PALMDALE – Northrop Grumman proposes building a new unmanned space launch system that’s part rocketplane and part conventional rocket, looking something like a space shuttle carrying a rocket on its back. Proposed under a Pentagon effort to find quicker, less-expensive ways to get into space, the Hybrid Launch Vehicle would use a shuttle-like mothership to carry aloft a conventional rocket booster that it would let go to carry a satellite into orbit or send a nonnuclear bomb at a far-off target. The computer-guided aircraft would then fly itself back to its base under the power of auxiliary jet engines. “The HLV concept offers the Defense Departmentd a relatively simple, affordable way to put standardized, tactical satellites into orbit quickly after receiving a request for support,” said Dennis Poulos, Northrop Grumman’s HLV project manager. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventUnder a 20-month, $3 million Air Force contract, Northrop Grumman is defining its concept for a subscale demonstrator version of the launch system and what would be needed to build and test it. There is a possibility of two preliminary design contracts, each for about $10 million, being awarded in the fall, Poulos said. From the work on those contracts, a single contractor would be selected to build and test the aircraft. “The Air Force’s goal is a one-fourth subscale demonstrator vehicle. We’re looking at what can be done with the available funding,” Poulos said. The program is in its earliest stages so there are no decisions made about where work on assembly and test would be done. Northrop Grumman has a facility at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale and nearby Edwards Air Force Base has done work with hypersonic research vehicles, notably the X-15 during the 1960s. “We are based in L.A. and like to do things in our backyard, but there’s no guarantee that will be the case,” Poulos said. The “hybrid” part of the system’s name comes from the fact that it is a mix of a reusable high-speed rocketplane in the first stage, and an expendable rocket booster in the second stage. The system would provide for quick turnarounds, allowing for a second mission to fly within 48 hours. The system would also greatly reduce costs because much of the system is reusable. The two parts, mated together with the rocket on the plane’s back, would be launched vertically. The rocketplane would accelerate to Mach 7, roughly 4,900 mph, and would climb to an altitude of 150,000 feet before releasing the upper stage. The rocket then boosts a satellite to orbit or delivers a nonnuclear weapon to a distant target. Meanwhile, the rocketplane would fly itself back to base, officials said. The rocketplane would have two engine systems – a rocket for launch and jet engines for its return flight, according to Northrop Grumman. “Getting an airplane to come back from 300 miles is a doable do,” Poulos said. A number of technologies would have to be developed or adapted for the system, including a thermal protection system to protect it from heat generated by high-speed flight, finding a robust rocket engine that could be adapted for reuse, and developing the electronic equipment and software to fly the airplane back to base. A key part of the effort would be proving the quickness of the turnaround time between missions. “The most important part is demonstrating the operability of the program, from touchdown to launch,” Poulos said. The subscale craft would demonstrate the high-speed flight characteristics, the ability of the aircraft to safely return to base, and the ability to quickly and affordably ready the system for its next launch, according to the Air Force. The current plans call for the subscale HLV to be a high-speed sub-orbital vehicle that would use dummy upper stages to test separation characteristics. The Air Force estimates the cost will range between $200 million to $250 million to build and test a subscale HLV system. The tentative plan is for a first flight in 2010 or 2011. Northrop Grumman expects to use management techniques and technologies derived from some of its other programs, including Antelope Valley-related projects. Those programs include the B-2 stealth bomber and unmanned aircraft capable of flying all or part of a mission without human intervention, such as the computer-controlled Global Hawk reconnaissance aircraft. [email protected] (661) 267-5743160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!