• Travis Fawcett


In July 2016, Orbital Access Limited announced a grant awarded by the UK Space Agency (UKSA) in order to technically and commercially evaluate a technology roadmap for UK small payload launchers, this was part of the agency National Space Transportation Programme (NSTP). The space agency request was met by an industrial consortium formed and led by OAL as the principal commercialisation and implementation partner; this consortium was then known as the FSPL(UK) (Future UK Small Payload Launcher). The first step in this technology roadmap was the Orbital 500R concept. The 2016 study then defined a top-level requirements set and led to an evolved launch system, as Configuration 3B-1. As a result, the Orbital 500R concept gained a nominal mission payload capacity of 500kg capable of being delivered to a 650km circular orbit at 88.2° inclination. After the nominal mission was established, the development team then evaluated the commercial viability of the Orbital 500R. In late 2016, the team successfully met the $30K/kg price point for sending satellites into LEO.

Configuration 3B-1 suborbital delivery vehicle flying through the atmosphere on return from an orbital insertion.
Concept art of the Orbital 500R as Configuration 3B-1

Since 2016, the UKSA have continued to develop to Orbital 500R project through the European Space Agency (ESA) General Support Technology Programme (GSTP). Starting from May 2017, OAL achieved support to conduct a more in-depth aerodynamic analysis of the commercially intended Orbital 500R concept, focussing on the 1st Stage re-entry phase with a refined trajectory and vehicle sizing optimisation loop. During this contract, the Orbital 500R was evolved into Configuration 3B-3. Where the development team assessed the performance of this configuration, specifically, the aerodynamic and aero-thermodynamic characteristics around the spaceplane V-tail.

Configuration 3B-3 1st Stage vehicle at an angle of attack of 25° at Mach 1.5.  X Plane view of the surrounding airflow.
Configuration 3B-3 1st Stage vehicle at an angle of attack of 25° at Mach 1.5. X Plane view of the surrounding airflow.

After evaluating the commercial roadmap feasibility and progressing the 1st Stage technical portfolio, OAL and the team were granted the opportunity to begin formulating the Systems Engineering Plan (SEP) for the Orbital 500R. At the request of the agency, an extension to the contract in 2017 was issued, where OAL is currently defining the system components with a progressively higher level of detail within the architecture, outlining basic schematics for each subsystem. In June 2018, after submitting pre-proposals to the UKSA, OAL then submitted two response documents to ESA in order to progress options for de-risking activities under the GSTP. These proposals, now successful, have resulted in financial support that will de-risk the 1st Stage high-speed aerodynamics and controllability.

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