TECHNOLOGY AREA(S): Air Platform, Space Platforms
OBJECTIVE: Leverage emerging commercial technology and investments to deliver an operationally responsive, low-cost expendable launch vehicle (ELV) with individual stages that could be re-purposed as an expendable upper stage on a reusable first-stage booster. Develop the vehicle design and manufacture and test the ELV stack and/or the candidate expendable upper stage.
DESCRIPTION: There is a compelling Defense Department (DoD) need to leverage emerging commercial and defense technologies to enable fielding of responsive and low-cost liquid rocket ELVs and expendable stages suitable for use on future commercial and military reusable first stages (e.g., DARPA’s Experimental Spaceplane). Many established aerospace and emerging entrepreneurial companies are developing new ELV/stage technologies that strive to dramatically reduce the cost of access to space. The goal of this topic is to leverage these investments to enable operability-driven, low-cost launch vehicles capable of deploying payloads of militarily relevant mass and volume to orbit. Technological trends facilitating such ELVs include an ongoing computer/software revolution enabling affordable design; sophisticated software in lieu of mechanical complexity, integration, and test; micro-miniaturization of electronics and mechanical actuators; high strength-to-weight composites and nano-engineered materials; lightweight structural concepts and thermal protection; advanced manufacturing methods that enable high- thrust/weight rocket engines and turbo-machinery; and liquid propellants that are safe, affordable, and promote ease of handling. The proposer must demonstrate a clear understanding of the system applications of the launch vehicle, and a high level of technical and engineering maturity with respect to all critical technologies for this expendable vehicle or upper stage. Key design elements include non-toxic propellants, functional mechanisms and accommodations for insertion of operational satellites, and balancing gross mass with adequate velocity change, payload, and manufacturing cost. Low-cost stages with efficient structural arrangements to accommodate the structural interface and load paths to the reusable booster, while maintaining sufficient functionality and performance, are of interest. ELV designs that can be re-purposed for tactical missile applications and future boost glide air-transport systems are also of interest. A clear understanding of the technology applications to any proposed military or commercial system is essential. Critical technologies may include lightweight structures and propulsion, low-cost additively manufactured engines and components, high-impulse-density propellants, miniaturized avionics, modular components, altitude compensation and complementary aerodynamic/propulsion integration, and stability, guidance and control subsystems—all integrated into the stage while keeping the system simple and affordable. Proposers are encouraged to leverage their commercial investments and may seek to design, fabricate and test an entire ELV or a single stage.
PHASE I: Develop the design, manufacturing and test approach to fabricate extremely low-cost, responsive ELVs and/or upper stages for space access. Critical component or analytical risk reduction is encouraged. Identify potential system-level and technology applications of the proposed innovation. Proposers must delineate how the proposed program would lead to a responsive, low-cost ELV suitable for launching small DoD payloads while also delivering a responsive low-cost stage suitable for use as an upper stage on reusable commercial or Experimental Spaceplane first stages. Specific goals for an upper stage include: 1) an ideal velocity change of 19,000 fps; 2) a payload of at least 1,200 lbs with a goal of 3,000+ lbs; 3) a reasonable payload density for operational satellites; 4) a total gross mass, including payload and fairing, less than or equal to 40,000 lbs; and 5) a unit fly-away cost of less than $1M per stage. It is anticipated that after award, these values would be refined after technical coordination with the reusable first stage provider and the government. Using the above goals or alternatives based on the proposer’s analysis, develop a specific ELV and/or upper stage system design and identify the performance goals, technical feasibility, and innovative enabling technologies and alternatives. The design should include a detailed Phase II development plan for the technology addressing cost, schedule, performance and risk reduction. Technology and hardware risk reduction demonstrations at the component and/or system level should be identified, along with manufacturing and testing required to carry the program into Phases II and III. Hardware risk reduction during Phase I is encouraged although not required. As a minimum, the Phase I deliverables will include briefing charts reviewing system-level applications, a Phase II development plan, a Phase III military transition and commercialization strategy, and a detailed system design including weight statements, margins, and an inventory of all subsystems. The design, fabrication and test of any proposed hardware or software demonstrations in Phase I, if any, should also be documented. The Phase II proposal will be due three months after Phase I award to promote rapid progress to a Phase II award. For this topic, DARPA will accept proposals for work and cost up to $150,000 for Phase I. The preferred structure is a $100,000, 6-month base period, and a $50,000, 4-month option period.
