ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Spaceport America will be the site of the launch of a new suborbital rocket developed by EXOS, a Texas-based company that specializes in suborbital reusable vehicles.
Spaceport America and EXOS made a joint announcement Tuesday of the successful “tie down test” of the Suborbital Autonomous Rocket with Guidance, known as SARGE, at the Caddo Mills airport in Texas.
The test “connected all systems required for flight, and in full launch operations, fired the rocket engine using steel cables to hold the rocket to the test pad” in December, according to the new release.
“It is great to see such an innovative privately funded company entering these final phases of testing before launch of the EXOS SARGE vehicle at Spaceport America,” said Daniel Hicks, Spaceport America CEO in a statement.
Hicks said the testing brings the company one step closer to regular commercial launches at Spaceport America that can create “new high tech jobs in New Mexico.”
EXOS expects a license by Feb. 14 from the Federal Aviation Administration allowing an operator to conduct launches or reentries. The company called the testing and license “major milestones.”
“We are excited to move two critical steps closer to launches at Spaceport America,” said John Quinn, COO of EXOS Aerospace Systems & Technology Inc.
EXOS could launch SARGE as early as 60 days from no if the FAA waives the notification requirement, Quinn said in a phone interview.
The payload includes “eight experiments and some memorabilia for our investors on the flight,” Quinn said.
The experiments are for various schools in the U.S., Spacekidz India, Purdue University, and Enterprise in Space. The Center for Applied Technology will conduct an experiment on an apparatus to carry stem cells on future flights.
Quinn said he is “most excited” about the prospect of using SARGE to fly more often and accelerate research,using stem cells, which simulators on earth show reproduce more quickly in microgravity.
Researchers need more stem cells to develop treatments for cancer and stroke patients.
The ultimate goal is to develop the prototype into a rocket that can fly more often and do quick turnarounds. “We have a capability to do a next day launch with the same vehicle,” Quinn said.
The SARGE rocket is an upgraded version of a suborbital vehicle developed by Armadillo Aerospace that flew its last flight from Spaceport America in 2013. The company suspended operations after its STIG-B crash landed when its main engine shut down early and the rocket lost its guidance system.
“It’s really an evolution of the SB vehicle from the Armadillo days,” Quinn said.
EXOS Aerospace Systems and Technologies signed a five-year contract with Spaceport America in 2016. With the new FAA license, the company expects to increase the number of launches at the New Mexico site.
“We’re hoping with this new launch we’ll be out there every month,” said Quinn.
This is the second major announcement in as many months about clients using Spaceport America.
In December Virgin Galactic announced it signed a deal with the Italian Space Agency, ASI, to launch a research payload from Spaceport America in 2019.
Spaceport America had its busiest year in fiscal 2017, with 14 vertical rocket launches by different Spaceport tenants and horizontal flight tests of Virgin Galactic’s WhiteKnightTwo, the mothership in development to carry future passenger rockets part of the way to space.