DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa) is to build a demonstrator to develop reuseable launch vehicle (RLV) technology, with test flights to begin in 2002.

The 6m (20ft)-long, rocket-powered Phoenix demonstrator is intended as a testbed for RLV technologies that could later be applied to a longer-term, two-stage to orbit RLV programme called Hopper, which could be in use after 2012. The Phoenix flight tests are intended to test, evaluate and minimise risks in the use of environmentally friendly propellants and to gather data for future operations.

The current, proposed configuration of the Hopper envisages a 40m-long, delta-winged vehicle powered by three Vulcain Mk2 engines, launched horizontally from a slide unit. The RLV will have a 20m wing span and a maximum take-off weight of 400t.

Dasa says that the vehicle will be capable of launching 7t into low earth orbit (LEO) and more than 5t into geostationary orbit (GEO). The payload will be boosted into orbit by an expendable upper stage, stored inside the Hopper, that burns up on re-entry while the launch vehicle flies back to a conventional, aircraft-like landing.

Dasa sees Aerospatiale, Alenia Spazio and Boeing as possible partners in the Hopper programme.

The company says the Hopper concept is based on technologies Dasa has developed for programmes such as the "Saenger" spaceplane concept. According to Dasa, the programme is driven by anticipated growth in the demand for low-cost launches, particularly with the advent of satellite constellation programmes.

Source: Flight International