Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk have different visions of reusability of their launch vehicles but objective is virtually same – reducing costs and time needed for preparing rocket for next launch. Heliaq Advanced Engineering and the University of Queensland have other vision and first successes was already achieved.
Australian company Heliaq in cooperation with University of Queensland is developing new technology of reusable light launch vehicle. It is not so spectacular like solution proposed by Blue Origin or SpaceX. Vehicle developed by Heliaq is designed to lift from 80 kg to 550 kg in low Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO). It could be compared to new launch vehicles developed in different countries like Long March 11 in China, ALASA or more conventional Super Strypi in USA. Australia would like to obtain possibility of low cost launching satellites which would be naturally very useful in communication, navigation, emergency situations or remote sensing in Australia’s wastelands. Rocket developed since 2011 is called ALV-Australian Launch Vehicle.
ALV concept started in 2011 when Heliaq Company started join project of the reusable rocket with University of Queensland. Main objective of the project was developing liquid fueled (LOX and methane), partially reusable rocket built with extensive utilization of Commercial Off-The-Shelf parts and able to lift payload up to 550 kg to SSO. Engineers working under project decided not to base on reusable core of the rocket like in SpaceX and Blue Origin in their projects, but to use reusable large boosters which will be representing up to 75% weight of future vehicle. Depending on payload mass various number of boosters could be used, up to six in case of utilizing whole payload capacity. Rocket is designed with three stages, where first stage are boosters, second stage is core (which is not planned as reusable) and third stage is propulsion module with payload fairing. After start rocket is reaching planned altitude, boosters are separating from core of the rocket. Core is continuing flight until third stage with payload would separate and inject payload into orbit. In this same time boosters are performing ballistic flight but they are not re-entering atmosphere like first stage of the Falcon rocket. Stabilizing of ballistic flight is possible due the stabilizing fins which are solid part of the booster. After reaching distance of 350 km from launch site, boosters are deploying wing and propeller which will be powered by aero engine and continuing flight like conventional plane with horizontal landing. Second conception of ALV assumes utilization of scramjet powered second stage. Boosters with scramjet plane on atop would start vertically and perform separation and landing just like in first case. Next, scramjet plane would reach 10 Ma speed and deploy third stage (which would be rocket powered) with payload after reaching altitude of 40 km. Second stage would land horizontally like conventional plane. Third stage would inject list payload into desired orbit. Second stage would be powered with developed under leadership of Michael Smart, the Chair of Hypersonic Propulsion at UQ’s Centre for Hypersonics new SPARTAN scramjet engine.
Whole program was divided into phases with milestones to achieve. Zero phase was included general design and conceptual work. In first phase first scaled test vehicle should be ready and tested. Result of second stage should be full scale test vehicle which should be tested in limited operational conditions in third phase. Fourth phase is planned as dedicated for manufacturing vehicles and final tests and certifications. Last phase is commercial utilization of vehicle. For the present moment program is after first stage of development with successful first test of scaled reusable booster performed on 23 December 2015.