Andrzej Jeziorski/PARIS

Beal Aerospace Technologies is planning to become the first private company to develop, build and fly large launch vehicles in the same class as the European Ariane.

The Dallas, Texas-based company is developing an expendable launch vehicle, the BA-2, which Beal Aerospace founder and president Andy Beal says will be a "simplified, reduced-risk vehicle" aiming for high reliability at low cost. It will also be "the most environmentally friendly rocket in the world" as a result of its hydrogen-peroxide/kerosene-fuelled engine.

The BA-2 being constructed at the company's research and development site in Frisco, Texas, is a three-stage vehicle, 65m (215ft) tall and 6.2m in diameter, with a 1,000t lift-off weight. It will be capable of placing a 5.8t payload into geostationary transfer orbit or a 17t payload into low earth orbit.

The project is a "purely commercial enterprise, with no government funding", says Beal. He concedes that the programme is already over budget and behind schedule. Marketing activities will begin within two months, after the successful test-firing of the rocket's second stage engine.

The engine is in the final stages of development. Beal says it will have significantly lower combustion chamber temperatures than those of a conventional rocket, allowing more flexibility in the materials used for construction. The fuel tanks and engines will be built using filament-wound carbonfibre composite materials, he says.

The first stage engine will generate 3.2 million lb (14,240kN) of thrust, with stage two powered by a single 810,000lb-thrust engine and stage three by a 44,000lb-thrust powerplant. Third stage engine testing began in November. Second stage tests are to begin in July and will be followed by an initial first stage trial in November. The first BA-2 prototype launch is scheduled for late 2000/early 2001.

Launches will be from Sombrero Island, Anguilla, which at 18¹N is 10¹ closer to the equator than Florida's Cape Canaveral, allowing improved use of the earth's rotation to add momentum.

Source: Flight International