XCOR / ULA Upper Stage Engine Passes New Milestone

Hydrogen Piston Pump: Image Credit XCOR Aerospace

XCOR has announced a new milestone in its upper stage engine program being supported by United Launch Alliance. The complete press release is below.  From a big picture standpoint, ULA appears to be in an interesting state of transition, with stories coming out in a bad cop/good cop manner. (See prior post)

Of particular interest is the fact that ULA seems to be contemplating a future rocket line completely divorced from Aerojet-Rocketdyne. The XR-5H25 upper stage engine which is the subject of the press release would replace the very reliable but extremely expensive RL-10 engine which powers the upper stages of the Atlas and Delta vehicles. (And now the SLS after NASA spent over a billion dollars on the J2-X  and then mothballed the program )

While ULA originally suggested that the new upper stage engine might be incorporated into the Atlas V in order to make it more competitive, the recently announced BE-4 methane engine project undertaken with another NewSpace company, Blue Origin, opens the door for an all new booster which may very well offer the 50% cost reductions new CEO Tony Bruno is promising.

As for XCOR, whose ambitions extend well beyond the Lynx suborbital vehicle which is currently under construction, the last line of the press release is perhaps the most relevant.

XCOR Press Release

XCOR Aerospace Announces Latest Milestone in ULA Program

Mojave, CA, November 20, 2014 – XCOR Aerospace today announced it has completed the latest test series for the liquid hydrogen engine it is developing for United Launch Alliance (ULA). This is an important milestone in the long-running LH2 (liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen) program. It is also a step toward running the engine in a fully closed cycle mode.

In its most recent milestone, XCOR successfully performed hot fire testing of the XR-5H25 engine’s regeneratively cooled thrust chamber,with both liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen propellants supplied in pump-fed mode, using XCOR’s proprietary piston pump technology.

“This test marks the first time liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen have been supplied to a rocket engine with a piston pump,” says XCOR Chief Executive Officer Jeff Greason. “It is also the first time an American LH2 engine of this size has successfully fired liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen together in pump-fed mode. We are happy to be making solid progress on the engines. This will also bring us to a new phase in our plans for orbital flight.

“ULA has an ongoing effort to develop rocket engines for our next generation upper stage, and we are thrilled to see that progress continuing with XCOR,” added ULA Vice President George Sowers.

Upcoming test series will fully integrate the nozzle with the engine and piston pumps. Fully closed cycle testing will follow soon afterwards and will complete the sub-scale demonstration engine program.

The XR-5H25 engines are being developed under contract to ULA as potential successors to the Delta and Atlas series upper stage engines currently used. These engines will also help power orbital launches.

 

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