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South Korean space firm tests its HANBIT-TLV in Alcântara

INNNOSPACE's rocket can open possibilities in Brazil's space sector

Liftoff from Alcântara

Innospace, a South Korean startup specializing in the development of hybrid engines, has announced the launch of the Hanbit-TLV – an 8,400 kg, 16.3 m long, single-stage engine rocket – from the Alcantara Space Center in Maranhão, northeastern Brazil . Brazil, at 14:52 local time on Sunday, March 19, 2023. The vehicle (the 500th launch made from the spaceport) carried the Brazilian SISNAV payload on a flight that lasted 4 minutes and 33 seconds. The test, carried out by the Korean team and with observation and participation of the Brazilian Air Force, can endorse the Alcântara launch polygon as a place capable of hosting launches of private orbital rockets of various nationalities - which could, in the medium and long term, open opportunities for that Brazilians have access to space.

"We will announce the engine flight performance results and whether the payload mission will complete successfully after a comprehensive analysis of the flight data," Innospace said in a letter to reporters. The suborbital launch vehicle was loaded with the Brazilian military's inertial navigation system – SISNAV – which weighs 20 kilos. If the tests are successfully completed and commercial operation begins, Innospace could become the first private company in South Korea to offer satellite-to-orbit services.

Official statements from the Brazilian Air Force media

The Head of the Technical Subdepartment of the Department of Aerospace Science and Technology (DCTA), Brigadier Engineer Luciano Valentim Rechiuti, said that the Operation, called Astrolábio, “was the result of the partnership between the DCTA and the South Korean company INNOSPACE and demonstrates the national capacity in developing space technologies and launching rockets”. “The success of this binational launch, involving Brazil and South Korea, confirms that the Center is fully capable, both from a technical-operational point of view and from an administrative point of view, to carry out launches of national and foreign rockets in practically any time of the year, accurately and safely. After all, the Center has specialized and highly qualified teams, as well as infrastructure and preparation systems,

“We are extremely happy with the result, as it reflects the work of many professionals involved and several challenges overcome throughout the process”, pointed out CLA Director, Colonel Engineer Fernando Benitez Leal.

HANBIT Rocket takes off from Alcântara

The President of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), Carlos Augusto Teixeira de Moura, also celebrated the moment and stressed that the CLA was already conceived with the idea of ​​housing not only our Space Program, but also other operators. “We have achieved the ideal back in the 1980s, as we now have a private international operator working here, which opens up the opportunity for Brazil to effectively enter the international space transport market”, he commented.

For the General Director of the DCTA, Lieutenant-Brigadier Maurício Augusto Silveira de Medeiros, Operation Astrolábio showed Brazil and the world the capacity of the CLA, which will still be expanded through the Alcântara Space Center (CEA).

“This launch broke a paradigm, as we will be able to have several commercial operations, from the CEA, placing us among the space centers recognized worldwide and inserted in such a large market and that is developing more every day, which is the space market. The launch of HANBIT-TLV and future partnerships will bring a series of benefits, as they are revenues that come to the municipality of Alcântara, to the state of Maranhão and to Brazil”, he concluded.

SISNAV payload

SISNAV Platform

SISNAV is a technological experiment described as “essential for the automatic navigation of rockets, which will allow Brazil to be independent in the development of carrier-rockets of different sizes”. The SISNAV Project is part of the Navigation and Control System (SISNAC), designed for the FAB Microsatellite Launch Vehicle (VLM), for the placement of small satellites in low Earth orbit and which ended up being part of the so-called “New Space” .

Some of the applications envisaged in the plan that encompassed SISNAV were: VLS-1 launch vehicle, suborbital platforms and aircraft (Ministry of Defense/DCTA) and satellites (Ministry of Science and Technology/INPE). The former head of the DCTA/IAE Control Group, Fausto O. Ramos, mentions that Dr. Waldemar de Castro (former DCTA researcher, now retired), the embryo of SIA emerged in 2002, with the SISNAV Project (synonymous with “inertial navigation system”, INS). SISNAV was intended to provide an inertial system to the VLS-1 launch vehicle. However, at that time there were not enough resources to carry out the initiative. Then, in 2004, Brigadier Thiago Ribeiro (another supporter of SISNAV) made a proposal to DEPED (today DCTA ), referring to financial support for the development of inertial systems,

Innospace Plans

The Korean company plans to develop two additional launch vehicles capable of having a payload of between 150 kilograms and 500 kilograms, respectively. Innospace was founded by the current CEO in 2017. Since then, the startup has raised 55.2 billion won ($42 million) in investment funds. The developer plans to take Korea's tech-heavy secondary Kosdaq public in 2024 through the tech special listing track.

The startup initially intended to launch the rocket on March 8, but that didn't happen due to a problem just 10 seconds before the launch. The company then fixed the issue and waited until favorable weather on Sunday for the release. “Developing a space launch vehicle is a process of constantly overcoming variables. The valuable experience and know-how gained during the test launch will become our core technology and a stepping stone to becoming a professional company with independent technology and launch management capabilities,” said Kim Soo-jong, CEO of Innospace. Sunday's takeoff came about three months after the Korean startup's project had to be suspended at the same location due to a weather problem, problems with a cooling valve and connection errors between systems. The launch of Innospace was Korea's first private sector rocket liftoff. According to the company, the Hanbit-TLV was also the world's first launch of a hybrid rocket.

The launch is a test project to evaluate the performance of the hybrid rocket engine, which is planned to be used as the first stage engine of the Hanbit-Nano rocket at a later date. Innospace is developing the Hanbit-Nano, which is expected to have a payload of 50 kilograms, to enter the small commercial satellite launch market in 2024. According to Innospace, its solid fuel and liquid oxidizer hybrid rocket technology has great advantages in costing less and taking less time to build an engine, ensuring safety, as the technology prevents the system from exploding in the event of a breakdown.

[*]“New Space” is the name conventionally used to call initiatives for launching and operating satellites and spacecraft using advanced technologies, with exploration of devices of generally small size, simplicity of construction and control, and the participation of private companies controlling the entire process. of cargo satelliteization, from the construction of the launcher to the placing of the spacecraft in orbit. Despite its name, "New Space" is an old concept, which has its roots in the world's first fully commercial rocket, the American Conestoga of the 1980s. Space” boast the price and affordability advantages of smaller satellites with limited lifetimes. Large companies engaged in large-scale activities, however, far from this philosophy – their communication and remote sensing satellites are still sized for long periods of activity and to provide a large volume of data – for this they need large resources of electricity and propellant reserves – to guarantee useful lives of about 15 years, allowing greater financial return on investments. Miniaturization is focused on electronics and mass savings are focused on lighter structural materials and appendage extension mechanisms with a minimum of moving parts. For modest initiatives such as student satellites, small space platforms for commercializing images for use in agriculture and technical testing, however, this simplistic approach works well. Another aspect benefited by the concept is the standardization of sizes (the so-called “U”, from 'unit' for cubesats – cube-shaped satellite measuring 10 x 10 cm), whose universally accepted size facilitates the production of useful loads to be installed inside, as well as facilitating the design of the 'dispensers' – the mechanisms responsible for ejecting the satellite into space. Cubesats can be launched singly or in groups, often piggybacking on larger satellite launches.

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