ARCA was established as Romanian Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Association (Asociația Română pentru Cosmonautică și Aeronautică), an non-governmental organization in 1999 by a group of rocket and aeronautics enthusiasts. Their goal was to construct and launch space rockets. After experimenting with designs for different fuels and rocket engine types, including solid fuel rockets, they decided using fiberglass for engine and tank construction and hydrogen peroxide as fuel. Their first vehicle was named Demonstrator and was a 10 meter long, unguided, self stabilized rocket. It never flew, instead it was used in various public exhibitions to attract funds and sponsorships. Their second rocket, Demonstrator 2 was constructed in 2003. For this, ARCA created their first rocket engine testing installation where they tested their hydrogen peroxide engine. After the tests were successful they constructed Demonstrator 2B which was an improved version of their previous rocket. It had a 4.5 m length and 0.77 m diameter and used a 18 m high launch pad.
In 2003 ARCA also signed for Ansari X Prize international competition and started design for Orizont suborbital vehicle capable of carrying a crew of two up to an altitude of 100 km. Orizont was to be ARCA's competing vehicle for Ansari X Prize. It was designed to use a disposable jet engine up to an altitude of 15 km and then ignite its main hydrogen peroxide rocket engine in order to propel it to the 100 km altitude.
On September 9, 2004 ARCA successfully launched Demonstrator 2B rocket from Cape Midia Air Force Base. Because of powerful wind gusts up to 60 km/h they were forced to use only 20 percent of the fuel quantity intended in order to keep with the allocated safety zone by the Air Force. The altitude reached was 1200 m. At the launch 90 journalists participated, from Romania, Germany and Austria. After the launch ARCA started construction of Orizont spaceplane and completed the aircraft structure by 2005.
ARCA organized a public presentation of their Orizont spaceplane in front of the Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest. Because of financial problems encountered with the construction of Orizont, ARCA decided to suspend its development and instead design a new, much smaller rocket called Stabilo. It was designed to be launched from a stratospheric solar balloon and carry one person into space. Design and construction of large scale polyethylene balloons started and on December 2, 2006 at Onesti, Bacau, the crew capsule of Stabilo rocket was lifted to an altitude of 14,700 m. The capsule was safely recovered that evening. The event was transmitted live on several Romanian TV stations.
On 27 September 2007 the entire Stabilo rocket (crew caspule + rocket booster) was lifted to an altitude of 12,000 m using the largest solar balloon constructed until that date. The mission was launched from Cape Midia Air Force Base and the rocket was recovered from the Black Sea surface by Romanian Navy divers. At this moment ARCA proved its ability to conduct large scale operations and to coordinate military institutions like the Romanian Navy and the Romanian Air Force.
In 2007 ARCA won two governmental contracts with the Research Ministry for a suborbital rocket and a solar ballon. Romanian Space Agency, University of Bucharest and other Romanian institutions were subcontractors to ARCA for these projects.
In early 2008 ARCA joined the Google Lunar X Prize competition and designed the Haas orbital launcher. Their lunar rover was named European Lunar Lander and used a monopropellant rocket engine for landing and hovering. Haas was a three-stage orbital rocket powered by hybrid engines using a bitumen based fuel and hydrogen peroxide as oxydizer. It was supposed to be launched from 18,000 m carried by the largest solar balloon ever constructed, having a volume of 2 million cubic meters. For the Haas rocket, they created a three-stage much smaller demonstrator called Helen that was intended to test technologies and operation. Helen rocket was not intentionally aerodynamically stabilized, being intended to use a technique based on the pendulum rocket fallacy. Romanian bank BRD – Groupe Société Générale awarded ARCA with a 300,000 euro sponsorship for their activities. Romanian cosmonaut Dumitru Prunariu highly praised ARCA's achievements and noted their ability to efficiently utilize private funds. In 2009 ARCA performed a series of engine tests using the Stabilo rocket engine in order to validate the design for the Helen rocket.
