The Lockheed Martin RBS Pathfinder flight test vehicle
The US Air Force (USAF) has awarded a contract to Lockheed Martin to provide support for its Reusable Booster System (RBS) Flight and Ground Experiments programme.

The five-year, $250m indefinite delivery/indefinite-quantity contract will improve the affordability, operability and responsiveness of future space-lift capabilities, and will replace Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles after 2025.

The company received an initial $2m RBS Flight and Ground Experiments task order to provide a flight demonstration vehicle known as RBS Pathfinder, which will launch during 2015.

The next-generation launch vehicle RBS consists of an autonomous, reusable, rocket-powered first stage, with an expendable upper stage stack.

The reusable first-stage RBS will be capable of vertical launching, and can carry the expendable stack to the staging point from where it will return directly to the launch base in a horizontal aircraft-style landing on a runway.

The winged, rocket-powered RBS Pathfinder flight-test vehicle will demonstrate the ‘rocketback’ manoeuvre capabilities of the RBS, and will validate the system requirements for enhancing its operational design.

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The company will also work with the New Mexico Spaceport Authority to conduct flight test operations from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico, US.

Lockheed RBS is led by its Space Systems and Skunk Works operations, and includes Science and Technology Applications, UP Aerospace and JFA Avionics Systems.

The Air Force Research Laboratory and the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center under the USAF circa-2010 programme to develop the RBS into a new vertical-takeoff, horizontal-landing reusable booster.

Caption: The innovative reusable, winged, rocket-powered RBS Pathfinder flight test vehicle will demonstrate the rocketback manoeuvre capabilities of the RBS. Image Courtesy: Lockheed Martin