Argus, a Highly Reusable SSTO Rocket-Based Combined Cycle Launch Vehicle with Maglifter Lau

Argus, a Highly Reusable SSTO Rocket-Based Combined Cycle Launch Vehicle with Maglifter Lau

AIAA 98-1557

Argus, a Highly Reusable SSTO Rocket-Based Combined Cycle Launch

Vehicle with Maglifter Launch Assist

John R. Olds†Peter X. Bellini††

Space Systems Design LaboratorySchool of Aerospace Engineering

Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA 30332-0150


This paper summarizes the results of a conceptualdesign study that was performed in support ofNASA’s recent Highly Reusable Space Transportationstudy. The Argus concept uses a Maglifter magnetic-levitation sled launch assist system to accelerate it to atakeoff ground speed of 800 fps on its way todelivering a payload of 20,000 lb. to low earth orbit.Main propulsion is provided by two superchargedejector rocket engines. The vehicle is autonomous andis fully reusable. A conceptual design exercisedetermined the vehicle gross weight to beapproximately 597,250 lb. and the dry weight to be75,500 lb. Aggressive weight and operations costassumptions were used throughout the design processconsistent with a second-generation reusable systemthat might be deployed in 10 - 15 years. Drawings,geometry, and weights of the concept are included.Preliminary development, production, andoperations costs along with a business scenarioassuming a price-elastic payload market are alsoincluded. A fleet of three Argus launch vehicles flyinga total of 149 flights per year is shown to have afinancial internal rate of return of 28%. At $169/lb.,the recurring cost of Argus is shown to meet the studyresults in only a factor of two to five reductioncompared to today’s launch systems.

- Assistant Professor, School of Aerospace Engineering,senior member AIAA.††

-Graduate Research Assistant, School of AerospaceEngineering, student member AIAA.Copyright ©1998 by John R. Olds and Peter X. Bellini.Published by the American Institute of Aeronautics andAstronautics, Inc. with permission.


gacceleration of gravity (32.2 ft/sec2)Ispspecific impulse (sec.)


velocity change, ‘delta V’ (ft/sec.)


In an effort to identify technologies and vehicleconcepts that have the potential to significantly reducethe high cost of access to space, NASA recentlyconducted the Highly Reusable Space Transportation(HRST) study [1, 2]. The study investigated a numberof near-term, far-term, and very far-term launchvehicle concepts with the goal of identifying atechnology development path that could reduce therecurring costs of launching 20,000 lb. – 40,000 lb.payloads to low earth orbit (LEO) for under $200/lb.The HRST study was conducted in two phases from1995 to 1997. Among the concepts investigated wereall-rocket single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) concepts,concepts with launch assist, rocket-based combinedcycle (RBCC) concepts, advanced expendablevehicles, and more far term ground-based laserpowered launchers [2]. The Argus concept outlined inthis paper was one of the concepts proposed.

The notion of an advanced HRST-class launchvehicle using a magnetic-levitation track for launchassist and employing two supercharged ejector ramjet(SERJ) engines and a single LOX/LH2 tail rocket formain propulsion was first suggested to the lead authorby Mr. Bill Escher an