Even with new and exciting ways being dreamed up to launch rockets into space, using expendable rockets is still the norm. This process is pretty wasteful. In fact, more than 90% of the craft’s mass and fuel is expended a few minutes into launch. Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are doing their best to recycle rockets in hopes of more sustainable and cost-efficient space travel, but there may be another solution on the horizon.
A Spanish company, Zero2infinity, is close to testing out its balloon-based rocket launches, aptly named Bloostar.
The company currently provides ballooning services, taking payloads 99% up into the Earth’s atmosphere. It launches near-Earth satellites up to 28 kilometers (17 miles) above the surface of the Earth. Zero2infinity recently lofted Aistech’s first satellite into the upper atmosphere, aboard its Sub-Orbital Platform in Near Space balloon system.
Leveraging their knowledge in near-space ballooning, Zero2infinity devised their Bloostar system, which would have balloons take small rockets up to near-Earth, and have them launch satellites from there.
Their Bloostar system envisions rockets a mere fraction of the size of current rockets. These would have three booster rings, toroid-shaped, nestled one inside the other like Russian nesting dolls.
This small size frees up space to transport larger payloads, possibly even dispensing with the folding and unfolding common with satellites.
Zero2infinity is targeting micro and nano satellite launches, anticipating an increase in demand in the coming years. Indeed, over 2000 nano/micro-satellites under 50 kg will need to be launched by 2020 according to a 2014 SpaceWorks study.
Other than developing the balloon-launch concept, the company is looking at other upgrades to the system. One is reusability, with fuel choice and the overall shape of the rockets opening the possibility of reusing the rockets.
The company expects to test Bloostar by 2018, with first commercial launches by 2019, according to Universe Today.