Status of the Scorpius Low Cost Launch Services Program


Scorpius® is a Microcosm program to develop an entirely new launch vehicle family with the objective of reducing total launch cost by a factor of 5 to 10. This paper reports on progress and problems since the inception of the program in 1993.

System level design has been done for a variety of vehicle sizes, ranging from a small, single engine suborbital, the SR-S, to massive heavy lift vehicles capable of putting 160,000 lb. into low Earth orbit. System development has focused initially on smaller vehicles with the single stage SR-S suborbital successfully launched at White Sands Missile Range on Jan. 27, 1999 and a larger single stage suborbital scheduled for launch in late 1999. Of particular interest to the SmallSat community is the Sprite Mini-Lift vehicle, projected to be able to put 400 lb. into low Earth orbit for $1.7 million (FY99$).
Development of appropriate component technology is ongoing. To date, 25 5,000 lb thrust chambers have been built at an average cost of less than $5,000 each. Achieved performance and lifetime are appropriate for launch to orbit. Avionics are similarly low cost with recurring cost of both the flight computer and the pod electronics substantially less than $5,000 each. In the baseline configuration, valves are the only moving parts in the vehicle, although a low-cost gimbal is also being evaluated. Thus, the cost of turbopumps, actuators, and APU’s are particularly low since they aren’t present. The design also accommodates very low cost facilities and operations costs, as is necessary to achieve the low total launch cost.
Two test stands have been constructed at the Rocket Propulsion Test Facility at New Mexico Tech, Socorro, NM. The site is currently capable of supporting engine tests of up to 100,000 lb. thrust. To date the ongoing Microcosm engine development program has tested engines of up to 40,000 lb. thrust.

Download “Status of the Scorpius Low Cost Launch Services Program”

Berry, J., R. Conger, and J.R. Wertz, 1999. “Status of the Scorpius Low Cost Launch Services Program.” Presented at the IAF Specialists Symposium on Novel Approaches to Smaller, Faster, Better Space Missions, Redondo Beach, CA, April 19−21, 1999.