Towed Glider Air-Launch Concept
Early artist rendering of the Towed Glider Air-Launch Concept, showing the towed glider following rocket launch. A notional tow aircraft is seen clearing the launch area. (NASA image) › View Larger Image
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center is developing a novel space access, rocket launching technique called the Towed Glider Air-Launch Concept.
The idea is to build a relatively inexpensive, remotely or optionally-piloted glider that will be towed to altitudes approaching 40,000 feet by a large transport aircraft. The glider will carry a booster rocket capable of launching payloads into low Earth orbit.
Engineers continue working trade-offs with launching the rocket either with the glider still in tow, or following release from the tow aircraft. Either way, after the rocket has launched, the empty glider will return independently of the tow aircraft to the runway to be used again.
Early artist rendering shows the
concept of operations of the Towed
Glider Air-Launch Concept, beginning
with the aero-tow of the glider
carrying a rocket booster, launching
the rocket, then returning to land
independently of the tow aircraft.
› View Larger Image
Recent feasibility analyses done by independent contractors indicate that a performance gain of up to 40 percent may be realized over ground launch of a similar rocket.
Air launch of rockets has the potential to lower the cost of placing payloads to orbit through operational efficiencies that are simply not available through vertical ground launch.
Cost savings may be as much as 25 percent based on recent Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency studies. These savings are due to both operational efficiencies and performance gains, as compared to ground launch.
Historically, air launched rockets have been carried and dropped from underneath modified, existing aircraft. Currently, a new custom-built carrier aircraft is under construction by Stratolaunch Systems Inc.
The Towed Glider Air Launch Concept has the potential to realize the operational flexibility of a custom airplane, but without the price tag.
“It’s a real estate problem,” said Budd. “You’re limited in what you can fit underneath an existing aircraft. Launching off the top of a carrier aircraft is problematic from a safety perspective. Our approach allows for significant payloads to be carried aloft and launched from a purpose-built custom aircraft that is less expensive because of the simplicity of the airframe, having no propulsion system (engines, fuel, etc.), on board,” Budd said.
This initial research and development effort is funded internally by NASA Dryden, located on Edwards Air Force Base in California, and by NASA’s Office of the Chief Technologist. Potential Department of Defense and industry partnerships are being explored.
NASA Dryden Public Affairs
Edited by Waspie_Dwarf, 12 January 2013 - 02:33 AM.