Explorer RLV: Two-stage to orbit reusable launch vehicle

The Explorer series of vehicles consists of the sequential development and operation of a two-stage to orbit reusable launch vehicle capable of placing a small number of people (4-6) or a small satellite (<1000 lb) into low earth orbit. The vehicle will consist of an Orbiter stage and a Booster stage.

The vehicle is a sled-launched horizontal takeoff with both stages returning by horizontal landing, the Booster stage having installed jet engines for powered return to the launch site while the Orbiter stage lands as an unpowered lifting body, similar to the Space Shuttle. The preliminary vehicle dimensions are:

m (ft)
m (ft)
m/s (ft/s)
Liftoff Weight
kg (lbs)
Orbiter17 (57)27.0 (90)5500 (18,300)77,400 (170,300)
Booster35 (117)37.4 (125)3500 (11,700)300,000 (660,000)
Overall35 (117)37.4 (125)9000 (30,000)377,400 (830,300)

The first step will be creating the detailed design plans for the Orbiter, which will require 18-24 months and $10-12 million. The company has several options once the design is completed:

  • Approaching the government for funding to build the vehicle as a replacement for the Space Shuttle. This approach is promising in light of NASA's recent Orbital Space Plane program announcement (see our News archives).
  • Going in with our strategic partners to fund further development.
  • Attracting investment alone by an initial public offering. Public investment is likely when considered in light of legislation granting tax credits for investment (again, see our News archive).

Once the Orbiter stage is certified, we will operate it in the space tourism market and as a launch vehicle for micro-satellites (<100 lb). This revenue stream will help offset development costs and verify the market before continuing with further development of the Booster stage, which will give the Orbiter stage enough additional energy to reach low earth orbit and service the following markets.

The primary market is carrying passengers to orbit, with a secondary market of launching small satellites. The passenger market breaks down into four segments (with potential for more segmentation in the future): a government segment, carrying astronauts to the International Space Station; a space tourism segment servicing orbital hotels; a space research segment servicing orbital laboratories; and a space manufacturing market servicing orbital factories. Space tourism market research indicates a market of tens to hundreds of passengers per year at a $1 million ticket price. Further material about the space tourism market is available at: http://www.spacefuture.com/tourism/tourism.shtml

In order to help create these last three market segment, Marcus Aerospace will develop a strategic alliance with two main partners: a company which builds and operates space stations and a company that manufactures expendable launch vehicle.

This strategic alliance will be beneficial to all three members of the strategic alliance, as Marcus Aerospace can only truly expect demand for orbital travel if there are space stations to service, the space station manufacturer can only expect demand for orbital habitats if there is a reliable and economical provider of launch services, and because the Explorer series of vehicle will not be capable of launching the space stations themselves, the expendable launch vehicle company will gain revenue by placing the stations in orbit.