A report proposes the development of a system for launching payloads into orbit at about one-fifth the cost per unit payload weight of current systems. The system would be based on the formerly secret PILOT microsatellite- launching system developed in response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik-1. The PILOT system was a solid-fuel, aerodynamically spun and spin-stabilized, five-stage rocket with onboard controls including little more than an optoelectronic horizon sensor and a timer for triggering the second and fifth stages, respectively. The proposal calls for four improvements over the PILOT system to enable control of orbital parameters:

  1. the aerodynamic tipover of the rocket at the top of the atmosphere could be modeled as a nonuniform gyroscopic precession and could be controlled by selection of the initial rocket configuration and launch conditions;
  2. the attitude of the rocket at the top of the first-stage trajectory could be measured by use of radar tracking or differential Global Positioning System receivers to determine when to trigger the second stage;
  3. the final-stage engines could be configured around the payload to enhance spin stabilization during a half-orbit coast up to apoapsis where the final stage would be triggered; and
  4. the final payload stage could be equipped with a "beltline" of small thrusters for correcting small errors in the trajectory as measured by an off-board tracking subsystem.

This work was done by Brian Wilcox of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

In accordance with Public Law 96-517, the contractor has elected to retain title to this invention. Inquiries concerning rights for its commercial use should be addressed to:

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Refer to NPO-20908, volume and number of this NASA Tech Briefs issue, and the page number.

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Launching Payloads Into Orbit at Relatively Low Cost

(reference NPO-20908) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the September, 2007 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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