XCOR/ULA Partnership Continues With Air Force Upper Stage Development Contract

Hot fire test of precursor 5H25 engine. Credit: XCOR

Hot fire test of precursor 5H25 engine.
Credit: XCOR

XCOR Press Release

Midland TX, March 9, 2016, United Launch Alliance (ULA), the nation’s premier launch services provider, has awarded XCOR Aerospace with a new contract through the United States Air Force to develop an upper stage propulsion system for Vulcan, ULA’s next-generation launch system.

Jay Gibson, President XCOR: “We are very proud of our long and ongoing relationship with ULA, and very pleased ULA has chosen XCOR as a potential upper stage engine provider. We have already begun work on the 8H21 development, and are very excited about the long term potential for XCOR to support ULA and the United States Air Force in their evolving launch efforts.”

XCOR’s 8H21 LO2/LH2 engine (25k lbf thrust) is being developed for the upper stage propulsion for ULA’s Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES). Since 2008 XCOR has been working closely with ULA on a subscale 2,500 lbf thrust liquid hydrogen engine, which was successfully built and tested in 2015.

In 2016, XCOR began development on the full scale 25k lbf thrust liquid hydrogen engine, the 8H21, under a privately funded contract with ULA. This partnership with the Air Force will further support this engine development.

The 8H21 is a liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen rocket engine that uses XCOR’s proprietary piston pumps and other unique rocket engine components to deliver a low cost solution for easier access to space. The 8H21 also uses the same technology that XCOR has been developing for their own reusable engine programs, designed with forward capabilities in mind for future reusable engine development programs.

End press release

It is interesting to note that ULA is working with two leading NewSpace companies, Blue Origin and XCOR, in potentially supplying engines for the Vulcan booster. In the case of the Blue Origin, that company’s liquefied natural gas BE-4 engine is clearly the preferred power source for the Vulcan first stage over the alternative, keralox AR-1 being developed by Aerojet-Rocketdyne. The latter company also builds the current upper stage RL-10 engine which powers both the Atlas V and Delta IV boosters, as well the upper stage of SLS. The RL-10 is a magnificent engine which has been in production since nearly the beginning of the space age. It is however, a comparatively expensive engine to build, a fact which could spell real trouble for Aerojet Rocektdyne.

If United Launch Alliance ultimately gives the nod to Vulcan booster engines from Blue Origin and XCOR, it will be a remarkable comment on the status of a company which has inherited through consolidation nearly all of America’s liquid propulsion legacy. Given that ULA has already selected Orbital ATK over Aerojet Rocketdyne to supply the Vulcan’s solid rocket strap-on boosters, it may not be much of a surprise either.

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