Comprehensive coverage

Rocketry is an art: on rockets launched into space

From D-Nor rockets to missiles with nuclear warheads, the principle on which the launcher operates has not changed, but the political and technological conditions for sending humans and satellites into space have. Another race from the ground to space

The Iranian launcher - Sapir 2
The Iranian launcher - Sapir 2

By: Tal Inbar

Satellites and astronauts begin their journey into space on the ground, in a spacecraft or in the nose of a rocket. The space launch missiles, known in the professional language as launchers, operate according to a simple principle, the law of action and reaction - Newton's third law according to which every action has a reaction equal in strength and opposite in direction.

The missiles burn some kind of fuel - solid, liquid or a combination of the two - and the combustion products, high pressure gases, are pushed out through an exhaust nozzle. This principle has not changed since the beginning of flying - somewhere in the XNUMXth century, in China and Korea, when rockets were used for the purposes of entertainment, holidays (D-Nor fireworks) and war alike.

Over the years, the reliability of the launchers has greatly improved, as has their capacity to carry them into space. In this review we will see a little of what is being done in the world of launchers in terms of technology, improvements in fuels, automation and the operational readiness of the launchers.

Converting ballistic missiles to satellite launchers

Many of the satellite launchers and even some of the manned launchers have been converted over the years to ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads. The first two manned space programs of the United States, Mercury and Gemini, used guided ballistic missiles - Redstone, Atlas and Titan.

The Apollo program for manned flights to the moon was the motive for the development of dedicated launchers for carrying humans into space - the Saturn family of rockets. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War between it and the United States, various agreements were signed between the powers to reduce the ballistic missile arsenal.

Some were dismantled, some were destroyed in a controlled explosion and some underwent "professional retraining" and became satellite launchers. The advantage is clear - this is a proven, highly reliable missile that requires a relatively small investment in order to transform it into a satellite launcher.

Immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were many rockets that were marketed as satellite launchers at extremely low prices, and for many countries this was the most convenient means of reaching space.

Russian companies that work jointly with Western companies today offer launches mainly using two missile models: Dnieper, a conversion of the SS-18 ballistic missile, and Rokot, a conversion of the SS-19 missile.

Also in the United States, some MX type ballistic missiles were converted into a satellite launcher configuration (Minotaur launcher family). The main problem in converting ballistic missiles to launchers is the dwindling inventory, as well as the age of the missiles and the systems installed in them.

Today, launching into space using a launcher converted from a ballistic missile is not as cheap as it was in the early nineties, and the prices are increasing.

From India to China: Countries and Launchers

With the improvement in the economic situation in Russia, and under the leadership of Putin, who aspired to restore Russia to its position as a leading power, many budgets were poured into the field of space in general and the field of launchers in particular. After decades of relying on the existing, today several new satellite launchers are being developed in Russia, after decades of relying on the existing.

The leading launcher is Angara, a launcher with several models that is expected to fly into space in the coming years. This satellite launcher will be able to carry various payloads, and even be capable of carrying cosmonauts. The carrying capacity for low orbit reaches up to 50 tons in the heavy configuration of the launcher.

Another model that is being developed in Russia is the Soyuz 1, a launcher for carrying light and medium-sized satellites (dedicated payloads). Cooperation between Russia and South Korea led to the development of the KSLV-1 launcher, which has so far performed two test flights, which failed to place a satellite in space.

Iran joins the space club

Extensive activity is taking place in several other countries seeking to achieve the capability of self-launching into space. The newest entrant to the space club is Iran, which in February 2009 succeeded in launching a satellite into space using a self-developed satellite launcher, the Safir.

Both Koreas have been trying to develop satellite launchers for years, and so far both have failed in the mission. The production of satellite launchers takes place in other countries, including Brazil and Indonesia. The ability to self-launch into space has a great symbolic meaning from a political point of view, especially if the country does not have a high launch capability.

