Spanish company zero2Infinity, which conducts unmanned scientific and technical flights, plans to launch nanosatellites from the stratosphere in its next project scheduled for November.
Known for its near-Space ballooning experience, the company has been working to expand its capabilities to include a nanosatellite launch vehicle, named “bloostar,” to offer launch-on-demand for small satellites.
zero2Infinity has been operating high-altitude balloons since 2009. It is currently flying technical, scientific and commercial payloads to over 30km altitude. The company says that using balloons as a first stage for a nanosatellite launcher is the logical and necessary next step to address what it describes as a “booming and underserved market.”
CEO and founder José Mariano López-Urdiales says, “Nanosatellites today need to fly as secondary payloads, and hitchhike their way into orbit. We have been working on the idea for bloostar for years. Now the technology on both the satellite and launch vehicle sides is mature enough to make it happen. We believe bloostar as the first orbital ‘rockoon,’ is the solution for clean, cost-effective and sustainable Space access”.
The rockoon concept presents advantages. Because the rocket does not need to travel through the denser parts of the atmosphere and ignites in close-to-vacuum conditions, there is lower drag, smaller gravity losses and much higher specific impulse.
The company reports that several microsatellite manufacturers have already expressed their intention to launch with bloostar once it will be operational, which is expected to happen in 2017. Preliminary testing of the system began in September 2013.
A test version of the pressure-fed light hydrocarbon/oxygen engine was first fired in Spain in September 2014, with satisfactory results. The next large test launch is planned for November.
Photos provided by zero2Infinity