RocketStar hopes to deploy its aerospike-propelled rocket for the very first time, transporting a prototype satellite meant for the resource-mapping firm Lunasonde on a suborbital journey. On its test flight, RocketStar’s 12-meter Cowbell rocket intends to reach 21,000 meters, depending on NASA’s final safety standards for deploying from Launch Complex 48, a multi-use launchpad at Cape Canaveral Florida.
Even though this trip is expected to last only eight minutes, Lunasonde believes that this will be sufficient time for the onboard subsurface radar imager to capture vital reflectance data to aid in its development. The company said cowbell was supposed to be launched on RocketStar’s first suborbital mission in early 2019 to evaluate a patented aerospike engine. RocketStar halted the project three days before liftoff, claiming safety concerns, after getting regulatory approval to deploy Cowbell from the floating barge off the Florida coast.
Since then, RocketStar has remained tight-lipped about its plans, opting for a launch from a dry land platform as a safer alternative. “It’s taken that long to transition the sea-launch approach to a land-centered launch, between COVID as well as finding the suitable pad,” Christopher Craddock, RocketStar founder, informed SpaceNews.
RocketStar decided not to publicize its ongoing development until after it launched, according to Craddock. “We thought it would be better to do it and then say, ‘OK guys, we did the first one, this is what occurred, and we’d love to be seeing you at the next one,'” he explained.
Craddock founded RocketStar to construct an SSTO (single-stage-to-orbit) launch vehicle driven by an aerospike engine, which is 3D-printed. He was a former Wall Street broker. “The present idea is by using the toroidal [aerospike] engine for the orbital insertion throughout our development program, and then continue to use toroidal after we become commercial,” he explained.
NASA’s exploratory X-33 suborbital spaceplane project and its planned SSTO follow-on VentureStar used aerospike engines, a new concept initially tested in the 1960s. However, in the early 2000s, NASA and Lockheed Martin cancelled the X-33 and VentureStar programs without completing or flying either vehicle.
“Pretty much no aerospike has ever flown under its power, and if it did, it was only to approximately 50,000 feet,” Cradock said. Even though RocketStar’s maiden suborbital launch is going to take place from land, Craddock believes that launching from the water is still appealing from a “launch cadence perspective.”
The company also plans to give propulsion solutions to other businesses in the future. “It just seems like a good element of the business we want to pursue,” he explained, “but it will in no way prevent us from pursuing SSTO [single-stage-to-orbit] or developing a tiny satellite launcher.”