Research & Development

Successful Second Liquid-propellant Aerospike Engine Flight Onboard P-4, Dec. 7, 2003

Following the recent launch of their 1000 lbf thrust ablative annular aerospike engine onboard Prospector-2 two months earlier, the CALVEIN team accomplished yet another milestone with the successful second flight of a liquid-propellant aerospike engine on Sunday, Dec. 7. This flight applied lessons-learned from the previous one to fully demonstrate the performance of the liquid propellant, ablative aerospike engine.

Videos of the launch include:

Individuals who attended the launch and who may have pictures of the vehicle in flight of better quality than the ones below are encouraged to email these pictures to Eric Besnard ( - Indicate whom proper credit should be given to -and copyrights, if any - when sending a picture - Thanks!).
P-4 accelerates past Kevin Baxter's launch rail

P-4 accelerates past Kevin Baxter's launch rail. Photo and Copyright by K. Mark Caviezel, Dec. 2003

The P-4 team on Saturday

The P-4 team on Saturday

The team was ready to fly by mid-day Saturday, but winds in excess of 20 mph forced it to scrub the launch and postpone it to the next day. At 8:45 am on Sunday morning, the team was ready to launch, but launch had to aborted several times while late comers were making their way to the MTA... Also, the team had to wait for air space clearance from Edwards AFB which was conducting tests. Finally, at 9:01 am, the all clear was given and the Prospector-4 took-off in the partly cloudy sky.

take_off take-off

P-4 takes off under full power

The aerospike engine suffered none of the sub-optimal performance observed during the first flight (Sept. 21) thanks to a small modification made to the outer ring prior to laying up the ablative material. The aerospike engine demonstrated a clean burn-to-propellant-depletion and both the payload deployment and single-parachute recovery systems appeared to have functioned nominally.

Due to the wind and small launch rail inclination (4 deg. from vertical), the vehicle weather-vaned upon leaving the 57-ft launch rail before then entering a straight, stable trajectory in the direction towards the Koehn dry lake bed reaching an altitude greater than 4000 ft. The P4 then returned to the ground under full parachute, with all systems still functional.

under the parachute

P-4 coming back on the 18 ft parachute

rocket on the ground

P-4 after landing safely.

The payload, a camera system developed by Cerritos High School students, was ejected near apogee. The student-made parachute was torn right after deployment, however, and the payload fell from several thousand feet... (picture below).

ejected camera system

Cerritos High School students camera system after impact (note the strings which held the parachute before it was ripped off from aero loads)

It is anticipated that more complete performance data should become available in the next several days from the on-board RDAS data logger.

The team also recovered the CSULB-developed thermoplastic nosecone. It appeared to have suffered only minor damage in one area and could be flown again (it previously had been considered to be a disposable item).

Other activities at the MTA included the launch attempt by the San Diego State University/Flometrics team to launch their large LOX-RP rocket. The launch, planned for Sunday, had to be scrubbed since the wind picked up strength about an hour after the Prospector-4 launch and because the military needed the air space for tests. Click here for details.

Special Thanks

In addition to Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, other corporate contributors to the Prospector 4 flight test include Electro-Tech Machining (ETM) which provided the graphite engine components.

In addition to the "regulars" (John Engberg, Dave McCue, Mike Novratil, Chuck Castillo and Mark Holthaus), the CSULB team would also like to recognize the following individuals who, through their support, made this flight a success. First , Tom Mueller who was instrumental in mentoring the students during the engine design process, Kevin Baxter who brought his launch rail for CALVEIN use, Richard Ornellas for providing the LOX, Dave Crisalli, President of the RRS, for giving the CALVEIN team access to the MTA and overseeing launch operations, and Steve Bartlett and Microcosm, Inc. for logistics support. Many thanks also to K. Mark Caviezel for the pictures of the rocket while ascending the launch rail.

Finally, congratulations to Jose "Pepe" Ruiz and Paul Skaar for their successful development of the new recovery system and payload deployment system.

For additional information about either the CALVEIN project and/or the cooperative program between CSULB and Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, please contact the following project representatives:

  • Dr. Eric Besnard
  • Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Dept.
  • California State University, Long Beach
  • 1250 Bellflower Blvd Long Beach, CA 90840
  • Tel:(562) 985-5442
  • Fax:(562) 985-1669
  • John Garvey
  • Garvey Spacecraft Corporation
  • 389 Haines Avenue
  • Long Beach, CA 90840-1841
  • Tel:(562)-498-2984
  • Email: