Conceptual design of a supersonic air-launch system

John P. Clarke, Kevin Cerven, James March, Michael Olszewski, Brad Wheaton, Matthew Williams, John Yu, Michael Selig, Eric Loth, Rodney Burton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


To reduce the cost of payload to orbit, a conceptual design of a supersonic air-launch system for the Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 1 rocket was performed. Several design candidates were reduced to three preliminary concepts, which in turn underwent comparative analyses to determine a final design that best fulfilled performance requirements. A 53 deg sweep, delta wing planform was chosen to balance subsonic and supersonic performance to reduce overall fuel consumption. A long nose provides balance and increased internal volume, and a canard was chosen to provide pitch control. The top-carried semi-conformal rocket payload reduces drag, while two widely spaced vertical stabilizers reduce impact risk during separation. Four F101-GE-102 afterburning turbofan engines were chosen to reduce fuel consumption. The aircraft gross take-off weight is 139,550 Ib, empty weight is 54,900 Ib, and maximum speed is Mach 2.45 at 50,000 ft. The Falcon 1 rocket is released at 51,800 ft at Mach 2 with an angle of inclination to the horizon of 25 deg, resulting in a AV to orbit of 24,300 ft/s. The reduced AV allows a reduction in propellant sufficient to double the payload to 2100 Ib. A cost estimate for production of a fleet of 2-5 aircraft is performed, and predicts that the payload cost can be reduced 43% to $3800/Ib to low Earth orbit.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCollection of Technical Papers - 43rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference
Number of pages24
StatePublished - 2007
Event43rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference - Cincinnati, OH, United States
Duration: Jul 8 2007Jul 11 2007

Publication series

NameCollection of Technical Papers - 43rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference


Other43rd AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityCincinnati, OH

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Space and Planetary Science


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