The first attempt to launch Helen rocket took place on November 14, 2009. Romanian Naval Forces participated with the NSSL 281 Constanta ship, Venus divers ship, Fulgerul fast boat and two other fast craft boats. For this mission ARCA constructed a massive 150,000 cubic meter solar balloon, approximately five times as large as their last balloon. After balloon inflation started the mission crew discovered that the balloon inflation arms were wrapped around the lower part of the balloon. Inflation was halted and the crew attempted to unwrap the arms. Three hours later the arms were repositioned and inflation was ready to resume but the sun was already nearing the horizon and heating the solar balloon was no longer possible. The decision was made to cancel the mission.
ARCA decided to redesign the Helen rocket to use two stages and a helium balloon instead. They named the rocket Helen 2. On April 27, 2010 they performed an avionics test for the European Lunar Lander payload to be lifted by Helen 2 rocket, using a hot air balloon that lifted three ARCA members to 5,200 m altitude. On August 4, 2010 a new attempt to launch the rocket was made, but a construction error in the helium balloon caused it to rupture and the mission was aborted. A new helium balloon was manufactured designed to carry only the second stage of Helen 2 rocket. On October 1, 2010 the rocket performed a successful flight to an altitude of 38,700 m reaching a maximum velocity of 2320 km/h. Upon atmospheric reentry the rocket capsule parachute failed to deploy and the capsule was lost at sea, but the data was transmitted to the mission control center on 281 Constanta ship and to the Romanian Air Traffic Services Administration.
After the difficulties encountered with the stratospheric balloons, ARCA decided to change their approach to orbital launch for the Google Lunar X Prize. They designed a supersonic rocket plane powered by a liquid fueled rocket engine using kerosene as fuel and liquid oxygen as oxydizer. The aircraft initially named E-111 was renamed IAR-111 after ARCA received permission from IAR S.A. Brasov to use the traditional IAR designation for military and civilian aircraft constructed since 1925. The aircraft was intended to fly to an altitude of 17.000 m and launch a heavily modified version of Haas rocket, named Haas 2. Haas 2 was an air launched three stage orbital rocket intended to place a 200 kg payload into orbit. Work on the plane structure began in late 2010.
By 2011 all the fiberglass molds for the aircraft were finished and one third of the aircraft structure was completed. The crew capsule escape system was tested on September 26, 2011 when a Mil Mi-17 helicopter belonging to the Special Aviation Unit dropped the capsule from an altitude of 700 m over the Black Sea. The emergency parachute deployed successfully and the capsule was recovered from the sea surface by the Romanian Coast Guard.
In 2012 ARCA decided to focus on the construction of the rocket engine of IAR-111 aircraft. The engine, named Executor is made of composite materials, has a thrust of 24 tons force (52,000 lbf) and is turbopump fueled. It uses ablative cooling for the main chamber and nozzle where the outer layers of the composite material vaporize in contact with the high temperature exhaust mixture and prevent overheating. ARCA also presented a long term space program, until 2025, that besides IAR-111 envisioned, a small scale orbital rocket (Haas 2C), a suborbital manned rocket (Haas 2B) and a medium scale manned orbital rocket (Super Haas). In March 2012 ARCA tested an extremely lightweight composite materials kerosene tank that is intended to be used for Haas 2C rocket.
After intensifying obscure criticism in printed media and television from the Romanian Space Agency (ROSA), ARCA decided to send a public letter to the Romanian Prime Minister to intervene in this matter. ARCA mentioned that the Romanian Space Agency is in no position to criticize after the failure of their cubesat Goliat recently launched with Vega rocket. Furthermore, ARCA was private funded comparing with ROSA that uses budget funding.
In June 2012 ARCA presented their Haas 2C rocket in Victoria Square in Bucharest, in front of the Romanian Government palace. The same year ARCA won a $1,200,000 contract with the European Space Agency to participate in the ExoMars program. Named High Altitude Drop Test, the contract consisted in a series of stratospheric balloons drop tests to verify the structural integrity of the EDM parachutes used in Martian atmospheric deceleration.
