S.J. Van Sickle wrote:
Actually, for modest delta-v high acceleration missions, pressure-fed combustors with filament wound tanks win over any pump system. The tanks give you a *very* strong structural keel, and with appropriate choice of propellants, the fuel & oxidizer pressurize themselves (such as ethane and nitrous oxide at room temperature). For a second stage orbiter, the remaining cold dense vapor in the tanks is used for orbital maneuvering- you literally run on fumes :)
Lower pressure engines are easier to regeneratively or ablatively cool, although they have lower performance in the atmosphere. In vaccum, they do as well as higher pressure engines, but are a bit bulky (1/4 pressure needs 2x nozzle diameter for same thrust).
Ignition sequence timing is simpler, since you only have to light the chamber, no preburner or gas generator needed.
I see two optima for launch vehicles: SSTO with very high performance topping-cycle engines, or pressure fed two stage. Systems complexity is what's expensive. Single stage gets rid of stage integration and separation, pressure fed gets rid of pumps and can integrate main, reaction control, and orbital maneuvering thrusters into a single system.
As for barnstorming, there is some very real interest in a flying Me-163 replica... now *that* would be a fun project.
-- Doug Jones, Freelance Rocket Plumber