High-tech flight could once again grace the skies over former Loring Air Force Base

Posted July 05, 2013, at 12:51 p.m.
Applied Thermal Science employees are shown gearing up for a liquid-fueled ram jet flight test in summer 2011 in Cherryfield. ATS founder Karl Hoose believes the company's Vertical Air-Breathing Launch Technology will lead to a dramatic reduction in launch vehicle size and cost to access space.
Courtesy of Applied Thermal Sciences, Inc.
Applied Thermal Science employees are shown gearing up for a liquid-fueled ram jet flight test in summer 2011 in Cherryfield. ATS founder Karl Hoose believes the company's Vertical Air-Breathing Launch Technology will lead to a dramatic reduction in launch vehicle size and cost to access space.

LIMESTONE, Maine — Passionate entrepreneur Karl Hoose of Applied Thermal Science hopes his company will make space flight more affordable than ever — and he’s looking to further the groundbreaking technology right here in Aroostook County.

All sorts of things once soared through the skies over the former Loring Air Force Base, and Hoose thinks that northern Maine is perfectly situated as the testing grounds for the propulsion system currently being engineered by his company.

“Just to give you a little bit of an idea where we’re at right now with our programs, we’ve been focused on an advanced propulsion system that we developed a few years ago that we have a patent on, which is an advanced piston engine, and the benefits of this engine is high-fuel efficiency,” Hoose explained to board members of the Loring Development Authority during their June 12 meeting. “The other area is what’s called ‘high speed air-breathers’ or ram jets and scram jets. These are essentially like jet engines, except there’s no turbine involved.”

Hoose explained that once the jets get up to a certain speed, the pressure created by air running through a duct is basically enough to run an engine cycle.

While the concept has been around for a long time, developing the technology has been cost-prohibitive, partially due to the expense of testing.

“The hard thing about this technology is that it’s very hard to test on the ground,” Hoose explained. To test the systems, tremendously high air speeds are required.

“Typically, they’re going to operate above the speed of sound — and ram jets would run up to maybe seven or so times the speed of sound. Scram jets start at about five times the speed of sound — which is about a mile a second, just to give you an idea about how quick they are,” he explained. “And that’s just the start.”

Hoose said that, historically, test flights for such systems have cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Applied Thermal Sciences has found a way to launch the technology vertically, at a very low cost, he said. After assembling one of the “air breathing” systems for $50,000 in materials and obtaining the proper insurance, they can launch for right around $5,000.

“Space is about 100 miles up … so when you look at the rockets that take off now, they’re big for a reason — it takes a lot of energy to get into space and one of the reasons why these systems are big is because of what they contain,” Hoose said. A rocket propellant is made up of two elements — a fuel and an oxidizer. The oxidizer can be two to eight times the weight of the fuel, according to Hoose, and the rocket has to carry both.

“What we do with the air breathers is we take out the oxidizers — use the oxygen that’s in the air — and drastically reduce the size of the vehicle,” he said, explaining that the air breathers can’t solely propel the system to full speeds up toward 17,500 miles an hour, “because we’re running out of air as we go up in altitude.”

“But they can get us most of the way there, and that really drops the size, weight and cost,” he said.

With satellites now being developed as small as a 4-inch cube that weighs about one kilogram, Hoose believes his system is a perfect pair for such “CubeSats.”

“The technology is really scoping down, but they have no way to get these things into space other than as secondary payload on big launches — and sometimes they’ll wait two years for a launch date, and they will have no say in where they’re going, and they have no say in when they’re going.” Hoose said.

Enter Applied Thermal Science’s new approach to propulsion; weighing in at about 3,500 pounds, measuring two feet in diameter and standing about 20 feet tall, they’re looking to launch 50 pounds into orbit.

“This is a new area for everybody and we’re trying to get folks to change their approach or [the way they] look at how they get into space,” Hoose said, explaining that his company is trying to push the launch cost down.

“Right now, you couldn’t get a launch for under $50 million. We want to push the launch cost of this down to a million.”

More recently, ATS has been conducting test launches out of the blueberry fields of Cherryfield.

“Maine is one of the best places in the country to flight test, and so having a flight test facility established near us gives us more access to that airspace and allows us to build not only our company, but there’s a lot of other companies and spinoffs that could come up,” Hoose told the Loring Development Authority board members. The LDA was created to help redevelop the former Loring Air Force Base, which closed in 1994.

A research and development company, ATS is interested in setting up at Loring, Hoose said, but a few things would have to be put in place first.

For starters, ATS would need to obtain additional funding for development.

“It really depends on the funding that we get for the development of our activities,” Hoose said after the June 12 meeting. It could be anywhere from two to six months before that funding could be obtained, but Hoose said ATS could ramp up pretty quickly after that.

“I would expect we would be doing in-flight testing as soon as six months — somewhere in between six months and a year,” he said.

As exciting as cutting-edge flight testing would be for the region — not to mention the new employees ATS would need to hire — Hoose assured the LDA board that safety is of the utmost importance while flight testing.

“When you work with the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration], their major concern is public safety,” he said. Before ATS could flight test anything in northern Maine, the firm would have to obtain a certificate of authorization.

“I’d like to see 50 people here in a flight and launch range research center,” Hoose said, adding that engineers, technicians and highly skilled fabrication technicians would be in demand — as well as individuals familiar with flight and launch operations — for testing and development of the cutting-edge technology.

“There are companies out there and organizations that are working on space access, and they’re looking at rockets and reducing the costs of manufacturing those rockets,” Hoose said, adding with a grin, “This is totally different.”

Hoose first started becoming involved with the complex propulsion systems in 1986, when he worked on developing a new aircraft that would go from New York to Tokyo in about two hours.

“I loved the idea,” he said. “I love the concept and the technology and the developing of these systems, so I got involved with that and once it got in my blood, I just couldn’t get it out.”

Interestingly enough, Hoose didn’t always want to be an engineer.

It was biology that first drew him to northern Maine — specifically wildlife management. That was his major during the two years he spent at UMPI from 1980 to ’82.

“Thirty-three years later, I’m coming back and trying to establish the flight test center,” Hoose said. “It would be excellent to be able to get this facility established; it would be a lot of fun and I know we’ll make a lot of progress being established up here.”

Additional information about ATS can be obtained by visiting www.appliedthermalsciences.com.

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