XCOR and ULA Update

Time for an update on theprogress around the XCOR.   This puts the company firmly into the enginedevelopment business with the resources to build out hugely improved enginesfor the aerospace industry.  Checkprevious posts to see the past demonstrations. (google XCOR on this site.

We can expect to see a line ofengines with different power ratings come quickly although they are surely waitingfor a shoe to drop somewhere. It appears to this outsider to be goingwonderfully.

XCOR and ULA Demonstrate Revolutionary Rocket Engine Nozzle Technology;Also Sign Contract for Liquid Hydrogen Engine Development

XCOR test fires its Lynx 5K18 engine with lightweight aluminum nozzle;

United Launch Alliance(ULA) and XCOR to apply the nozzle and XCOR's liquid hydrogen

(LH2) pump technology to new LH2 engine development.  (PhotoCredit: Mike Massee / XCOR)

March 22, 2011, Centennial, CO, and Mojave, CA, USA: United Launch Alliance (ULA) and XCOR Aerospace announcedtoday their successful hot-fire demonstrations of a lighter-weight, lower-costapproach to liquid-fueled rocket-engine vacuum nozzles. The new nozzletechnology, which uses aluminum alloys and innovative manufacturing techniques,is projected to be less costly and save hundreds of pounds of mass compared tonozzles in use today in typical large upper-stage rocket engine systems.

Under a 2010 joint risk-reduction program by XCOR and ULA, ULA facilitated anaccelerated demonstration of the nozzle technology, which was developed inXCOR's Lynx reusable, suborbital-vehicle technology program. ULA sought todetermine the nozzle technology's applicability to future expendable launchvehicle programs. Earlier in the same risk-reduction program, XCOR demonstratedthe ability to pump liquid hydrogen (LH2) using cryogenic piston-pumptechnology it developed for the Lynx suborbital vehicle.

Based on the results of these successful technology demonstrations, ULA todayannounced a larger follow-on program with XCOR to develop a liquid oxygen(LOX)/LH2 engine.

Conceived as a lower-cost, risk-managed program compared to traditional enginedevelopment efforts, the multi-year project's main objective is to produce aflight-ready LOX/LH2 upper-stage engine in the 25,000 to 30,000 lbf thrustclass that costs significantly less to produce and is easier to operate andintegrate than competing engine technologies. If successful, the effort willlead to significantly lower-cost and more-capable commercial and US governmentspace flights delivered by ULA. 

"ULA understands that we have to offer competitive prices to ourgovernment and commercial customers along with the outstanding and unmatchedreliability they expect from us," said Dr. George Sowers, vice presidentof business development and advanced programs at ULA. "By working withXCOR, we see the potential to develop engines that offer the performance andreliability our customers need at a more affordable price."

XCOR Lynx 5K18 main engine being  prepped for a test series. 

The companies structured their LOX/LH2 engine development programwith multiple "go / no-go" decision points and performance milestonesto ensure a cost-effective and risk-managed approach to this challengingeffort. As demonstrated during prior ULA and XCOR joint engagements,XCOR's small-company environment facilitates rapid turnaround for build andtest cycles that drive innovative learning, while ULA's small company projectmanagement approach ensures their needs are met but does not stifle thecreative process or saddle XCOR with excessive paperwork burdens typical oflarge government contracts. In addition, ULA is helping to bolster the Tier 2and Tier 3 aerospace-industrial supply chain in the United States, which is critical to ensuring the United Statesaerospace sector remains competitive in the global marketplace.

"This announcement validates XCOR's business mantra of 'stayfocused on propulsion, Lynx and the customer' and ULA is a greatcustomer," said Andrew Nelson, Chief Operating Officer at XCOR. "Andwhen you have innovative, safe, low-cost and fully reusable technologies thatfly multiple times a day, those technologies will find other buyers, such asULA. Whether it is non-toxic thrusters, fully reusable main-engine propulsion,cryogenic flight-weight piston pumps, or non-flammable cryogenically compatiblecomposite tanks and structures - the future looks bright for XCOR."

The demonstrations announced today are from integrated engine/nozzletest firings with XCOR's Lynx 5K18 LOX/kerosene engine. The engine/nozzlecombination demonstrates the ability of the aluminum nozzle to withstand thehigh temperatures of rocket-engine exhaust over numerous tests, with nodiscernable degradation of the material properties of the alloys.  Thetests validated the design, materials and manufacturing processes used in thenozzle, and laid a foundation for scaling the design to EELV-sized engines. Theresults also demonstrate the reusability of the engine and nozzle combinationwhich is essential for low-cost, daily suborbital flights by the Lynx and othervehicles.

"We are honored to work with the great team of individuals at ULA,a Tier 1 aerospace supplier," said Jeff Greason, XCOR CEO. "Thecritical engine technology we're developing for ULA may one day launchsatellites, capsules and space stations for government and commercialcustomers. Customers such as the US Air Force, NASA, the NationalReconnaissance Office, Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace all stand to benefit fromthis partnership. For a rocket engineer, there is nothing more exciting thanfiring a new engine for the first time. We can't wait for the day when we firstfire the new hydrogen engine for ULA."

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United Launch Alliance - 50-50 joint venture owned byLockheed Martin and The Boeing Company - is the nation's rocket company,bringing together two of the launch industry's most experienced and successfulteams - Atlas and Delta. ULA provides reliable, cost-efficient space launchservices for the Department of Defense, NASA, the National ReconnaissanceOffice and other commercial organizations. ULA program management, engineering,test and mission support functions are headquartered in Denver, Colo.Manufacturing, assembly and integration operations are located at Decatur, Ala.and Harlingen, Tex. Launch operations are located at Cape Canaveral Air ForceStation, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. For more information onthe ULA joint venture, visit the ULA website at www.ulalaunch.com.

XCOR Aerospace is located in Mojave, California. The company is in the businessof developing and producing safe, reliable and reusable rocket poweredvehicles, propulsion systems, advanced non-flammable composites and otherenabling technologies. XCOR is currently working with aerospace primecontractors and government customers on major propulsion systems, andconcurrently building the Lynx, a piloted, two-seat, fully reusable, liquidrocket-powered vehicle that takes off and lands horizontally. The Lynxproduction models (designated Lynx Mark II) are designed to be robust,multi-commercial mission vehicles capable of flying to 100+ km in altitude upto four times per day and are being offered on a wet lease basis. (www.xcor.com)

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