PHASE II: For this topic, DARPA will accept Phase II proposals for work and cost up to $3,000,000 for a period of up to 18 months. The period of performance for this effort is expected to consist of a nine-month base period and a nine-month option period through Critical Design Review, manufacture and test with a funding level of up to $1,500,000 each. Alternative structures that do not exceed 18 months and $3,000,000 may be proposed with sufficient rationale. Phase II awards and options are subject to the availability of funds. Base effort ($1,500,000): Proposers are encouraged to leverage their private entrepreneurial investments to accelerate the Phase I design through Critical Design Review, then develop, demonstrate and validate the system design, critical hardware components and/or enabling technologies. The goal is to design, construct, and demonstrate the ELV or upper-stage prototype hardware designed in Phase I. The Phase II demonstration should advance the state of the art to between Technology Readiness Levels 4 and 5 and Manufacturing Readiness Levels 3 and 4. Required deliverables will include a final report including design data such as computer-aided design (CAD), finite element model (FEM), architectural and schematic documentation for the avionics and software suite, explanations of all key mechanisms, detailed mass properties, manufacturing and test plan, costing data, test data, updated future applications and Phase III military transition and commercialization strategy. Alternative deliverables will be considered provided they demonstrate an equivalent level of progress. Option ($1,500,000): Proposers are encouraged to continue leveraging any private entrepreneurial investment to accelerate fabrication and demonstration of the ELV and/or expendable upper-stage design, then ground test the assembled stage(s). The demonstration should advance the state of the art to between Technology Readiness Levels 5 and 6 and Manufacturing Readiness Levels 4 and 5. Required deliverables will include the ELV and/or expendable upper stage prototype design, software, cost and test data in a final report. The proposer shall also update future applications of the ELV and/or expendable upper stage and the Phase III military transition and commercialization strategy.
PHASE III: Commercial Application – The proposer will identify commercial applications of the proposed technology(s) including use as a responsive, low-cost ELV and/or expendable upper stage on commercial reusable boosters including the commercially transitioned DARPA Experimental Spaceplane. Leveraging of commercial and defense investments in stage technology tailored to support specific upper-stage needs is encouraged. Technology transition opportunities shall be identified along with the most likely path for transition from SBIR research to an operational capability. The transition path may include use on commercial launch vehicles or alternative system and technology applications of interest to commercial customers. DoD/Military Application – The proposer will identify military applications of the proposed technology(s) including use as a responsive, low-cost ELV and/or expendable upper stage on the DARPA Experimental Spaceplane or alternative commercial reusable boosters. The proposer shall identify the military advantages of operationally responsive ELVs and/or reusable spaceplanes with expendable stages to support launch on demand, rapid reconstitution and routine space access capabilities critical to the defense of the United States. Leveraging of commercial and defense investments in ELV/stage technology tailored to support specific upper-stage needs is encouraged. Technology transition opportunities shall be identified along with the most likely path for transition from SBIR research to an operational capability. The transition path may include use on commercial launch vehicles or alternative system and technology applications of interest to military users, including the U.S. Air Force’s 30-year vision of Global Vigilance, Global Reach and Global Power.
1: Modern Engineering For Design of Liquid Propellant Rocket Engines, Dieter Huzel, David Huang, Harry Arbit, 1992. (Density Impulse defined, pg 19).
2: Sutton, G. and Biblarz, O. Rocket Propulsion Elements, 8th ed., Liquid rocket propulsion options and propellants.
3: Listing of robust commercial spaceflight industry members: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_private_spaceflight_companies
4: Experimental Spaceplane (XS-1) Program proposer’s day information: https://www.fbo.gov/spg/ODA/DARPA/CMO/DARPA-BAA-14-01/listing.html
5: America’s Air Force: A Call to the Future, July 2014. http://airman.dodlive.mil/files/2014/07/AF_30_Year_Strategy_2.pdf
6: USAF Strategic Master Plan, May 2015: http://www.af.mil/Portals/1/documents/Force%20Management/Strategic_Master_Plan.pdf
7: Definitions of Manufacturing Readiness Levels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Readiness_Level
8: Definitions of Technology Readiness Levels: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technology_readiness_level
KEYWORDS: Expendable Launch Vehicle (ELV), Upper Stage, Commercial Launch, Experimental Spaceplane XS-1, Point To Point, Point To Point Transport, Suborbital Flight, Rocket, Space, Airlift, Boost Glide And Rocket Propulsion