On September 16, 2013 ARCA performed the first successful flight in the ExoMars program, lifting three presurised avionics containers over the Black Sea to an altitude of 24,400 m. In November, the concrete test stand for Executor engine was completed.
On February 10 they presented a high altitude unmanned aerial vehicle, named AirStrato, that was meant to replace stratopsheric balloon usage for equipment testing and other near space missions. It was indend to be solar powered for extended endurance, had 7 m length and 16 m wingspan with a takeoff weight of 230 kg. The aircraft first flew on February 28. ARCA announced that if the development was successful they would consider developing a commercial version available for sale to customers.
On October 17, 2014, ARCA announced that it has transferred its headquarters to the United States in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In a press release they announced that in Romania activities related to software and rocket engine development will continue. They also announced that Air Strato UAV would be available for purchase to customers and that Las Cruces will also serve as a production center for the aircraft. On November 25 they released a website for the UAV revealing two models available for purchase, AirStrato Explorer that could reach altitudes up to 18,000 m with 20 hours endurance and AirStrato Pioneer that would be limited to 8000 m and 12 hours endurance.
On July 13, 2015 ARCA announced beginning of activities in New Mexico, including production and flight tests of AirStrato UAS and Haas rockets, investing US$1.2 million.
Haas rocket family is a series of rockets of various sizes and configurations intended to replace the initial Haas balloon launched rocket. After the difficulties encountered with balloon operation in Mission 3 and Mission 4, ARCA decided to redesign the rocket to be ground launched. Although heavier and more expensive, ground launched rockets are more reliable, easier to operate and can carry heavier payloads into orbit.
Haas 2B is a single stage suborbital rocket intended for space tourism. It can transport a crew capsule and service module into suborbital flight. The crew capsule and service module are the same used for the larger multi-stage Super Haas orbital rocket. At NASA DC-X conference Alamogordo, New Mexico in August 2013 ARCA presented an updated version of Haas 2B rocket with a capsule capable of carrying a crew of five into space. There were discussions with Spaceport America representatives to operate Haas 2B rocket from New Mexico.
Haas 2C is an orbital rocket intended for commercial payload launches. There are two variants of the rocket, a single stage to orbit variant capable of placing a 50 kg payload into orbit and a two-stage variant capable of lifting a 400 kg payload into orbit. After testing the extremely lightwight composite tank, ARCA designed a single stage 18m long rocket with a total weight of 510 kg, having a thrust to weight ratio of 26:1 and a 50 kg payload. They presented the rocket in Victoria Square in Bucharest, in front of the Romanian Government building. The second stage version will be powered by the Executor engine for the lower stage and the upper stage will use a smaller engine adapted for vacuum, named Venator.
IAR-111 is a sea launched suborbital rocket plane. It uses the same Executor engine of Haas 2B and 2C rockets. It has a length of 24 m, a wingspan of 12 m and a take-off weight of 19 tons. It can carry a crew of two, a pilot and passenger. The flight sequence consists of take-off from sea surface, horizontal flight at subsonic speed, followed by a rapid climb to an altitude of 16,000 m in approximately two minutes. As a space tourism development platform it can reach 2.6 Mach at 30,000 m. After fuel depletion, IAR-111 will descend in gliding flight and land on the sea surface. In case of emergency the crew capsule is detachable and equipped with two rocket propelled parachutes.
IAR-111 capsule was flight tested during Mission 6. The mission took place in cooperation with the Special Avioation Unit and the Coast Guard, belonging to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Administration.
