Research & Development

CALVEIN Team Flies NLV First Stage Flight Development Unit No. 1 (P-5)

(Information also available at

The launch of the initial Nanosat Launch Vehicle (NLV) first stage Flight Development Unit, also known as the Prospector 5, took place at the Reaction Research Society's Mojave Test Area on Saturday, December 4, 2004. The NLV is intended to provide dedicated, primary launch services to small satellite developers and operators whose spacecraft have a mass of 10 kg or less. The Prospector 5 is an early, low-fidelity version of the NLV first stage.

Pre-launch information

team photo

The primary objective for this flight test was the demonstration that the CALVEIN team could develop and handle a vehicle of this scale. Also noteworthy with respect to other small launch vehicle development programs that are focusing on "responsive space launch" was that all field operations for the Prospector 5 flight test - from vehicle delivery through set-up, launch, recovery and loading for the trip back to the CSULB campus - were conducted in less than one day.

As with previous Prospector flight projects, this was a cooperative effort between Garvey Spacecraft Corporation (GSC) and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) conducted under the banner of the California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative (CALVEIN).

p5 on the launch rail

Photo by David Allday


Photo by Tony Richards

p5 p5 during launch

Photos by KMark Caviezel and David Allday, respectively

p5 leaving the rail p5 free flight

Photos by KMark Caviezel and David Allday, respectively

p5 recovery

Photo by David Allday

Higher resolution pictures can be downloaded from with credit going to the appropriate photographer.

Low resolution videos of the flight:

In addition, a "fincam" payload provided by a member of the CSULB student team transmitted on-board video of the first several seconds of flight, typifying the kind of academic experiments that are envisioned for operational NLV missions:

Vehicle Description:

The P5 had a gross lift-off weight of about 280 lbm. It incorporated the same 1200 lbf-thrust LOX/ethanol ablative engine that first flew on the Prospector 4 last June, which resulted in an initial thrust-to-weight ratio of 4. The main vehicle body and fairing had a length of 16 feet, while the converging thrust structure and engine added another 3 feet. Another hardware element that had already been proven in flight was the Main Valve Assembly, which we used on the Kimbo V vehicle back in early 2001.

Besides its much larger size, the P5 also featured these differences from previous Kimbo and Prospector vehicles:

  • side deployment of the parachute. This proved to be much simpler than the traditional mode in which the parachute is located at the forward end of the vehicle and its deployment also involves that of the payload fairing
  • the LOX tank assembly was mounted forward of the fuel tank assembly (the "correct" location for CG purposes). Insulation for the LOX feedline proved to work fine and there were no apparent issues related to excessive heat soaking (the reason we had always placed the LOX tank on the bottom in the past).
  • converging thrust structure
  • reversion back to four instead of three fins for improved stability
  • the aeroshell was fabricated from aluminum sheet instead of cardboard tube or graphite/epoxy


We only received a single payload for this flight - a "fincam" experiment put together by CSULB student John Julius. This camera provided unparalleled real-time video of the ignition and lift-off sequence. The video is above.

Launch Operations Summary:

The vehicle arrived at the MTA late Friday night. Integration of the recovery system took place Saturday morning, in parallel with erection of the FAR launch rail and the EGSE. We encountered several software issues in the data acquisition system which required real-time procedural work-arounds. Terminal countdown ops then began in the early afternoon.

An initial countdown sequence resulted in an abort when the igniter failed to achieve a stable burn by the time propellant flow was initiated. Several modifications to the igniter configuration then resulted in a successful engine ignition on the second countdown.

The P5 flew off the launch rail nominally but several seconds later pitched over a notable amount. The common consensus is that wind shear was the root cause for this maneuver (a case where having on-board telemetry would be a big help). Consequently, the vehicle probably did not achieve its maximum predicted altitude of 5,000 feet.

Parachute deployment was nominal and the vehicle descended sideways. As expected, the airframe did sustain some damage upon landing, since the under-sized parachute was a left-over spare for earlier Prospector vehicles that had half the mass of the P5. All high-value equipment appears tgain in future vehicles.

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:

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: