A Closer Look at XCOR’s Piston Driven Rocket Engine

Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR Aerospace)
Lynx engine hot fire. (Credit: XCOR Aerospace)

Space News has taken a closer look at XCOR’s piston driven rocket engine technology:

With backing from United Launch Alliance (ULA), privately owned XCOR Aerospace is working on a type of piston engine for a prospective upper-stage rocket motor that is similar to what is used in cars and motorcycles.

“It’s a dramatically different kind of upper-stage engine,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president of Atlas and Delta programs.

“Instead of rotating turbo-machinery, it’s basically a piston-type engine, more like in a car, except operating with liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. You gain some manufacturing efficiencies. The indications are that it would be a much simpler and less expensive engine to build,” he said.

“The development is actually going well, but it’s truly a future capability,” Sponnick added. “This is something that wouldn’t be flying on the rockets until sometime in the next decade.”

The underpinning technology, however, is in line for a test drive — and operational service — far earlier than that. XCOR plans to use piston pumps in its Lynx suborbital passenger spaceships.

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