Single Stage to Orbit Minimum Requirement Through Numerical Simulation

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientific


It is widely known that producing a single stage to orbit spacecraft is no easy task. It is also understood that it will be the first steady step towards spacecraft that operate in much the same way as today's airliners. This, in turn is believed to decrease the economical cost of reaching space through more efficient use of a single vehicle and higher launch rates. Space is then open to the common man, either through tourism or as a transportation medium. This paper is yet another study on the physical requirements of a SSTO spacecraft. It will begin with simple assumptions and gradually build up accuracy until reaching the use of a numerical simulation tool, so as to provide the necessary insight into it. The curvature of the Earth, its gravitational field, the exhaust pressure loss and atmospheric drag are a few of the considerations that the simulation takes into account. No attention was give to the actual details of the spacecraft such as propulsion type(s), winged or lifting body (aerodynamics), active or passive cooling (thermodynamics), stability and control. All these subsystems are considered to be included into the construction mass. The drag model is a simple textbook approximation and the propulsion force is given by a hypothetical propellant and engine so as to produce the assumed range of specific impulse. Even the construction mass is supposed to be futuristic so as to reach the lowest specified values. Not only vertical take-off will be simulated but also horizontal launching from altitude (from a towing aircraft, for example). The result of the paper shows the relationship between the construction mass and the specific impulse of a given spacecraft if it is to reach low earth orbit. This paper thus aims at bringing some light to the controversial discussion of how to make these vehicles a reality. The simulation program (Matlab) is available to students.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 53rd International Astronautical Congress
Place of PublicationHouston, TX, USA
PublisherInternational Astronautical Federation
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Event53rd International Astronautical Congress, Houston, TX, USA - Paris
Duration: 10 Oct 200219 Oct 2002

Publication series

PublisherInternational Astronautical Federation


Conference53rd International Astronautical Congress, Houston, TX, USA


  • Conf.proc. > 3 pag

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