XCOR Reaches Milestone on Liquid Hydrogen Engine

XCOR piston pump (Credit: XCOR)
XCOR piston pump (Credit: XCOR)

September 23rd, 2013, Mojave, California and Centennial, Colorado (XCOR/ULA PR) – XCOR Aerospace and United Launch Alliance announced significant progress today in the XCOR/ULA liquid hydrogen (LH2) engine development program.

“We are happy to announce that we have successfully operated our liquid hydrogen pump at full design flow rate and pressure conditions,” said XCOR Chief Executive Officer Jeff Greason. “This milestone builds on our earlier success with liquid oxygen and kerosene pumps, which have powered many of our hotfires. Achieving this goal allows us to proceed with integrated testing of our liquid hydrogen demonstrator engine, fed by our liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen piston pumps. The ultimate goal is a far more cost-effective upper-stage engine for ULA and their customers.”

Conceived as a lower-cost, risk-managed program, the XCOR LH2 engine program is intended to produce a flight-ready cryogenic upper-stage engine in the 25,000 lbf thrust class with growth potential up to 50,000 lbf thrust or more. When complete, it should cost significantly less to produce and be easier to operate than competing rocket engine technologies.

However, it isn’t just about thrust class. “Factors such as the extreme low temperature and small molecule size of liquid hydrogen present new technical challenges compared to liquid oxygen or kerosene,” said Greason. “Demonstrating our ability to safely pump this fluid at high flow rates and pressures, with relatively low mass is a significant engineering milestone that will deliver yet another line of innovation and business to XCOR.”

“XCOR’s and ULA’s investment in this program should result in much lower cost and more capable commercial and government launch capabilities,” said XCOR Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson. “By drawing from several hundred years of human experience in the development of piston machinery, XCOR seeks to dramatically increase reliability, reusability and long term manufacturability of rocket propellant pumps. The decrease in manufacturing and maintenance costs of XCOR’s rocket propellant pumps is at least an order of magnitude in volume production when compared to traditional rocket turbo machinery.”

With the completion of the flow rate and pressure tests, Nelson added, “We are proud to say that our collaboration with ULA has borne significant results.   This is a new application of time-tested principles that tangibly demonstrates we can produce an upper-stage cryogenic engine with similar or better performance than today’s state of the art, with long life, reusability and reliability at significantly less cost. And it is only taking place at XCOR.”

(Editor’s Note: The piston pump is described in more detail on XCOR’s blog today.)

“Today’s milestone is further validation of the effort that we began with XCOR several years ago, leveraging more than a century of automotive industry insights to develop a truly new concept in engine design,” noted George Sowers, ULA’s Vice President of Human Launch Services. “These technology demonstrations have paved the way for ULA’s support of the liquid hydrogen engine program. We are beginning to see substantial results from ULA’s continued investment of time and resources in the ULA/XCOR hydrogen engine program and look forward to the next phase of development in this groundbreaking endeavor.”

About XCOR Aerospace: XCOR Aerospace is based in Mojave, California. It is currently starting the process to create a new Research and Development Center in Midland, Texas and an operational and manufacturing site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. XCOR builds safe, reliable and reusable rocket-powered vehicles, propulsion systems, advanced non-flammable composites and rocket piston pumps. XCOR works with aerospace prime contractors and government customers on major propulsion systems, while also building Lynx. Lynx is a piloted, two-seat, fully reusable liquid rocket-powered vehicle that takes-off and lands horizontally. The Lynx family of vehicles serves three primary missions depending on their specific type including: research & scientific missions, private spaceflight, and micro satellite launch (only on the Lynx Mark III). Lynx production models (designated Lynx Mark II) are designed to be robust, multi-mission (research / scientific or private spaceflight) commercial vehicles capable of flying to 100+ km in altitude up to four times per day. Lynx vehicles are available to customers in the free world on a wet lease basis to start their own manned space flight program. (www.xcor.com).

United Launch Alliance: ULA is a 50-50 joint venture owned by Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company, and is the nation’s rocket company, bringing together two of the launch industry’s most experienced and successful teams – Atlas and Delta. ULA provides reliable, cost-efficient space launch services for the Department of Defense, NASA, the National Reconnaissance Office 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, Texas. Launch operations are located at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif. For more information on ULA, visit the ULA Web site at www.ulalaunch.com, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321). Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/ulalaunch and twitter.com/ulalaunch.