ARCA Unveils Aerospike-Powered, First SSTO Rocket

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia Commons
A XRS-2200 Linear Aerospike Engine Prototype Test Firing for the X-33 program in the late 1990’s.

Henry Neiberlien/News Editor

Photo Courtesy: ARCA. An artist’s rendering of the ARCA Space Corporation Aerospike engine-powered Single Stage to Orbit Rocket.

Since the cancellation of the Lockheed X-33 VentureStar program in the early 2000’s, a linear aerospike powered single stage to orbit launch vehicle has been nothing more than a dream.

One New Mexico-based company, however, plans to make it a reality as early as next year. ARCA Space Corporation, based in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has unveiled their newest variant of their Haas rocket family.

The Haas 2CA is targeting low-cost space launches by being powered by a more efficient rocket motor called the Aerospike. An Aerospike rocket engine differs from conventional “bell” shaped nozzles by having the propellant flow down the curve, forming a “spike,” increasing the specific impulse of the vehicle and improving performance at all altitudes.

With this increase in performance, carrying a second stage with a vacuum specialized engine is no longer necessary. This means they can effectively build a single stage to orbit vehicle by utilizing the Aerospike engine, and that is exactly what ARCA plans to do.

The Company is targeting a price of $1 million for the launch of a small satellite into orbit, compared to the current cost of a Falcon 9, $60 million, this price is staggeringly low. Even though the Haas 2CA is a much smaller vehicle than the Falcon 9, this price is still very impressive.

The Haas 2CA will also be the first single stage to orbit rocket ever built. Making a vehicle that only needs a single stage to orbit has been an aerospace engineer’s dream for decades. The main reason the aerospike has not been used already is due to funding and research costs, and most companies want to stick with conventional engines for reliability.

It is fantastic to see a company like ARCA take on developing a technology the government could not and make it a reality. Single stage to orbit launch vehicles will not be science fiction for much longer, as the Haas 2CA will make its first flight from Wallops Island, Virginia in 2018.