Prospector 13A Flight Test

of a LOX/Propylene Rocket Engine

21 February 2009

FAR Test Site, CA


The GSC/CSULB team developed and flew the Prospector 13A (P-13A) as a joint, internally sponsored propulsion R&D project (VIDEO). The primary objective was to demonstrate the use of LOX and propylene for the first time in flight vehicle.  This is the same propellant combination that has been baselined for both stages of the NLV.  Propylene is of interest as an alternative hydrocarbon fuel because of its potential to provide greater specific impulse than RP-1, while achieving higher densities than methane.


The P-13A consisted of the refurbished GSC Kimbo V airframe that previously flew in early 2001, combined with a prototype 450 lbf-thrust ablative engine developed by CSULB students that has direct traceability to the performance requirements associated with NLV second stage.  This is a small airframe compared to recent NLV-scale test vehicles, designed specifically for simplified transportation logistics and field operations.


Launch took place mid-day Saturday, 21 February 2009 at the FAR test facility outside of Mojave, CA with the standard hosting services provided by the FAR organization.  Ignition occurred on the first count after a smooth countdown and the engine performed nominally, successfully boosting the P-13A to a peak altitude in excess of 5 kft above ground level.  Nosecone separation and main parachute deployment took place shortly after apogee as planned - however, the parachute entangled on the aft launch rail guide, preventing its canopy from inflating.  The resulting impact destroyed the front end of the vehicle, leaving the LOX tank at the aft end, main valve assembly, propulsion feed system and engine intact.  The nosecone and its drogue parachute were also later recovered several hundred yards uprange.


Pressure data acquired via ZigBee wireless data transceivers is now under assessment.  Meanwhile, lessons learned related to parachute recovery are under review for the P-10 flight test, although the recovery system configuration on that vehicle renders it less susceptible to this kind of problem.  The P-13A itself has been retired from future flight activities and will be converted into a display article along with the P-14 LOX/methane demonstrator vehicle.


P-13A Flight Test 1 Launch Crew


P-13A Climbing Up the Launch Rail After Ignition of the 450lbf-thrust LOX/Propylene Engine


P-13A In Flight


Post-Landing, with the Parachute Still Snagged on the Aft Launch Rail Guide


Last Updated: 04 March 2009