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California State University, Long Beach

Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering (MAE)

CALVEIN - California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative

A partnership between CSULB and Garvey Spacecraft Corporation

Goals & Objectives

The objectives of CALVEIN are:

  1. To provide students of all academic levels the opportunity to gain hands-on experience on flight hardware development, from requirements definition to the realization and test of the systems
  2. To provide an avenue for university research and technology developments which can contribute to the next generation of low cost launch vehicles.
  3. To stimulate interactions with payload developers and provide them with flight opportunities

Establishment of CALVEIN

The California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative (CALVEIN) was initiated in the Spring 2001 semester with a collaboration between California State University , Long Beach (CSULB) and Garvey Spacecraft Corporation (GSC). GSC specialized in the development of prototype liquid-propelled rockets, a.k.a. Kimbo rockets. One notable accomplishment of GSC was the first flight of a composite material cryogenic LOX tank onboard Kimbo IV in 2000. In January 2001, GSC provided CSULB with a “kit-rocket” based on their latest vehicle, the Kimbo V (K-V). The basic vehicle was approximately 12 ft long and 10 inches in diameter, weighed at 100-150 lb, was pressure-fed and powered by a LOX and ethanol ablative engine, which would provide between 500 lbf and 1,000 lbf of thrust. Typical apogee altitudes were between 5,000 and 10,000 ft.This design has served as the basis for subsequent early CALVEIN Prospector vehicles.

The program has resulted in the development, flight and recovery of several CSULB vehicles, the Prospector rockets, and numerous static fire tests of student-developed rocket engines.

Prospector 1 was integrated from a Kimbo V-class kit provided by GSC in less than 6 months, starting in January 2001. In parallel, students developed a 1000 lbf thrust ablative rocket engine using LOX and ethanol. The engine was tested in May 2001 and powered Prospector-1 to a successful flight and recovery in June 2001.

P-1 flight test

P-1 flight test with student -
developed 1,000 lbf thrust
engine, June 3, 2001

The program was expanded in the summer 2001 thanks to a $110,000 California Space Industry Competitive Grant. The grant was used for the Prospectors-2 and -3 vehicles as well as the first version of the aerospike engine. For Prospector-2, a payload bay was added to accommodate an experiment by Stanford University students. The rocket was flown and recovered in February 2002.

The third vehicle, Prospector-3, was developed for the purpose of designing and testing a low cost thrust vector control system (TVC) which could be evolved into a TVC system suitable for a small launch vehicle. A static fire test demonstrating two-axis engine deflection for pitch and yaw control was conducted. A subsequent flight of the prototype vehicle took place in Feb. 2003 demonstrating in-flight thrust vectoring with a commanded pitch attitude.

Aerospike engine technology

A notable CALVEIN accomplishment was the development and first ever flight test of an aerospike rocket engine powered by liquid propellants in 2003. The project started in a design class in 2001 when three aerospace engineering seniors, Seth Quitoriano, Jeffrey Lang and Collin Corey, developed the first version of the 1,000 lbf thrust aerospike engine. This engine was tested in June 2002 and operated for 200 ms. The design featured an annular combustion chamber and plug. The latter, made of solid graphite failed under the load, choked the throat and led to an explosion of the engine. A new group of students came in the Fall semester and enhanced the basic design to address what had led to the failure as well as improved the ignition and plug shape. The improved engine was successfully static-fire tested in June 2003. It was then integrated into the P-2 flight vehicle which had flown earlier in 2002. The flight of the P-2 vehicle in Sept. 2003 marked the first ever flight test of a liquid-propellant aerospike engine.

Engine Static fire test

Engine Static fire test
with corresponding CFD
solution inlay, June 2003

aerospike rocket engine with 
		liquid propellants

First powered flight of
aerospike rocket engine
with liquid propellants,
Sept. 2003

An engine anomaly was experienced during the flight so the team made adjustments to the design and manufacturing process to develop a new engine. The engine was integrated into the P-4 vehicle and performed a flawless flight in December 2003, less than 3 months after the first flight test.

The team then developed a more advanced annular 10-thruster 1,300 lbf thrust aerospike engine with the objective of obtaining in-flight data in transonic conditions below the design point, i.e. at ambient pressures larger than the design exit pressure (pressure above which -or altitude below which- the aerospike nozzle is more effective than a conventional bell nozzle). The engine and vehicle development up to static fire test was funded by the Missile Defense Agency and completion of the vehicle and flight test was internally funded. The flight test was conducted in April 2009, but an ignition failure of one of the 10 thrusters led to a asymmetric thrust and severe end-over-end rotations of the vehicle, with the P-10 finally crashing after just six seconds of flight.

Early steps towards Nanosat Launch Vehicle (NLV)

In order to provide a dedicated launch capability for nanosats (spacecraft weighing less than 10 kg), the team initiated the development of an NLV, Nanosat Launch Vehicle, in 2002. After several iterations, the resulting baseline concept was a two-stage pressure-fed LOX/propylene NLV.

