Aerospike Engine Test-Ready

Photo Credit: ARCA

Michael Weinhoffer/Staff Reporter

Everyone who is a space enthusiast has been rightfully enamored by the successes of the SpaceX reusability program, which has demonstrated its reliability over and over again. While the Falcon 9 has been a show stopper, there are several companies who are also developing commercial launch vehicles, such as Blue Origin, Rocket Lab and ARCA Space. Since ARCA Space has been in the news recently, it seems appropriate to examine what they can bring to the commercial space market.

ARCA Space Corporation was established as a Romanian space company in 1999 and is headquartered in Las Cruces, New Mexico, near SpacePort America, which is a non-federal commercial spaceport in the New Mexican desert. The company is currently developing the Haas 2CA launch vehicle, named after Conrad Haas, a 16th-century Romanian rocket engineer. There are two unique features of this vehicle that will make it stand out among its competitors.

The first is that it is one of two proposed craft with a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) design. All of today’s orbital rockets need two stages to reach orbit, but the Haas 2CA will only need one stage. Extremely high fuel efficiency is the key to an SSTO rocket, and ARCA seems to have figured this out. ARCA believes that a unique type of rocket engine, the aerospike, will allow the Haas 2CA to reach orbit on a single stage.

ARCA’s Executor engine for the Haas 2CA is classified as a “linear aerospike.” The engine’s unique appearance allows for optimum fuel efficiency. The vehicle will be able to reach orbit with 30% less fuel than any other orbital rocket. The engine is designed to be highly efficient at all levels of flights, unlike current bell-shaped nozzles which perform best only slightly above sea level. The Executor will modify its performance based on its altitude, and maximize thrust, allowing the rocket to reach orbit in only five minutes. Since it is only a single stage, the Haas 2CA will be less expensive to launch than the Falcon 9, Vector Space Systems’ Vector-H, and Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket. If it lives up to its promises, it could be a game changer within the industry.

The great news is that the launch of this new rocket is not far away at all. The Haas 2CA is scheduled to complete its first orbital flight in 2018 from Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, with commercial operations starting before the end of 2018. The company will be launching a suborbital rocket, the Demonstrator 3, before the end of this year to determine the flight readiness of the aerospike engine. At the end of September, it was announced that the suborbital demonstrator is ready for ground and flight testing at SpacePort America. A successful launch should guarantee that the Haas 2CA will be launched on schedule.

It is important to recognize that SpaceX will have some fierce competition in the future, and they must be ready to meet the challenge. At Embry-Riddle, we are witnessing an unprecedented influx of space industry companies, and it is extremely exciting to have a front-row seat to the action. I cannot wait to see what contributions ARCA Space will make to the commercial space market, and we should all wish them the best of luck in their galactic endeavors.