The Scorpius Expendable Launch Vehicle Family and Status of the Sprite Small Launch Vehicle


Microcosm and the Scorpius® Space Launch Company are developing a family of expendable launch vehicles that will provide low-cost, responsive access to space. The Scorpius® family includes single and two-stage suborbital and orbital vehicles with payloads ranging from 700 lbs to LEO for the Sprite Mini-lift Launch Vehicle to over 50,000 lbs to LEO (18,000 lbs to GTO) for the Heavy-lift vehicle. Two suborbital vehicles have been flown successfully from White Sands Missile Range, including the SR-XM-1 in March 2001, which was, effectively, a full-scale test of a Sprite pod, although not all of the Sprite components were flown. The first Sprite orbital launch is scheduled for 2006. This paper describes the technology and development plan of the Sprite Small Launch Vehicle (SLV).

Starting with a contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory in 1993, technology development has progressed with increasing maturity in design, manufacturing techniques, and component development and qualification. Low-cost and scalable ablative engines based on flight-proven technology, all-composite propellant tanks, and a Tridyne-based High Performance Pressurization System are all in the final stages of qualification. A low-cost baseline design has been developed for the Sprite upper stage. The Scorpius® modular design approach, built around scalable critical components such as the engines and all-composite propellant tanks, will allow us to transition from the Sprite SLV to the medium-lift Exodus and then to heavier-lift vehicles if the need justifies the economic investment.
In addition to carrying primary payloads, the entire Scorpius® family will have provisions to use the excess lift for any launch to carry multiple, small auxiliary payloads at little or no cost for universities, industry, and government organizations to obtain component testing with quick turn-around. These auxiliary payloads remain attached to the stage, but are given access to power and telemetry. This allows the system to realize maximum benefit from each launch. The Scorpius® vehicles are designed to facilitate encapsulated payloads, vertical transport of the assembled vehicle to the pad, and little or no on-pad preparation. The low recurring cost allows us to build to inventory and enables true launch-on-demand. The design incorporates operational features and procedures that will allow us to launch Scorpius® vehicles within 8 hours of arrival of the payload at the launch site or a request for launch for payloads stored on site in a launchable configuration. Thus, Scorpius® is fully capable of meeting the challenge of responsive access to space.

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Chakroborty, S., Wertz, J. R., Conger, R., “The Scorpius Expendable Launch Vehicle Family and Status of the Sprite Small Launch Vehicle,” 1st Responsive Space Conference, Redondo Beach, CA, AIAA-LA Section/SSTC 2003-9005, April 1–3, 2003.