Encyclopedia Astronautica
Rocketplane XP

Rocketplane XP
Credit: Rocketplane Kistler
American manned spaceplane. Study 2015. The Rocketplane XP Vehicle was a proposed suborbital manned spaceplane with accommodations for four crew.

The vehicle would take off from a conventional airfield using turbojets, then use a rocket engine to accelerate to 1100 m/s, which would allow it to zoom to 100 kilometers and provide three to four minutes of zero-G.

The fighter-sized vehicle was fitted with a delta wing and a V-tail which provided good flight characteristics both subsonically and supersonically. The cabin environment was designed to maintain a comfortable temperature and pressure for the occupants while providing an excellent view of the Earth from space. It was constructed with many of the same systems as a conventional jet aircraft, but included features required for flight in space including a rocket engine, reaction control system (RCS), and internal air supply to provide a 0.7 atmosphere cabin pressure.

The thermal protection system, wing propellant tanks, and other systems were designed with the possibility of eventual upgrade to a longer-range aircraft.

In a typical mission, rocket ignition would take place between 6000 and 9000 m altitude with the spaceplane in horizontal jet flight. A 3 to 4-G ascent profile would be flown, with engine cut-off at Mach 3.5 at 45,000 m after 70 seconds of rocket powered flight. After up to four minutes of weightlessness, the passengers would pull 3 to 4 G's on re-entry, followed by a glide to a landing at the departure airfield after a one-hour flight. After a three to five day turnaround, the rocketplane would be ready for another flight.

Rocketplane XP subsystems included:

  • Environmental Control and Life Support System using cryogenic liquid nitrogen and liquid oxygen and a chemical scrubbing agent to remove carbon dioxide.
  • Two CJ610 business jet engines, derived from the military J-85, for takeoff and ascent to rocket ignition altitude.
  • A Polaris Propulsion AR-36 160 kN liquid oxygen / kerosene regeneratively-cooled rocket engine with the injector based on the Atlas sustainer engine design. All composite tanks in the aft fuselage would be helium pressurized. A Barber Nichols turbopump, driven by hydrogen peroxide monopropellant, would deliver the propellants to the combustion chamber.
  • A Space Vector reaction control system consisting of 12 cold nitrogen gas thrusters placed in opposing pairs.
  • A Utah State University Flush Air Data System to determine pressure, airspeed, air density, alpha, and stall warning at all speeds, attitudes, and altitudes.
  • An all electric, fly-by-wire flight control system with an elevon and aileron on each wing, and all-moving tail. Pilot inputs were processed by triple redundant flight control computers. Electromechanical actuators operating on 270VDC power drive the control services.
  • An Electrical Power System mainly driven by a set of large lithium-ion batteries.
  • An advanced fault tolerant BD Systems GN&C control and navigation system which takes inputs from the Flush Air Data System, a Global Positioning System (GPS), and an Inertial Navigation System.
  • An ARINC, Data Acquisition and Integrated Vehicle Health Management System
  • A thermal protection system to handle the 300 deg C re-entry heating, consisting of titanium leading edges and control services, and a special ceramic paint with a 93% emissivity on the rest of the aircraft.


Crew Size: 6. Crew: 430 kg (940 lb).

Gross mass: 8,840 kg (19,480 lb).
Unfuelled mass: 4,340 kg (9,560 lb).
Height: 13.00 m (42.00 ft).
Diameter: 1.50 m (4.90 ft).
Span: 7.50 m (24.60 ft).
Thrust: 160.00 kN (35,960 lbf).

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
Associated Engines
  • RS-88 Rocketdyne rocket engine designed and built by Rocketdyne for use on Lockheed's Pad Abort Demonstration vehicle. In 2003, NASA tested the RS-88 in a series of 14 hot-fire tests, resulting in 55 seconds of successful engine operation. More...

See also
  • New Space Tourism With governmental manned space programs flagging, it seemed by the 21st Century that only civilian investors, building systems for toursim, might keep manned spaceflight alive... More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
Associated Propellants
  • Lox/Kerosene Liquid oxygen was the earliest, cheapest, safest, and eventually the preferred oxidiser for large space launchers. Its main drawback is that it is moderately cryogenic, and therefore not suitable for military uses where storage of the fuelled missile and quick launch are required. In January 1953 Rocketdyne commenced the REAP program to develop a number of improvements to the engines being developed for the Navaho and Atlas missiles. Among these was development of a special grade of kerosene suitable for rocket engines. Prior to that any number of rocket propellants derived from petroleum had been used. Goddard had begun with gasoline, and there were experimental engines powered by kerosene, diesel oil, paint thinner, or jet fuel kerosene JP-4 or JP-5. The wide variance in physical properties among fuels of the same class led to the identification of narrow-range petroleum fractions, embodied in 1954 in the standard US kerosene rocket fuel RP-1, covered by Military Specification MIL-R-25576. In Russia, similar specifications were developed for kerosene under the specifications T-1 and RG-1. The Russians also developed a compound of unknown formulation in the 1980's known as 'Sintin', or synthetic kerosene. More...

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