Systems Engineering for Responsive Launch


In the Microcosm Responsive Launch Systems model, a key requirement is that the launch vehicle be essentially a commodity, built to inventory, and ready to go whenever needed, much like cruise missiles or rental cars. This, in turn, implies the need for low vehicle cost and minimum ground infrastructure in order to hold down the capital cost of maintaining systems in inventory, as well as minimizing the actual launch operations time. Thus, one way to achieve responsive launch is to design a low-cost system which provides a ready inventory and necessitates a brief launch operation to keep operations cost low.
This paper addresses 5 key system engineering trades and their results in the implementation of low cost, responsive launch systems:
• Propellant selection – Kerosene/LOX
• Feed system – Pressure-fed
• Number of stages to orbit – 3 stages
• Technology commonality – Common in all stages
• Launch constraints – All-weather launch
The net result of these trades is the Sprite Small Launch Vehicle, capable of putting 810 lbs into LEO for $4.2 million with a small number of launches per year. Launch can be within 8 hours from the storage condition (not on alert), within 2 hours from alert on the launch pad (indefinite hold period), and within 5 minutes when the system is on alert and fueled.

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Bauer, T., S. Chakroborty, R. Conger and J. Wertz. 4th AIAA Responsive Space Conference, Los Angeles, CA. April 24–27, 2006.