Options for Flight Testing Rocket-Based Combined-Cycle (RBCC) Engines
Olds, John R.
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While NASA's current next-generation launch vehicle research has largely focused on advanced all-rocket single-stage-to-orbit vehicles (i.e. the X-33 and it¹s RLV operational follow-on), some attention is being given to advanced propulsion concepts suitable for "next-generation-and-a-half" vehicles. Rocket-based combined-cycle (RBCC) engines combining rocket and airbreathing elements are one candidate concept. Preliminary RBCC engine development was undertaken by the United States in the 1960's. However, additional ground and flight research is required to bring the engine to technological maturity. This paper presents two options for flight testing early versions of the RBCC ejector scramjet engine. The first option mounts a single RBCC engine module to the X-34 air-launched technology testbed for test flights up to about Mach 6.4. The second option links RBCC engine testing to the simultaneous development of a small-payload (220 lb.) two-stage-to-orbit operational vehicle in the Bantam payload class. This launcher/testbed concept has been dubbed the W vehicle. The W vehicle can also serve as an early ejector ramjet RBCC launcher (albeit at a lower payload). To complement current RBCC ground testing efforts, both flight test engines will use earth-storable propellants for their RBCC rocket primaries and hydrocarbon fuel for their airbreathing modes. Performance and vehicle sizing results are presented for both options.