Wednesday, March 23, 2011

ULA Teams With XCOR On Rocket Engine

The company that launches Atlas and Delta rockets is teaming with a California start-up on a project aimed at developing a new upper-stage engine that would cost less and be easier to operate than those made by competitors.

Officials with United Launch Alliance and XCOR Aerospace of Mojave, Calif., said the engine would use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants and generate 25,000 to 30,000 pounds of thrust -- about the same amount as the Pratt & Whitney Centaur upper stage motors now used by the Atlas and Delta rockets.

A successful joint effort could lower launch costs while providing more propulsive capability.

"ULA understands that we have to offer competitive prices to our government and commercial customers along with the outstanding and unmatched reliability they expect from us," said George Sowers, vice president of business development and advanced programs at ULA.

"By working with XCOR, we see the potential to develop engines that offer the performance and reliability our customers need at a more affordable price."

ULA and XCOR previously teamed to develop lighter-weight, lower-cost nozzles for liquid-fueled rocket engines. The advanced nozzle technology will be used in the engine development project.

A 50-50 joint venture partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, United Launch Alliance builds and launches Atlas and Delta rockets with payloads from U.S. government customers that include NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office, the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force and others. Delta and Atlas rockets fly from Launch Complex 37 and Launch Complex 41, respectively, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

XCOR is developing reusable rocket-powered vehicles that are designed to fly people and cargo on suborbital missions. Sales agents working with the company are selling advance tickets for suborbital rides on two-seat Lynx rocketplanes for $95,000. The company also specializes in developing rocket propulsion systems and advanced, non-flammable composite propellant tanks.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the XCOR image of a recent test-firing of a Lynx 5K18 engine with a lightweight aluminum nozzle developed in concert with United Launch Alliance. The nozzle technology will be incorporated in a new liquid-fueled upper stage engine to be developed by the two companies. Photo Credit: Mike Massee/XCOR.

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