Florida-based Starfighters Aerospace, which operates a fleet of F-104 Starfighters, is now actively working on a programme with the Italian National Research Council
The company, which is based at Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, has formed a working partnership with Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (CNR), Italy’s largest public research institution.
Starfighters Aerospace will use its ‘vintage’ F-104s to conduct a series of flight tests designed to evaluate a new, air-launched rocket delivery system. The Italian organisation is responsible for developing the new device in collaboration with Italy’s Ministry of Defence and the Italian Air Force. If successful, the small rockets will be able to place micro-satellites into near-earth orbit.
Starfighters Aerospace has begun initial flight testing for the new rocket at Cape Canaveral. At the end of November the first full-scale, sensor-laden prototype was attached beneath the port wing of TF-104G-M (MM54258/N991SA) which took it into the skies. CNR’s technical manager Pantaleone Carlucci was in the backseat, with pilot Piercarlo Ciacchi at the controls, while Starfighter Aerospace president Rick Svetkoff flew a second TF-104 as chase plane, with CNR project manager Lucia Paciucci in the rear.
Pantaleone was satisfied with the initial results. “All the manoeuvres we performed confirmed the validity of the rocket design and its characteristics in the integration with the aircraft to which it was coupled,” he stated. Lucia added: “The success of this phase allows us to continue with other scheduled flights in the coming months in order to explore every aspect of the particular conditions in which the rocket finds itself, both hooked up and in the detachment sequences according to a trajectory stability.”
CNR expects to perform the first complete launch of its new rocket from the Starfighter within the next year.