NLV Baseline Concept

Baseline Concept

In order to gain some experience with propylene, the team conducted a series of static fire tests, such as that of October 2004.

In parallel, a low fidelity of the first stage, the Prospector-5, was flown in December 2004. The follow-on Prospector-6 included a simulated upper stage, and stage-separation and recovery were demonstrated in the May 2005 flight test. Unlike the NLV which features a 4,500 lbf thrust LOX/propylene engine, these early vehicles were powered by a smaller 1,200 lbf thrust LOX/ethanol engine.

Prospector-6 prototype

Prospector-6 prototype vehicle
representing a full scale NLV

Reusable NLV Demonstration and Responsive Space Operations

A natural evolution of these early internally funded NLV development efforts was the demonstration and analysis of RLV operations, focusing on what could become a Hybrid NLV, i.e. an NLV with a reusable first stage and expandable second stage (the term hybrid refers to the reusability, not to the propellants; the vehicle uses liquid propellants still).

The first part of this project funded by AFRL/PR was the demonstration of rapid turnaround operations, 3.5 hrs between 2 flights of the P-7 (P-7A, P-7B) in October 2005. The same vehicle was also flown with an Aerospace Corporation payload in April 2006 P-7C flight test.

The final flight of the P-7 vehicle was conducted from the NAVY's San Nicolas Island and demonstrated operationally responsive launch for the Air Force (SMC, AFRL/PR) in Sept. 2006. Recovery was not attempted in this flight.

As part of the same program, in order to power a family of heavier vehicles, the team developed a LOX/ethanol engine capable of operating at thrust levels between 3,000 and 5,000 lbf depending on the mission needs. A series of horizontal and vertical static fires tests were conducted as part of this development. This engine represents an early prototype of what may become a first stage 4,500 lbf thrust LOX/propylene engine.

First static fire test

First static fire test of the 4,500 lbf thrust engine, Feb. 2007

P-8 Vehicle

P-8 Vehicle, powered by the
4,500 lbf engine, leaving the launch

The engine was finally flight-tested on the P-8 vehicle in Sept. 2007 under the sponsorship of the U.S. Dept. of Labor / California Space Authority's CIC WIRED program. This project aims at providing mentoring experiences in hardware development for aerospace students from CSULB and Stanford and other WIRED partners, as well as manifesting of payloads from academic, government and commercial organizations. These included a set of CubeSat and CanSat deployment devices from Stanford, an RF telemetry system from CSULB, a wireless sensor networking experiment from NASA Ames and a package of items from Epsori Space Systems.

The last step involved flight operations of the higher performance Prospector 9 vehicle which featured full scale (cryogenic) composite tanks and the 4,500 lbf thrust engine.

LOX/methane & LOX/propylene flight tests

In addition to the projects listed here, the team developed and flight-tested a 1,000 lbf thrust LOX/methane rocket engine in April 2008 onboard the P-14LM.

More recently, another student team developed a 450 lbf LOX/propylene rocket engine which was static tested in November 2008 and powered the P-13 to 5,200 ft in February 2009.

List of previous flights

Flight Vehicle Date Purpose Funding
P-18A 3/2011 Avionics payloads testing GSC, CSULB and CaSGC
P-10 4/2009 Multi-thruster aerospike rocket engine flight test MDA & Internal
P-13LP 2/2009 LOX/propylene rocket engine flight test Internal
P-12 10/2008 Workforce mentoring and flight demonstration CSA-DOL
P-9 8/2008 Reusable NLV Demonstration AFRL/RZ
P-11 6/2008 Demonstration of wireless networking NASA ARC
P-14LM 4/2008 LOX/methane rocket engine flight test Internal
P-8A 9/2007 WIRED payload flight testing and prop. syst. validation CSA-DOL
P-7D 9/2006 Responsive range demonstration (SNI) SMC - AFRL/PR
P-7C 04/2006 Launch Hardware Tracker flight demonstration The Aerospace Corporation
P-7B 10/2005 Fast turn-around RLV operations, Flight 2 AFRL/PR
P-7A 10/2005 Fast turn-around RLV operations, Flight 1 AFRL/PR
P-6 5/2005 Flight test of full-scale NLV early prototype Internal
P-5 12/2004 Flight test of NLV 1st stage early prototype Internal
P-4B 6/2004 Flight test of USC-developed micro-resistojet Internal
P-4A 12/2003 Second flight test of aerospike engine Internal/AFRL
P-2B 9/2003 First flight test of aerospike engine Internal
P-3 2/2003 Workforce mentoring & Thrust vectoring demonstration CSA
P-2A 1/2002 Workforce mentoring & Stanford Cansat flight test CSA
P-1 6/2001 Workforce mentoring Internal
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