Zero 2 Infinity launches its first rocket from high-altitude balloon
Zero 2 Infinity, a small startup with an unconventional plan to send small satellites into orbit, has successfully performed its first rocket test flight – from beneath a high-altitude balloon.
The March 1 test, which the Spanish-based company announced on March 13, took place a few miles off the coast of Spain from a ship. A stratospheric balloon took the company’s “Bloostar” rocket to the “edge of space” some 16 miles (25 kilometers) in altitude.
Launch teams then gave the order to drop the small rocket from the balloon and ignite its engines. There were a number of goals for this test, including the validation of the system’s telemetry, the demonstration that the rocket could perform a controlled ignition and was stable, and the test of parachute deployment for a sea recovery.
Zero 2 Infinity said all of these goals were achieved in full.
The company hopes to be able to launch micro and nanosatellites less than 220 pounds (100 kilograms) to orbit by using a stratospheric balloon as its first stage. The rocket-powered portion of the flight will then start already above 95 percent of the mass of the atmosphere.
According to Zero 2 Infinity, in addition to getting to high altitude without any polluting emissions, it will allow the company to launch satellites for customers with only a two-week notice.
Bloostar is a three-stage, liquid-fueled system (not counting the balloon). Each stage is toroidal-shaped with the next stage tucked inside the former. This keeps the booster short and allows for a larger payload volume: 85 cubic feet (2.4 cubic meters) for orbital flights. Each stage is recovered on Earth using parachutes.
The company, formed in 2009, said that it is working toward opening up space for small companies, schools, and universities by lowering the cost of dedicated small satellite launches.
According to Zero 2 Infinity, the Bloostar system has attracted the attention of a number of satellite companies around the world and has “gathered upwards of 250 million euros in letters of intent for future launches.”
This first test, while only firing a few seconds according to Space News, is the first of many that will allow the company to send its first commercial payload into space in 2019. If successful, it will be the first small satellite launcher to use a stratospheric balloon as a first stage.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.