Placing Payloads in Earth Orbit

Problem: Space Access LLC requested Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) assistance in validation of the technologies associated with the development of a reusable commercial space launch system. Space Access is using an innovative "ejector ramjet" propulsion system to power a hybrid airbreathing first stage. With two additional rocket-powered stages-nested inside the first-the system will deliver a full range of payloads to low- or geosynchronous-transfer-Earth orbits (LEO or GTO).

Solution: Through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, AFRL Air Vehicles (VA) and Propulsion (PR) Directorates and Space Access have worked together since June 1996 to validate the ejector ramjet propulsion concept, structural features and first-stage aerospacecraft operation. AFRL drag predictions were confirmed by extensive wind tunnel tests conducted at the Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Center, and design changes to rectify drag-related issues were incorporated by Space Access, which paid for the testing and AFRL analyses. In the past, aerodynamic drag was a significant problem for ramjet-powered systems.


  • Space Access will benefit by having the extensive experience and invaluable lessons learned on the development of numerous, related Air Force aerospacecraft applied to the commercial development process.
  • The Air Force will benefit by having access to a reusable space launch system, developed with commercial funding.

Current Status:

  • The company is planning to conduct development testing of the full-size vehicle in 2001 and begin commercial launches in 2002.
If you have any questions about this Cooperative Research and Development Agreement or are interested in getting more information about technology transfer and CRADA projects, please contact Jim Singer at Wright Technology Network (937) 253-0217 or CRADA@wtn.org

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