Monday, May 30, 2016

The "Most Interesting Man in the World" is Building a SSTO Spacecraft in Edmonton

          By Chuck Black

A small, western Canadian company, with connections to government, mining, aerospace and the University of Calgary, is seeking "joint venture projects with major aerospace and space companies," in order to commercialize various "spin-off and patented products."

Those products are designed for use in a single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) hypersonic, air-breathing orbital launch vehicle with more than a passing resemblance to the Skylon space plane, although they also have other aerospace applications.

Stay thirsty, my friends! SES CEO Pradeep Dass, who bears more than a slight resemblance to the pitchman for Dos Equis beer, discusses his company, its facilities, its research and development program and its partnership with the University of Calgary in this May 27th, 2015 promotional video. To see the complete video, please click on the photo. Screenshot c/o iiralberta

Edmonton, AB based Space Engine Systems (SES) issued a press release on April 8th, 2016 under the title, "Space Engine Systems, Inc." in order to publicize its interest in a series of joint venture projects to commercialize several of its existing products. These include:
  • A specialized, "ultra-light" planetary gear box able to function at temperatures up to 420 degrees Celsius "under full load" and with the lubricant completely pulled out by vacuum for up to 45 minutes with no "metallurgical or mechanical damage."
  • Other "aerospace & space" high speed gearbox designs for turbine engines requiring the ability to function under high temperature. 
  •  An "efficient and light heat exchanger."
  • A "liquid/multiphase twin screw and three screws pump" and hydraulic multiple screw pump for aerospace (and space) applications.
  • Drive systems "with sophisticated constant velocity (CV) joints."
  • Custom designed hydrodynamic, hydrostatic and anti-friction roller bearings for moderate and extreme temperatures and restricted spaces.
  • A permanent magnet motor system "adaptable for aerospace and space requirements," plus various other "custom light weight and high temperature materials," aerospace and space sub-assemblies custom made to customer’s requirements, nano oil for long term use and various other custom designed "vacuum operational equipment."

The DASS GN1 engine uses existing aerospace technologies, including conventional gas turbine components, and new developments in nanotechnology to overcome some of the key technical obstacles associated with overheating and fuel storage. For more information on the graphic, check out the Space Engine Systems Wikipedia page. Graphic c/o SES.

But the big ticket item the company is seeking to develop is the DASS engine. Named after SES founder and CEO Pradeep Dass, the engine is a "pre-cooled combined cycle propulsion concept that can produce thrust over a wide range of vehicle flight Mach numbers."

According to the press release, derivatives of the engine can even be used, "for propulsion of an SSTO (single stage to orbit) vehicle, long-range missiles and hypersonic transport aircraft."

In a recent interview, Dass said that he planned to test his supersonic engine (the DASS GN1) in the first quarter of 2018. A space engine (the DASS GNX, which will carry it's own supply of oxygen rather than depend on atmospheric oxygen for combustion) is also being being developed.

According to the SES website:
The DASS Engine will exceed Mach 5 and can fly at altitudes of around 30 KMs reaching anywhere on earth within 4.5 to 5 hours. It will take off from a runway just like a plane and go to 30 km altitude and develop speeds of a minimum of Mach 5. It can also be used for Single Stage To Orbit (SSTO) for space applications to exit and re-enter by storing oxygen.
Both engines start with an off-the-shelf, geared turbofan engine. To this is added a custom designed heat exchanger (HX), which Dass calls "simple, light, efficient and not as complicated" as the REL heat exchanger designed by Reaction Engines for use in the Skylon space plane.

Fast moving airflow causes up high temperatures in traditional turbofan engines, which restricts top speed and must be dissipated quickly, or else the metal parts will begin to melt. According to Dass, SES is currently testing a modified Honeywell TFE-731-3 Turbofan engine optimized for high temperature applications using their SES heat exchanger. Intake temperature are rated as 760 deg K at 30 km altitude which should provide a supersonic speed of Mach 3.2 at 20,700 rpm and a normal standard thrust of 16.5 kN, which is far above the standard rating of this well known, but until now, mostly subsonic engine. The ability to operate at higher temperatures also means increased fuel savings, according to Dass.  Photo c/o SES.

SES currently claims the support of the Alberta government, which included them as part of the Canadian pavilion at the 2015 Paris Air Show and the Western Canadian pavilion at the upcoming 2016 Farnborough International Airshow, which will be held in Farnborough, UK from July 11th - 17th, 2016. SES also presented at the 2015 Airtec Aerospace Supply Fair, which was held in Munich, Germany from November 3rd - 5th, 2015.

SES works with the CAN-K group of companies, which prides itself on building surface and subsurface pumps for the oil and gas industry. Dass acts as president and CTO for both firms.

SES also enjoys a partnership with the University of Calgary to develop technologies relating to nanotechnology, heat exchanger and high-speed aerodynamics applications which are useful in a wide variety of aerospace applications.

An overview of the Skylon space plane, another design for a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane. Both the Skylon and the SES proposal depend on the efficient dissipation of heat from the turbine engine at extreme temperatures. Graphic c/o Reaction Engines

As outlined by CEO Dass, the company has also been supported by at least two Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) grants and expects to perform a "full sized" test of their technology in 2018.

According to Clark Lindsey, who edits the NewSpace Watch blog for New Space Global, "there have been various projects over the years in the US and Russia to create hybrid propulsion systems such as rocket-based combined cycle (RBCC) or dual systems (such as scramjet plus rocket engines) which can operate in both air and vacuum for SSTO."

Lindsey notes that most of the projects get stuck in the design and component testing stages and never obtain the funding to build a flight test prototype. Here's hoping that the SES plan shares a better fate.

Just don't share any of this with the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

Chuck Black.
As outlined in the April 22nd, 2016 post, "2009 Canadian Space Agency Report on Indigenous Canadian Launcher said "Yes!" But CSA Didn't Move Forward," the CSA thinks that there are more important things than access to space for Canadian space focused companies to spend their time and effort on.

Chuck Black is the editor of the Commercial Space blog.

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