiments will include low-cost technology such as commercial off-the-shelf (COTS), innovative manufacturing techniques, low part count design, etc. These experiments will also be as close to flight-like as possible in order to validate both cost and performance issues associated with using a low-cost design approach. This test article includes experimental propellant tanks, feed and pressurization systems, loading systems, engines, avionics, and a strongback to contain the propulsion elements for ground tests.

PTA1 Overview

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This test article will be designed using requirements established by an in-house vehicle study reference as a guideline. Engine component testing will be done at MSFC and the system testing (including propellant delivery systems, avionics, and some structures) will be done at Stennis Space Center (SSC). The engine developed for PTA1 has adopted the nomenclature of the Fastrac 60K Engine.


PTA1-b; Stage and Engine Upgrades

As industry solutions are developed and tested, a Technical Review Board will evaluate these solutions to determine applicability for inclusion in a PTA1 block upgrade conceptualized to be a system providing the best possible system at the lowest cost. PTA1-b data and hardware design details will be available to Industry for incorporation to the low-cost vehicle solution (NRA8-19).

PTA2; LOX/LH2 Propulsion Test Article

An upper-stage ground test article will be developed to demonstrate low cost LOX/LH2 technology. Similar to PTA1, experiments will be developed at MSFC and tested in a relevant environment to validate the low-cost design approach.

Hybrid Propulsion

Parallel to the work being done in low-cost liquid development, hybrids are being considered as another low-cost alternative to boost technologies. This element of the LCBT Project is responsible for demonstrating a level of hybrid propulsion technology to enable U.S. industry to commercialize hybrid booster for space launch and tactical applications. This element includes a series of static testing (at various sizes), and eight sounding rockets—two low-altitude and two high-altitude launches with parachute recovery were scheduled for 1996. During the sounding rocket flight experiments, hybrids will be investigated as a safe, low-cost alternative for commercial meteorological and scientific sounding rockets.

Booster Evolution

The concepts developed in the previously discussed elements will be used to enhance and reduce cost in other areas of space launch systems. This will include development of low-cost technologies for larger boosters based on the technologies built in the previous efforts, research in low-cost fly back boosters, and other related areas to be defined.



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