AirStrato is a solar powered medium-sized unmanned aerial vehicle currently in development. There are currently two variants available, AirStrato Explorer with a flight ceiling of 18,000 m and AirStrato Pioneer with a flight ceiling of 8000 m. It can cary a 45 kg payload consisting of surveillance equipment, scientific instruments or additional battery pods for extended autonomy. The first prototype maiden flight took place on February 28, 2014. It was equipped with a fixed landing gear. Two more prototypes were constructed that lacked a landing gear. Instead ARCA opted for a pneumatic catapult as a launcher and landing skids and a recovery parachute for landing. Both prototypes performed take-off and landing testing and low altitude flights.
It is a drop test vehicle constructed for the European Space Agency intended to test the atmospheric deceleration parachutes for the ExoMars EDM lander module. It has the same weight and parachute deployment systems present on the ESA module. The DTV is intended to be lifted to an altitude of 24 km by a stratospheric helium ballon, from where it will fall freely reaching a dynamic pressure similar to that encountered by the ExoMars EDM at entry into the Mars atmosphere. At that dynamic pressure the parachute will deploy and the module will land on Black Sea surface and will be recovered by the Romanian Naval Forces.
It is a liquid fueled rocket engine intended to power IAR-111 Excelsior supersonic plane and Haas 2B and 2C rockets Executor is an open cycle gas generator rocket engine, that uses liquid oxygen and kerosene and has a maximum thrust of 24 tons force. ARCA decided to use composite materials and aluminum alloys on a large scale. The composite materials offer low construction costs and a reduced weight of the components. They were used in the construction of the combustion chamber and the nozzle, and also the gas generator and some elements in the turbopumps. The combustion chamber and the nozzle are built from two layers. The internal layer is made of silica fiber and phenolic resin, and the external one is made of cabon fiber and epoxy resin. The phenolic resin reinforced with silica fiber pirolizes endothermally in the combustion chamber walls, releasing gases like oxygen and hydrogen, leaving a local carbon matrix. The gases spread through the carbon matrix and reach the internal surface of the wall where they meet the hot combustion gases and act as a cooling agent. Furthermore, the engine is equipped with a cooling system that injects on the internal walls 10 percent of the total kerosene mass.
The pump volutes are made of 6062 type aluminum alloy. The pump rotors are made through lathing and milling using 304 type steel. The supersonic turbine is made of refractory steel, both the core and the blades. The turbine rotation speed is 20.000 rpm and has a 1,5 MW power. The intake gas temperature is 620 degrees Celsius. The main engine valves are made of 6060 type aluminum and are pneumatically powered, without adjustement. The engine injector and the liquid oxygen intake pipes are made of 304 L type steel and the kerosene intake pipe is made of composite materials. The engine has the possibility to direct the thrust by 5 degrees on two axis. The articulated system is made of composite materials and high grade steel alloy. The engine is rotated using two hydraulic pistons that use kerosene from the pump exhaust system.
ARCA announced Executor engine to have a thrust/mass ratio of 110.
Venator is a liquid fueled pressure fed rocket engine that will be used to power the second stage of the Haas 2C rocket. It burns liquid oxygen and kerosene and has a maximum thrust of 2.5 tons of force. The engine has no valves on the main pipes. It uses instead burst disks on the main pipes, between the tanks and the engine. The second stage is pressurized at 2 atm at lift-off and after the first stage burn-out, the second stage will be pressurized at 16 atm. At that pressure the disks will burst and the fuel will flow through the engine.
Mission 1 took place on December 2, 2006, when a sollar balloon carried STABILO system capsule to an altitude of 14,700 m. The intended altitude was slightly lower because of extreme turbulence encountered during last stage of the flight. In that situation it was decided not to risk damaging the system. The flight was prepared since August 2006 when another large solar balloon was launched at low altitude in controlled flight. During this time a special designed parachute was tested.
The flight was prepared since August 2006, when another large solar balloon was launched at low altitude in controlled flight. During this time a special designed parachute was tested. It was the first stratospheric flight performed by ARCA, and the event was transmitted live; over 20 journalists were present.
