Phoenix Launch Vehicle

Read: Phoenix Launch Systems Concept of Operations (PDF)

22 kg to 400 km LEO
Rapid Launch

Plug Nozzles-The Ultimate Customer Driven Propulsion System – This classic paper provides a good description and understanding of our vision for the optimal launch vehicle.

First Stage

  • 80 kN “plug cluster” aerospike engine with 6 individual combustors
  • Differential throttling thrust vector control
  • High-pressure electric pumps
  • Additively manufactured components
  • Environmentally-friendly hypergolic propellant
  • Composite primary airframe structure

Second Stage

  • Single engine derived from first stage combustor optimized for altitude
  • Environmentally-friendly hypergolic propellant
  • Composite primary airframe structure

Third Stage

  • High-performance conventional solid rocket motor
  • Multiple configurations tailored to specific mission requirements
  • Autonomous Flight Safety System
  • Built upon the design for NASA’s reference Autonomous Flight Termination Unit and CASS software from the U.S. Air Force
  • Lower-cost than traditional FTS hardware (transceiver,transcoder, radio, etc)
  • Eliminates the need for range-based assets like radar which dramatically lowers small vehicle launch cost

Low-Cost Avionics

  • Based on existing sounding rocket avionics evolved to support advanced high-fidelity control and powered landing
  • Leverages state of the art COTS components to minimize hardware cost

Nanosatellite Payload

  • Accommodates a mix of cubesat 1,2 and 3U configurations up to 3 6U spacecraft or one 16U satellite
  • Compatible with almost any cubesat that conforms to the Cubesat Standard
  • Non-standard configurations can be accommodated on dedicated missions
  • Spacecraft may be powered on during countdown and ascent and may transmit telemetry via vehicle interface
  • Spacecraft may contain pressure vessels and propulsion systems




The Phoenix nanolaunch system is a three-stage vertical launch vehicle with liquid propulsion in the first two stages and a solid propellant third stage. The design utilizes common propellants in the first two stages and a common engine design with nozzles optimized for altitude in a “plug cluster” aerospike configuration.

Phoenix utilizes a unique hydrogen peroxide-based hypergolic propellant that eliminates the need for a separate ignition system but also is non-toxic, non-carcinogenic and the exhaust products are environmentally-friendly. This propellant family was fully developed and hot-fire qualified by Aphelion Orbitals, Inc. and ARES Institute, Inc. in 2018. We further matured the technology into Phoenix Launch Systems’ proprietary propellant mixture.

The first stage is designed to be reusable using boostback, powered descent and vertical landing. Phoenix will be completely mobile and not rely on any fixed infrastructure, launch pad or processing facilities. The vehicle will be able to remain fully fueled for hours to days before launch and launch on short notice (2-3 days) after arrival at the launch site.

Traditional radar-based flight termination becomes a large component of launch cost for nanolaunchers. We are developing an autonomous flight termination system utilizing NASA’s reference AFTU and the Air Force CASS framework. The base hardware design is complete and version 1 of the software is 90% complete. We anticipate a first suborbital flight test of a prototype Rev. 1 first stage propulsion unit in the Second Quarter of 2020.

To expand the flight regime of our propellant technology, we have engaged with ARES Institute, Inc. to fly an experimental “green” cubesat propulsion system on a 1U cubesat. ARES Institute is in possession of a complete (sans solar panels and radio) 1U from Pumpkin, Inc. and has developed flight software based on NASA’s Core Flight System. We are using the open source NASA Operational Simulator for Small Satellites (NOS3) in this effort.