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Low-Cost Launch Technology

Jerome Pearson has provided technology innovations in methods for low-cost launch of space payloads since he conceived of the space elevator in 1975. The space elevator concept is still the lowest-cost space launcher, but until carbon nanotubes are a practical building material, it may be decades away from construction.

On more near-term efforts, Jerome Pearson collaborated with Ball Aerospace and Technologies Corporation on a contract with the Air Force and DARPA to evaluate low-cost launch techniques for the DARPA Orbital Express concept. Using innovative approaches to cost analysis, Pearson examined conventional launch vehicle systems, single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) systems, and revolutionary launch techniques. The study found that current launch vehicle technology cannot reduce launch prices below about $1000 per kilogram to LEO, and that even reusable launch vehicles would only halve that. Pearson’s concept for a combination gun launch and orbiting tether catch could conceivably lower the cost of space launch to about $300 per kilogram, but to get below $100 per kilogram would require the space elevator. STAR, Inc. has developed a concept for a LEO maneuvering vehicle that could be a testbed for the orbiting tether part of a low-cost launch system.