Mission 2 of STABILO 1B was launched on 27 September 2007 from Cape Midia Air Force Base. Romanian Air Force participated with two radar stations, Civil Aviation and the Romanian Navy also participated, the latter with one naval diver's ship. The first and second vehicle stages reached the altitude of 12.000 m. After one hour and 30 minutes and 30 km distance from the launch location, STABILO landed on the sea surface and was intercepted by Navy Saturn ship and recovered by divers. The recovery ship was guided by the satellite transmission system and by Air Force radars. The vehicle was transported to the Navy shipyard. The electronic equipment continued to transmit to the command center even 8 hours after the flight had ended.
Helen was a demonstrator rocket for the Haas balloon launched orbital rocket. It was intended to test in flight the avionics and gravitational stabilization method proposed for the much larger Haas rocket. Helen was intended to reach the altitude of 80 km. Two versions were created, a three-stage rocket that had cylindrical tanks and used hydrogen peroxide as monopropellant fuel, and a two-stage spherical tank rocket that used the same propulsion type. The rocket used a physically flawed stabilization technique based on the pendulum rocket fallacy.
Mission 3 took place on November 14, 2009 on the Black Sea. Romanian Naval Forces participated at the mission with one logistical ship, one divers ship and another fast craft. For this mission ARCA constructed the largest stratospheric helium balloon to date. An error in construction caused the balloon's inflation arms to wrap around the base of the balloon when it was inflated. The team managed to unwrap the arms and to resume inflation but sunset was approaching and the solar balloon could no longer be used. The mission was cancelled.
For Mission 4 ARCA decided to use a helium balloon instead and to redesign the Helen rocket. The new version, named Helen 2, was prepared for flight on August 4, 2010. When balloon inflation was initiated, the balloon ruptured because of a construction error and the mission was cancelled.
A new attempt was made on October 1, 2010 by using only the final stage of the Helen 2 rocket and a smaller helium balloon. The flight, named Mission 4B was successful, Helen 2 launching at an altitude of 14,000 m and the rocket reaching an altitude of 38.7 km. After the difficulties encountered with stratospheric ballons ARCA decided to stop the work on the Haas rocket and design a new family of ground launched orbital and suborbital rockets.
Mission 5 was carried out in partnership with Romanian Air Club and Romanian Aeronautic Federation. It took place before Helen 2 rocket launch. The flight took place on April 27, 2010 between 07:45 and 08:45 AM, taking off from Hogiz, Brasov. A manned hot air balloon lifted Helen 2 rocket pressurised capsule at 5200 m altitude. The maximum distance between the carrier balloon and the command center at Sanpetru airfield was 42 km, which corresponded with Helen 2 rocket simulated safety zone. Ballon crew was composed of Mihai Ilie - pilot, Mugurel Ionescu - copilot, Dumitru Popescu - ELL equipment operator. The objective of the flight was to test telemetry, command and live TV transmission for the Helen 2 rocket.
Mission 6 tested the recovery system for IAR-111 supersonic plane crew capsule. On September 26, 2011 a Mi-17 helicopter from Special Aviation Unit lifted the capsule at 700 m above sea level. At that altitude the helicopter released the capsule. The parachute deployed and the capsule landed on the sea surface. It was recovered by the same helicopter with the help of the Romanian Coast Guard.
WP3 was a validation test flight for the ExoMars Program High Altitude Drop Test (HADT), carried out in cooperation with the European Space Agency. The launch took place from the Black Sea coast on September 16, 2013 and the hardware comprised three pressurized containers containing the avionics equipment that will be necessary to test the ExoMars spacecraft parachute during the incoming future flights. The pressurized containers, carried by a cluster balloon, were launched at 7:15 AM and the ascension took 90 minutes to an altitude of 24,4 km. At this altitude the containers were released under a dedicated recovery parachute and landed on the sea, twenty minutes later. The containers and the recovery parachute were recovered by the Navy, at a distance of 92 km from the launch point.
The objectives were flight testing the avionics and communication systems, demonstrating the container sealing after sea landing and the capability to identify and recover the equipment from the sea surface.