Zero2infinity Successfully Test Launches Its Bloostar Prototype
Zero 2 Infinity’s Bloostar being deployed from a balloon 25 km (15.5 mi) above the coast of Spain. Credit: zero2infinity.space
Founded in 2009, the private aerospace company Zero2Infinity – which is headquartered in Barcelona, Spain – was created with the vision of delivering orbital payloads and providing space tourism on a budget. But unlike your conventional aerospace companies – i.e. SpaceX, Blue Origin, Orbital ATK, etc – their plan is to do it all using high-altitude stratospheric balloons.
On March 1st, the Zero2Infinity team passed a major milestone, deploying a prototype “rockoon” craft from the National Institute of Aerospace Technology‘s (INTA) facility in El Arenosillo, Spain. Known as Bloostar, this two-stage craft (which consists of a balloon and a rocket) is one of the latest technologies seeking to drastically reduce the costs of launching people and payloads into space.
As the name would suggest, the Bloostar craft consists of a first-stage balloon that carries a launch vehicle to altitudes of about 40 km (25 mi), where it is then engages its engine. By bringing a rocket to an attitude that is twice the cruising altitude of commercial aircraft, rockoons are capable of reducing the size of rockets and the amount of propellant needed to place payloads into orbit.
The launch vehicle itself is composed of a set of liquid fuel engines that are arranged in a concentric torus-configuration, which are then attached to the central payload. Each torus works as a stage during the rocket’s ascent, once it has been ignited from around at deployment altitude. After all the rocket stages are are finished deploying the payload, they all return to Earth with the balloon where they are recovered.
In this respect, the Bloostar employs technology that is similar to what United Launch Alliance is exploring with the proposed mid-air recovery of their Vulcan rockets’ engines. But the largest cost-cutting measure arises from the fact that the ignition phase does not start until the rocket is at an altitude that puts its beyond 95% of the mass of the Earth’s atmosphere.
This also allows for additional flexibility with launches since it means getting above inclement weather, and also ensures that polluting emissions are not added to the lower atmosphere. The use of several torus-shaped stages reduces the chance of damage occurring to the launch vehicle on re-entry, since several small stages experience less in the way of air friction and heat than larger rocket states.
There is the added benefit of there being less chance of damage. Oftentimes, satellites have fold-out solar panels and science instruments that have to be tucked away to be able to fit inside the cargo hold of a launch vehicle. But with the Bloostar, they can be attached to the flat front end, and will experience less in the way of launch stress since they are floated into space instead of accelerated to escape velocity.