The United States has begun developing a new manned launcher as part of the Constellation program. This launcher is designed to carry the Orion spacecraft into space; President Obama's desire to cancel the entire Constellation project has met with objections among the Senate's Science and Technology Committee, which calls, among other things, to preserve the government's ability to launch humans into space and not rely entirely on foreign or commercial entities.

China has developed a manned version of a launcher for its manned space program, and India is doing the same today: within a few years an Indian astronaut is expected to be launched into space using a domestic launcher. India aspires to be the fourth country in the world to launch a man into space by itself.

European plans to convert the Ariane 5 heavy satellite launcher have already been presented several times at exhibitions and conferences, but no official decision has yet been made on developing the ability to launch astronauts using this launcher.

Ukraine is taking advantage of the legacy of Soviet-era missile factories and design offices located there, and new missiles are turning from blueprints into reality, including a new family of launchers: Mayak and Cyclone 4, which is being developed, among other things, for Brazil's space agency.

Private and commercial initiatives

The company SPACE X has turned the launch services into space on a commercial basis from a dream to a reality. The company founded by the entrepreneur Elon Musk, developed and successfully launched into space two models of launchers: the small Falcon 1, and the heavy Falcon 9, designed both to launch communication satellites into geostationary orbit and to launch astronauts to the International Space Station using the Dragon spacecraft, also of its own development.

The company has many launch contracts, including the launch of an Israeli satellite of the Amos series, intended for launch in late 2012 or early 2013.

It should be noted that other commercial launch ventures did not succeed, and see for example the commercial launch venture from the sea Sea launch, which was a joint initiative of companies from the United States, Russia, Ukraine and Norway, and which went bankrupt.

Launchers: types and fuels

With the advancement of the technologies related to the construction of various types of satellites, micro satellites began to appear in many countries, which are mostly satellites weighing about XNUMX kg. The launch of these satellites is often done as an accompanying payload with a larger and more expensive satellite, or a combination of several small satellites from different countries on a single launcher.

This launch model has often limited the availability of launches, creating "queues" on the way to space. On top of that, a real need arose to launch medium-sized satellites, weighing up to about 1,500 kg.

Launching into space a small or medium satellite in a large launcher is a huge waste of money. The European Space Agency (ESA) has been developing a launcher for small and medium-sized satellites for years - Vega. This launcher is expected to fly during 2010, and will be launched from the European space base Coro in French Guiana in South America.

The launcher has a launch capacity of about 1,500 kg for a low orbit, with three stages; The first two are powered by solid fuel. In the category of small launchers, the Russian Soyuz 1, the South Korean Naru 1 and the Japanese Epsilon can also be included.

The Epsilon launcher, which is powered by solid fuel, excels in great operational flexibility that results, among other things, from the design of fast autonomous and automatic tests, while using minimal ground equipment. Recently, air launch options were also examined, and as already written in this section, today there is a single operational air launcher, Pegasus.

The performance of the launchers is also affected by the fuels that drive them, since an improvement in the rocket fuels enables an improvement in the performance of the launchers, their reliability and even in the aspect of their impact on the quality of the environment.

In Japan, for example, an upper stage for a satellite launcher that will be powered by natural gas is currently being built. This fuel has many advantages for space applications, in terms of lower costs compared to cryogenic fuel (very cold fuel - usually a combination of liquid hydrogen and oxygen).

Its density is higher than liquid hydrogen, so the launcher can be made smaller, and it is also possible to store natural gas in a compressed state for very long periods of time - something that will allow placing "refueling tanks" in orbit, and greater flexibility in research missions to the solar system.

2 תגובות

  1. When I read this line - I realized that humans are ants in a maze... Look what happened in Japan...

    "In Japan, for example, an upper stage for a satellite launcher that will be powered by natural gas is currently being built. This fuel has many advantages for space applications, in terms of lower costs compared to cryogenic fuel (very cold fuel - usually a combination of liquid hydrogen and oxygen)."

    Meanwhile they are in a tragedy...

Leave a Reply

Email will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismat to prevent spam messages. Click here to learn how your response data is processed.