Low-Cost, Scalable, Hybrid Launch Propulsion Technology

Period of Performance: 06/10/2016 - 06/09/2017


Phase 1 STTR

Recipient Firm

Physical Sciences, Inc.
Firm POC
Principal Investigator

Research Institution

Purdue University
Young Hall
West Lafayette, IN 47907
Institution POC


Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI), in collaboration Purdue University, proposes to develop a novel launch propulsion technology for rapid insertion of nano/micro satellites (~ 5-50 kg scale) into low earth orbit, with the potential to lower the current state-of-the-art launch stage cost by a factor of two. The technology employs a propulsion scheme comprising a storable liquid oxidizer and a unique solid fuel with excellent mechanical and thermochemical properties. The propulsion scheme was initially developed by PSI under DARPA programs for applications to in-space thrusters integrated in a consumable-structure spacecraft. The proposed application of this scheme to launch vehicle stage technology will result in low-cost, mass-efficient launch systems and will reduce the technical development risk for NASA. The fuel used is commercially available as an inexpensive engineering material. The oxidizer is commercially available as a low-cost, industrial chemical. Both have high density, are green (halogen and nitrogen free), and their chemical reaction has a high specific impulse. The oxidizer storage, handling, transportation, and loading operations are simpler and safer compared to cryogenic or toxic propellants. These attributes of the fuel and oxidizer enable our proposed concept of a low-cost launch vehicle stage. The specific objective of Phase I is to develop and analyze low-cost launch stage and thruster design concepts, and to develop and build a scaled prototype thruster hardware that will be used in both Phases I and II to characterize thruster design and to obtain performance data for use in the launch stage and propulsion system design/analysis studies. At the end of Phase I, we will have demonstrated the operation of the subscale thruster system and measured its performance. A plan for Phase II work, involving approaches to subscale ground testing or sub-orbital flight testing, will also be developed.