Research & Development

Successful Flight Test of the Prospector 6 NLV Development Vehicle
May 24, 2005

The successful launch and recovery of the Prospector 6 (P6) test vehicle on Saturday, 21 May 2005 represents another important milestone for the joint industry / academic team that is working to develop a low-cost Nanosat Launch Vehicle (NLV) that will be dedicated to delivering 10 kg payloads to low Earth orbit. The partially reusable P6 is a full-scale, low-fidelity prototype of the two-stage, pressure-fed NLV and is serving as a pathfinder for evaluating new vehicle technologies and efficient field site operations.

Designed and built by Garvey Spacecraft Corporation (GSC) and California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) under the California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative (CALVEIN), the 26.7 foot-long P6 consists of a refurbished NLV first stage prototype (the Prospector 5 that flew last December), an interstage, a second stage simulator and a graphite/epoxy composite payload fairing. The research team conducted their test operations at the Mojave Test Area that is owned and operated by the Reaction Research Society.

Flight videos:

The primary objective for this initial P6 flight test was validation of the CALVEIN team's ability to develop and handle a full-scale NLV. Maximum altitude achieved on the flight was slightly under 3000 feet. Of significance for advocates of responsive space operations was the demonstration of vehicle delivery, integration, payload installation, propellant loading, launch, recovery and shipment back to the CSULB campus in a single day.

P-6 being erected

P6 being erected to launch position (Photo by Dave Allday)

P6 on the launch rail during pre-launch preparation

P6 on the launch rail during pre-launch preparation (Photo by Joe Mullin)

P6 at engine ignition

P6 at engine ignition (Photo by Dave Allday)

P6 during launch

P6 during launch (Photo by Joe Mullin)

P6 in flight

P6 in flight (Photo by Joe Mullin)

The P6 features several design enhancements over previous prototypes, including the CALVEIN team's first implementation of a stage attachment and separation system, as well as multiple applications of composite materials for structural bulkheads and fins. The P6 flight also continued the CALVEIN practice of manifesting student payloads from across the country. CSULB experiments included a mini-DV camera sponsored by the student chapter of the AIAA that captured on-board video of the entire flight sequence, as well as a real-time telemetry system that adapted commercial off-the-shelf Wi Fi technology to downlink key propulsion system parameters. In addition, a measurement logging package provided by Montana State University recorded acceleration, pressure and temperature data that is already being used to assess the vehicle's performance.

P6 stages after successful parachute deployment

P6 stages after successful parachute deployment (Photo by Dave Allday)


P6 first stage just prior to landing

P6 first stage just prior to landing (Photo by Joe Mullin)

With the successful recovery of the P6, the CALVEIN team is now updating their plans to reuse the hardware in future flight testing. In parallel to such full-scale vehicle test and evaluation activities, GSC, CSULB and other partners are also investigating alternative "green" hydrocarbon propellant combinations, advanced engine chambers materials and innovative approaches to payload accommodations. Previous team achievements include the first-ever powered flight tests of a liquid-propellant aerospike engine and composite cryogenic propellant tankage for liquid oxygen.