High Hopes for Low-Cost Rocket After Successful Launch Test

A low-cost rocket capable of tossing small payloads intospace has been test flown from a Mojave, Californiatest site.

The successful launch and recovery of the Prospector 6 (P6)test vehicle took place on May 21, under the California Launch VehicleEducation Initiative (CALVEIN). A joint industry/academic team is hard at workto develop a low-cost Nanosat Launch Vehicle, a booster that can deliver 22pound (10 kilogram) payloads to low Earth orbit.

The partially reusable P6 test vehicle is designed and builtby Garvey Spacecraft Corporation in Long Beach, California and CaliforniaState University,Long Beach. Therocket is a full-scale, but low-fidelity look-alike to a two-stage, moreadvanced vehicle being planned.

The pathfinder P6 flight evaluated new vehicle technologiesand more proficient field site operations, said John Garvey of GarveySpacecraft Corporation.

Responsivespace operations

Roaring into the sky, the nearly 27 foot (8 meter) longProspector 6 flew to slightly under 3,000 feet (914 meters) - a far cry fromorbit, but a milestone toward the goal of hurling small satellites into space.The recent flight also carried an interstage, a second stage simulator and agraphite/epoxy composite payload fairing.

The research team conducted their test operations at theMojave Test Area that is owned and operated by the Reaction ResearchSociety.

"Of significance for advocates of responsive spaceoperations," Garvey said, "was the demonstration of vehicle delivery,integration, payload installation, propellant loading, launch, recovery andshipment back to the California State University,Long Beach campusin a single day."

"We got thehardware back in decent shape again," Garvey told SPACE.com. "We'll be deciding which direction to head next. Wemight attempt to develop higher performing vehicles or remain focused on gettingmuch of the basic fundamental technology and operations in place first, whilestill flying university-type payloads."


Garvey noted that the P6 flight also continued the CALVEINpractice of manifesting student payloads from across the country.

California State University,Long Beach-supplied experiments included a mini-DV camera sponsored by astudent chapter of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Thedevice captured on-board video of the entire flight sequence. In addition, thehardware handled a real-time telemetry system that adapted commercialoff-the-shelf Wi Fi technology to relay key propulsion system parameters.

Also onboard the rocket was a measurement logging packageprovided by Montana State University.It recorded acceleration, pressure and temperature data that is already beingused to assess the vehicle's performance.

Near-termtest plans

With the successful recovery of the P6, the CALVEIN team isnow updating their plans to reuse the hardware in future flight testing. Therocketeers are investigating new propellant mixes, advanced engine chambermaterials, and novel ways to accommodate payloads on their launcher design.

"There are a number of folks on our end, including myself,who have a strong interest in the results. We are now in the process of updatingour near-term test plans. The basic
P6 hardware is in good shape and can be refurbished in a short time," Garveysaid.

Along with their recent low-altitude development flight, earlier team achievements include the first-ever powered flight tests of a liquid-propellant aerospike engine and composite cryogenic propellant tankage for liquid oxygen.

A view of the launch from an onboard camera is available here.

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.