Northrop to look at hybrid vehicle

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USAF hands out contract for 14-month study

Northrop Grumman has been awarded a $1.5 million, 14-month study contract for the US Air Force’s Hybrid Launch Vehicle (HLV) programme.
The HLV is designed to place a 6,800kg (15,000lb) payload into orbit and Northrop’s concept is a two-stage vehicle with a reusable flyback first stage and expendable second stage.


northrop hlv concept w250
© Northrop Grumman

Northrop's concept is a two-stage vehicle with reusable flyback first stage
The HLV would have to be able to fly again with a new second stage within 48h. The first stage could reach Mach 7 carrying the second stage to 150,000ft (45,750m), where it would be released to reach low, polar or geosynchronous Earth orbit with its satellite or weapons payload.
Northrop’s current design sees both stages using JP-1 or JP-2 kerosene/liquid oxygen rocket engines. This first stage would also have jet engines to power its return.
The second stage may be derived from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Falcon small launch vehicle.
“By 2010 or 2011 there could be a quarter-scale vehicle demonstration,” says Northrop Grumman HLV programme manager Dennis Poulos.
Although Northrop wants to use some existing technology, it is considering high-heat-capacity  polyimid composite as well as aluminium for vehicle structures.  In August Northrop expects the request for proposals for an HLV preliminary design contract to be released.
With a contract scheduled to be awarded by December, the work would last for a further 12 months.
However, the $1.5 million study contract also includes a six-month extension option and a further $1.5 million could be awarded for the project.

ROB COPPINGER / COLORADO SPRINGS