It is no secret that U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG) is known for its test and evaluations of the U.S. military’s arsenal.
Its 2,000 square miles of restricted air space, firing front and hundreds of miles of vast desert is ideal for a multitude of testing. And that has attracted private industry customers as well to utilize the resources YPG offers.
Green Launch is one of those companies, and without places like YPG, it may not be able to complete its three-phase process that could ultimately send science payloads to space using an innovative hydrogen impulse launcher, with the only elements used being hydrogen and oxygen. That results in the byproduct of water vapor, hence the name - Green Launch.
‘It is only a combustion gun, it only makes water,” said Eric Robinson, the Green Launch outreach director. “There are no fossil fuels, there is no C02 produced, our fuel is hydrogen.”
Regular rockets shoot with RP1, which is like kerosene or methane, explained Robinson. That produces 19 tons of carbon dioxide for every ton put into orbit. “If you are worried about C02 that is something that makes our [Green Launch] system a little more appealing to people because all we are making is water.”
Back in the 1960s NASA had gas guns that set records but nothing has come close to it since. This launch would be the first of its kind at YPG.
“This is the first time a gas gun has been used to go vertical,” said John Hunter, physicist for Green Launch. With the amount of propellant being used Hunter estimates the vehicle is capable of reaching an altitude of 30-40 kilometers on the first launch.
With the cannon at a 76-degree angle “The vehicle came out straight,” noting a successful first launch in late December. Hunter said it sets Green Launch one step closer to its Phase 1 goal of reaching suborbital heights.
With the hydrogen impulse launcher now capable of projecting the vehicle, vertical distance would be the next test.
That would mean reaching the Karman Line, which is defined as the edge of space, about 100 kilometers above Earth’s atmosphere. Hunter hopes to reach that goal in the months ahead as testing continues at YPG.
“At some point we will go for the record which is 110 miles. That phase could include mesosphere sampling,” Hunter said.
Hoping to hit around 200 kilometers, Green Launch could be the first to break the world record held at YPG for highest altitude gun-fired projectile. The record, set by the HARP gun in 1966, reached 180 kilometers.
But for now, “Things are looking good, the gods of light gas guns are looking down on us and smiling on us today,” Robinson said after Green Launch’s first successful lunch.