The Beal Aerospace BA-2 was a privately-financed heavy-lift commercial launch vehicle that used innovative technical solutions to achieve low cost to orbit. It harkened back to the low-cost Truax Sea Dragon or TRW 'Big Dumb Booster' concepts of the 1960's but added several new twists. The three-stage launcher stood 72 m tall and had the capacity to lift 6.000 kg to geosynchronous transfer orbit and 17,000 kg to low earth orbit. The BA-2 had a constant diameter of 6.2 m and a large payload fairing that could accommodate side-by-side placement of larger satellite payloads. The vehicle employed one pressure-fed centreline engine per stage. Hydrogen peroxide and standard aviation fuel were used as propellants, providing environmental advantages. Tank pressurisation was by inert helium gas. The pressure-fed technique negated the use of costly and complicated turbo pumps. Beal abandoned the project at the end of 2000 after the collapse of the MEO satellite market and active measures by NASA to support other, competing, more high-tech projects by the major aerospace contractors.
Stages 1 and 2 utilised liquid injection (LITVC) for steering and stage 3 had a gimballed multiple restart engine. While the initial flight tests would be of expendable vehicles, reusable technologies would be utilised later in the program to allow primary stage recoveries at sea. Propellant tanks were composite filament-wound structures, making them very lightweight, durable and strong. Beal operated one of the world's largest filament winding machines at its facility in Frisco, Texas.
The BA-2 restartable third stage allowed multiple satellite deployments and high earth orbits to be achieved. For geosynchronous transfer and Earth escape missions, a 200 km circular orbit was used as a parking/phasing orbit. Hohmann transfer missions used an elliptic parking orbit where the perigee was 200 km and the apogee is the final orbit altitude. Upon reaching apogee, a second burn was executed to circularise the orbit.
The privately financed project reached a major milestone on March 4, 2000 when Beal Aerospace fired the largest liquid rocket engine built since the Apollo program. The 3,600 kN vacuum thrust hydrogen peroxide/kerosene Stage 2 engine, designated the BA-810, made a 21-second firing at the company’s engine test facility in McGregor, Texas. At that time flights of the launch vehicle were scheduled to begin in 2004.
Beal Aerospace was founded in 1997 by Andrew Beal, who's stated vision was that a private company, utilising simplified designs and entrepreneurial business management, could create a reliable and economic class of large-scale rockets for the international business community. Beal had built a number of successful businesses, including the largest locally owned bank in Dallas. In 1995, a magazine article sparked Beal's interest in satellites and new proposed low earth orbit constellations. After some study of the subject, he concluded that the satellite portion of the business would be difficult to break into and improve on. But in the launch vehicle side there seemed to be real room for improvement. Beal wanted to thoroughly understand existing concepts and methods. This process, involving education in existing rocket technology principles, meeting with leading experts, and touring existing rocket facilities, took about two years while he continued working at his Dallas bank.
Beal considered all kinds of new launch concepts. He was initially very intrigued by the simplicity of solid propellant motors. But he wanted to develop new concepts on how a rocket might be designed and manufactured using a totally new and vertically integrated low-cost production methodology. After spending considerable time with industry engineers and professionals, Beal concluded that he must distance his new effort from the existing mindset in the industry where government and military contracts were the norm. Beal decided to "go it alone" and develop at his own expense totally new rocket and related manufacturing and launch facilities.
Beal's preliminary BA-1 design concept was a three-stage rocket weighing 450,000 kg at lift-off, capable of delivering 7,000 kg to low earth orbit. It would have one pressure-fed engine per stage, using liquid oxygen and kerosene Jet-A as propellants. The composite ablative thrust chambers would be rigidly attached to composite propellant tanks, and use secondary liquid injection or jet vanes for thrust vector control. A forward ejecting one piece fairing would cover the payload. This general concept, other than a change in the propellants, remained the company's design for the BA-2. Beal Aerospace led the industry in the rediscovery of hydrogen peroxide, one of the most environmentally friendly rocket propellants. Beal Aerospace Technologies, Inc. was formally incorporated early in 1997 for the sole purpose of building this new concept launch vehicle. A team of about 200 professionals from virtually every major U.S. aerospace company joined the revolutionary effort.
As a launch site for the BA-2, Beal Aerospace signed an agreement on December 18, 1997 for the exclusive use of Sombrero Island in the Caribbean for up to 98 years. This lone island is 56 km north-west of Anguilla, a dependant territory of the United Kingdom. It is well located for due-east launches as well as north and north-east launches for all orbit inclinations of commercial interest.
Measuring 1.6 km long by 0.6 km, the Island features a lighthouse which is the first landfall for ships approaching from Europe. This territory will be transformed into the Beal Aerospace launch site, featuring a horizontal vehicle integration building on one end of the Island and a launch pad at the opposite end. A runway will link the Island for personnel and high-value cargo transport. A heavy-load roadway will link the integration building to the launch pad. A small port area to the south-west of the integration building will be used for transport of rocket stages, propellants, and heavy equipment and supplies via barge and ship.
A retired Naval Weapons Research Laboratory located near Waco, Texas, just east of McGregor, was the site of the extensive rocket engine test program. Beal Aerospace Technologies built its new factory and office space in Frisco, Texas. This facility supported development of the BA-2 fabrication methods, and housed the administrative, technical, and executive staff of Beal Aerospace Technologies. In the future, a coastal site would be secured for a multiple hundred-thousand square foot fabrication and stage assembly plant. This production facility would take over production from the Frisco facility, which would then focus on research and development for advanced vehicles in the BA family.
LEO Payload: 17,000 kg. to: 200 km Orbit. at: 20.0 degrees. Payload: 5,800 kg. to a: Geosynchronous transfer, 17.6 deg inclination trajectory. Liftoff Thrust: 1,440,000 kgf. Total Mass: 970,000 kg. Core Diameter: 6.2 m. Total Length: 72.0 m. Development Cost $: 250.00 million. in 1999 average dollars. Cost comments: Development cost is initial estimate. It had increased substantially before the project was cancelled.
The island was 56 km north-west of Anguilla, well located for due-east, north and north-east launches for all orbit inclinations of commercial interest. The agreement provided for exclusive use of Sombrero Island for up to 98 years.