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Center Innovation Fund: AFRC CIF

Air Launch from a Towed Glider Project

Completed Technology Project

Project Description

Air Launch from a Towed Glider Project

This research effort is exploring the concept of launching a rocket from a glider that is towed by an aircraft. The idea is to build a relatively inexpensive remotely piloted glider that could be towed to altitude by a large transport aircraft. The glider would carry a booster rocket capable of launching payloads into orbit. After the rocket launch, the glider would return independently of the tow aircraft to its base to be used again. This approach could significantly reduce the cost and improve the efficiency of sending satellites into orbit. Work to date: Three separate technical feasibility studies completed by independent contractors indicate the technique could achieve significant performance gains over vertical ground launches of similar-sized rockets. The Dryden team has designed and is building a subscale research model to test operational aspects and characterize flight performance and handling qualities. Flight testing and crew training have begun on a single fuselage glider that will be towed to altitude by early 2014. Looking ahead: Future plans involve continuing work to assemble a one-third scale glider model with a 24-foot wingspan to obtain operational experience while under towed flight, as well as performance and handling qualities data. Plans are underway to flight demonstrate a rocket launch from the sub-scale model in 2014. Whittinghill Aerospace is fabricating a rocket for this air launch flight demonstration, under a Phase III SBIR.. Benefits More economical: Use of a simple remotely piloted glider, without the complex propulsion and crew life support systems required for a crewed, powered aircraft, provides an inexpensive air launch platform Increased payload: A towed glider can carry over twice the payload of a dedicated powered aircraft Safer: Remotely piloted gliders that are towed 1000+ feet behind the tow plane offer a substantial safety perimeter from the high energy systems inherent in rocket boosters (as compared to other air-launch methodologies)

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Anticipated Benefits

Primary U.S. Work Locations and Key Partners

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