Ideas for developing and operating a semi-reusable launcher that uses its engines to "rocket-back" for a gliding landing at the launch site have been requested by the US Air Force.

Under the USAF's reusable booster integrated demonstration concept options maturation study, organisations are to provide information on how technologies can be developed for an unmanned vertical take-off, horizontal landing rocket. They will also indicate how it would carry out suborbital missions and place heavy payloads into orbit.

The rocket-back manoeuvre occurs after the second-stage separation, with the first-stage engines providing enough thrust to enable a glide return.

The USAF says: "A reusable booster intended to significantly reduce launch costs and improve responsiveness. An integrated demonstration project will be required to mature the technologies."

Reuseable booster concept
 © SpaceWorks Engineering
This concept emerged from the Ares hybrid operational system project


The specific areas in which the USAF wants information are concept of operations, development approach, synergies with other Department of Defense and civil capabilities. It also wants to know about technologies including health management, airframe, ground equipment and main engines.

The USAF concept calls for the reusable booster's main engine to be fuelled by pump-fed liquid oxygen and kerosene.

Source: Flight International