Science & Engineering

Launch technology is in need of a shakeup, and proximitE has been researching and developing the means to greatly disrupt the small-satellite launch industry. With our innovation (which we will discuss below), we will be able to assist small-satellite companies and academic groups in launching their payloads into low-Earth orbit (LEO).

The Innovation

A basic, preliminary design of the concept

High-altitude balloon launches for rockets have the potential to assist in all different types of small satellites launches. They can serve as part of one-off launches, or as a component of a constellation-maintenance strategy.

If high-altitude balloons were to launch small satellites from light-weight rockets above 30 kilometers, then launching small satellites would be drastically cheaper and affordable. This method can drop the price per pound launched into space by over half. We will decrease the amount of fuel required to 10% of the total mass of the total rocket (as opposed to 90% of the total mass). The rocket, balloons, and platforms will be reusable and relocatable. We will be able to launch small satellites with at least 15 days of notice.

High-altitude balloon carries a platform above Earth’s atmosphere (~35 kilometers). Light-weight, 3-D printed reusable rocket launches from the platform and effects small satellites into orbit. The rocket then falls to Earth via series of parachutes.

The platform would stabilize itself with several long rope tethering it to the ground, as well as propellers underneath the platform. The rocket will then launch the payload into orbit, and release it into the required orbit. The satellite will then use its own thrusters to stabilize itself. The overall engineering goal of our design is to minimize the launching distance between the payload and its target destination. Once a rocket is above Earth’s atmosphere, the fuel requirements for launch are greatly diminished. Many high-altitude balloon companies have released basic technical details about the capabilities of their balloons.

For example, Raven Aerostar has created a zero-pressure high altitude balloon that can lift a payload of 104 pounds to 35 kilometers of the Earth’s surface. This distance would drastically reduce the amount of fuel necessary for a rocket launch. As a rule of thumb, rockets launched from Earth require 90% of the rocket’s total mass to be fuel. However, when doing the calculations for a launch from 35 kilometers, that requirement drops by over ¾’s.

To reduce even more weight, we plan on testing our designs using 3D printers that can print using light-weight metals, such as titanium. To this end, I have been arranging a partnership with Desktop Metals to allow us to use their 3D metal printing machines to print parts of our rocket. We will need to consider atmospheric models.