Air Force/Lockheed plot new launch vehicle

by Chris Bergin

Fresh off the US Air Force announcement of the SIV Space Test Program’s “Standard Interface Vehicle” (STP-SIV), Lockheed Martin have revealed they have won an initial contract for the Hybrid Launch Vehicle (HLV) Studies and Analysis program.

The HLV announcement, which will ring bells with those that followed the early days of the X-33, notes ” the HLV will provide the Air Force with an affordable, responsive, reliable and simple-to-operate capability for launching tactical space assets and conventional satellites into low earth orbit (LEO).”
While the HLV won’t be an SSTO (Single Stage to Orbit) craft, the Air Force – who nearly adopted the stalled ‘VentureStar’ program from Lockheed Martin and NASA, have a lot of the X-33’s operational capabilities targeted for the HLV.

The vehicle will be highly responsive, with an anticipated 24- to 48-hour turnaround time. Air Force requirements call for a HLV that will accommodate medium to heavy lift (10,000 to 15,000 pounds) for LEO inclinations.

Lockheed Martin will formulate conceptual designs for an operational system architecture, a subscale demonstrator and associated ground hardware and infrastructure for an HLV that employs a reusable first-stage booster and an expendable upper stage.

‘Our expertise in reusable launch vehicles positions us to formulate a system design concept that will completely meet the Air Force’s needs for a highly operable vehicle that also is extremely reliable,’ said Dave Kennon, Hybrid Launch Vehicle program manager, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company.

‘Under our concept, the HLV will take off vertically and the reusable first stage will return to the launch site for a horizontal landing.’

The vehicle will adopt a vertical launch approach, with a reusable booster first stage, expendable upper stages, which the deployment stage returning to Earth for a horizontal landing, ready for re-use.

Some of the contractors who took part in the failed X-33 project are being brought in on the HLV vision, with Lockheed using subcontractors Aerojet of Sacramento, Calif., and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, Calif., for the reusable propulsion systems.

In an upcoming separate procurement, the Air Force will select two contractor teams to design subscale HLV demonstrators, with work to begin in fiscal year 2007. After preliminary design review, the Air Force will select one contractor team to develop the demonstrator HLV.

The full-scale HLV is planned to be initially operational by 2018.

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