Washington, May 19 (ANI): The U.S. Air Force is making a prototype reusable rocket that can fly itself back to the launch site.
The Air Force Research Laboratory plans to invest 33-million dollars on pathfinder program to develop a prototype booster.
The Air Force hopes to award up to three 1.5-million-dollar contracts for studies before selecting one team for a 28.5-million-dollar contract to build the prototype. The first test flights are targeted for 2013.
The production process needs to initiate with the demonstration of a turn-around maneuver known as "rocket-back," wherein a rocket uses its own engines to fly back to the launch site and glide in for landing.
Two companies- Lockheed Martin and Starcraft Boosters - hold patents for fly-back boosters.
Starcraft Boosters, which was founded by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, develops low-cost alternative launchers.
A group had successfully tested a sub-scale fly-back booster based on Aldrin's design in 2001-02.
"Our two big areas of concern were the separation of the vehicle so that it would come off the center stage in a way that wouldn't damage or impede the flight, and how to control it on the way down," Discovery News quoted, Trevor Foster, project manager for the program, as saying.
Foster's team at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif., had attempted flying a single-stage reusable launch vehicle three times and a two-stage vehicle once.
They were once successful, out of the three attempts, in flying the single-stage reusable launch vehicle.
Foster said: "That one went really well. It seems to me that the only show-stopper would be something along the lines of what they're seeing with the space shuttle. Is it really reusable, or do they have to rebuild it every time? As far as the technology itself, it didn't seem to be a show-stopper there."(ANI)