AKA: Thunderbird. Status: Study 2004. Thrust: 294.00 kN (66,093 lbf). Gross mass: 17,000 kg (37,000 lb). Height: 27.15 m (89.07 ft). Diameter: 1.60 m (5.20 ft). Span: 4.80 m (15.70 ft).
This reached an advanced stage of engine and component hardware test in the course of 2003 and was set for first flight in 2004. However the total vehicle never progressed beyond mock-up stage before SpaceShipOne won the X-Prize. As of 2006, Starchaser was formulating a new business plan, and seeking investors to allow it to complete development of a suborbital space tourism spacecraft to compete with SpaceShipTwo and New Shepard.
Starchaser Industries began life as an experimental rocket test program set up in 1992 by Steven Bennett. In 1996, his team successfully launched the 6.7 m tall Starchaser 2 rocket, which qualified as the largest privately-built rocket ever to flown in Europe. In November 2001, Starchaser successfully launched the 12-m tall Nova, which included a one-person crew cabin. By the summer of 2002 the original Thunderbird capsule / Starchaser 5 rocket had grown into a two stage vehicle incorporating four strap on boosters. It became clear that this design was significantly overpowered for the purposes of winning the X-Prize. By early 2003 a simpler, smaller and more lightweight launch vehicle that would carry a more compact capsule was sketched out. The new capsule was dubbed Thunderstar and would be carried aloft using a modified Starchaser 5 launch vehicle. Full-scale rocket engine tests were conducted in April 2003. Starchaser successfully performed manned parafoil drop tests of the Nova capsule in July 2003. A launch of the three-person Starchaser Thunderbird X Prize vehicle was scheduled for 2004, but there were still problems in engine fabrication. In 2005, following the winning of the X-Prize by SpaceShipOne, Starchaser's development plans were descoped to concentrate on development of the Skybolt sounding rocket. Skybolt could deliver 20 kg to 130 km altitude. As of 2006, Starchaser was reviewing its business plan. After this review, Starchaser hoped to obtain investors to allow it to complete the Starchaser space tourist vehicle in competition with the ongoing SpaceShipTwo and New Shepard programs.
The two Churchill Mk 3 lox / kerosene engines of the Starchaser would provide a total impulse of: 23.544 MNs, an average thrust of 294.3 kN, and boost the vehicle to a maximum speed of 1323 m/sec (Mach 4.25). The capsule and rocket would separate, the capsule reaching 158 km altitude, the booster 127 km.
The Churchill Mk 3 engine was designed to deliver 15 metric tons of useable thrust for a burn time of up to 70 seconds. The first Churchill rocket engine, the Mk 1, underwent an extensive series of tests including five static firings and produced the specified 0.5 metric tons of thrust. The Mk 1 provided validated data from which to build the larger Mk 2 rocket engine. The Mk 2 followed a similar series of seven static test firings which culminated in a long duration burn of 53 seconds. This engine performed perfectly and proved the reusability of the engine. The Mk 2 developed 3-metric tons of thrust and provided crucial data for the design of the Mk 3 rocket engine. All three engines were regeneratively cooled using the kerosene fuel, which first passed through the cooling jacket before being injected into the combustion chamber. The cooling was so efficient that following the long duration burn of the Mk 2, the engine was only mildly warm to the touch.
Starchaser Industries (Hyde, England, UK) successfully tested a bi-propellant liquid rocket engine. "The liquid oxygen/kerosene powered system generated some 2,200 kilos of thrust for 15 seconds." The tests will continue for increasingly longer periods and will eventually reach "a full 3 tonnes of thrust".
Starchaser Industries (Hyde, England, UK) conducted two manned capsule drop tests from a C-123K transport aircraft at an altitude of 14,000 feet over the Red Lake Drop Zone in Kingman, Arizona, in order to practice landing the reusable craft. The main purpose of the tests was to ensure that the parachute, navigation, and landing systems function properly.