LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) - Throughout history, no rocket that blasted off from earth has ever made it into orbit without using at least one separate booster to help get its payload there. ARCA Space Corporation in Las Cruces hopes to make some history a year from now when they launch their first Haas 2CA rocket from Wallops Island, VA and place a small satellite into orbit, using no separate booster stages.
The idea of designing revolutionary space vehicles has been a dream for ARCA founder Dumitru Popescu since creating ARCA during his days as an aerospace engineering student in Bucharest, Romania in 1998.
"Since then, our clear goal was to build space rocket, and rockets that are able to put satellites into orbit and someday, even people into orbit," he said.
For propulsion, the Hass 2CA uses an old idea that NASA and the military explored decades ago. It's s called a linear aerospike engine.
"NASA put a lot of funding into this concept and it was a clear candidate for the space shuttle," said Popescu. "Unfortunately, there were a lot of delays."
Instead of a cone-shaped nozzle, the aerospike engine is long and thin with two rows of exhaust chambers. If you want the vehicle to pitch up, or lift the nose, "what you need to do, is to reduce the thrust on all top chambers and keep the thrust on the bottom chambers, and the vehicle will raise the nose," said Popescu.
ARCA also does away with cryogenic fuels, the traditional super-cold liquid hydrogen and oxygen used by many space vehicles today. Instead, the Haas 2CA will use kerosene and hydrogen peroxide, which do not need to be kept cold.
Between the engine and the fuels, Popescu says his engine is 30 percent more fuel efficient than today's traditional engines. Combine that with a rocket, including the engine, made of not metal, but composite materials, and the costs go way down according to ARCA.
They target the launch of small satellites that just weigh up to 220 pounds. Popescu says the going rate in the world for that is about $5 million, but, "we are planning, with this vehicle, to bring the cost down to $1 million per launch."
After some early tests with more traditional rockets and high altitude balloons in Europe, Popescu brought his company to New Mexico two years ago for access to wide open country and the supportive aerospace business climate. He had visited New Mexico in 2005 during the X-Prize Cup competition.
"I saw the desert and thought, wow, this is actually a treasure for the aerospace industry," he said.
The company plans to conduct engine tests later this year, including some at NASA's White Sands Test Facility near Las Cruces, where other historic engines from Apollo, the Space Shuttle and many other space programs have been tested for half a century.
If tests go well, the company could start large scale production of its rockets. In anticipation of that, the team is moving this week from its commercial hangar at the local airport into a much larger local facility.
ARCA also hopes to someday launch its rockets to orbit from New Mexico's Spaceport America, north of Las Cruces.
A full-scale display model of the Haas 2CA will be on display at the New Mexico Museum of Space History, Wednesday, April 19, 2017 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Popescu and staff will be available for questions.