First Flight of ALV-0

The ALV project ends 2015 on a high note by reaching a significant milestone, the first flight of the ALV-0 small scale demonstrator.

After several months of hard work, the ALV-0 had a successful first flight on Wednesday 23 December 2015. The ALV-0 was built and flown in Brisbane (Australia) by our partner Australian Droid and Robot, with support from Prof. Michael Smart from the University of Queensland (UQ).  

The ALV-0 is an ultra-low-cost test model that is being used to test the sub-sonic aerodynamics of the ALV flyback booster design. ALV-0 test flight goals include verifying the overall vehicle geometry, performance of the specialised wing aerofoil and the important wing opening and closing manoeuvre.

The use of small-scale models is a time-tested method for developing new aerospace vehicles, and Heliaq's development roadmap includes several scale vehicles of increasing complexity. The lessons learned from the ALV-0 will be incorporated into the ALV-1 rocket-powered vehicle that is currently in the detail design phase. The ALV-1 will in turn influence the development of the ALV-2, a dedicated small satellite launch vehicle for the 5-50kg payload market.   

The ALV-0 first flight is an important step in creating a low-cost, re-useable, aircraft-like method for accessing space. Our research from 2011 showed that it is only economically feasible to re-use the first stage of a launch vehicle, since the first stage represents about 75% of the mass of the entire vehicle (and at least 50% of the cost), while being far easier to recover than the upper stages. The ALV concept therefore returns the first stage boosters to the launch site for re-use by means of a folding aircraft wing, propeller engine and landing gear.

Although the ALV configuration has more components than rocket-powered return concepts (e.g. SpaceX and Blue Origin), the overall complexity is much lower since standard aviation components and design methods are used. And since the expensive rocket engines only have short lifetimes, they are used to the absolute minimum. The following article describes the advantages of the ALV winged booster concept compared to the rocket-powered return concepts:

ALV Winged Booster vs Rocket Powered Return