“Responsive space” has substantial benefit in terms of both flexibility to meet real-time needs and assured space access. However, creating responsive space requires a new paradigm for space launch systems, launch operations, and the space systems themselves.
This paper describes the Scorpius® family of launch vehicles, being developed by Microcosm and the Scorpius Space Launch Company. The system has been designed from the outset to meet the key requirements of a responsive launch system:
- Sufficiently low cost to allow launch vehicles to be built in advance of need and stored for later use. (For example, the Eagle SLV small launch vehicle designed for the AF/DARPA FALCON program is intended to put 1000 lbs into low Earth orbit at a total launch cost of less than $5 million.)
- Launch within 8 hours of arrival of the payload at the launch site or call up of a payload stored at or near the launch site.
- Mitigation of the need for a large “standing army” of launch personnel.
- Ability to launch from multiple launch sites, with minimal infrastructure required at each site.
As an example of this process, the first suborbital test vehicle for the Scorpius® family was developed and built in California and trucked to White Sands, New Mexico, for launch from a bare, flat pad with no infrastructure at the pad. (Full range support was available elsewhere at White Sands.) The vehicle, launch rail, and all ground support equipment were put in place and ready to launch in less than a day.
At the present time, the largest impediments to rapid launch are the regulatory requirements for advance notice and simply the tradition of launches planned long in advance. To the extent that these issues can be resolved, responsive launch systems can become available to meet the changing needs of access to space.
Shyama Chakroborty, R. Conger, J. Wertz, “Responsive Access to Space—The Scorpius Low-Cost Launch System,” IAC-04-IAF-04, International Astronautics Federation Congress, Oct. 4–8, 2004.