- Parabolic Arc
- June 7, 2023
Air Force Awards New Rocket Propulsion Contracts
Christmas came early last week for Aerojet Rocketdyne, Northrop Grumman and Orbital ATK as the U.S. Air Force awarded rocket propulsion contracts worth a combined $14.5 million to the companies on Dec. 23.
The contracts support “technology maturation and risk reduction” in the areas of material manufacturing and development and advanced technologies. The work supports the effort to transition away from the use of Russian-built RD-180 engines in United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V booster.
The Air Force has awarded a total of seven contracts totaling just under $17 million. A list of the contracts is below.
|Aerojet Rocketdyne||$ 6,003,668|
|Northrop Grumman||$ 5,465,705|
|ATK Launch Systems Inc.||$ 3,125,810|
|Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering||$ 935,696|
|Tanner Research||$ 902,507|
|Moog Inc.||$ 728,337|
|Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering||$ 545,860|
74 responses to “Air Force Awards New Rocket Propulsion Contracts”
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If you want to build a competitive rocket you need a cluster of small engines on a booster, to create engine out capability, and have the throttling ability to fly back your booster to the launch site to be flown again.
So why is our government spending big bucks to copy/replace Russian engines that does not solve the problem???
If you want to compete with SpaceX you must copy them or die
ULA s engine recapture scheme is not a smart idea.
SpaceX has just revealed the I phone!
Spending money on single engine rockets, is pissing in the wind, just creating more time for SpaceX to race ahead while you run in the wrong direction.
Can anyone tell me how Blue Origin plans to recover their first stage with their big methane engine?
Because government bureaucrats are highly risk adverse (with their careers), and change is risky.
Reportedly, the BE-3 can throttle as low as 18% of thrust. This is, as far as I’m aware, the lowest throttle ability that large a rocket engine has had in the modern era, approaching the minimum of 10% of thrust that the Apollo lunar lander was able to attain.
The BE-4, while using methane as fuel rather than Hydrogen, is supposed to build on the experience that Blue Origin had developing the BE-3. I would expect it to have a deep throttle ability as well. This should enable the stage to land in a similar fashion as the New Shepard.
Actually, fewer engines are lighter and more efficient, overall, as there are fewer fuel and oxidizer feed lines to the engines, and less of the engine’s thrust is being used to push their own weight.
Engine-out capacity can be achieved with as few as 5 engines (depending on when in the flight sequence an engine is lost), as has been demonstrated with both the Saturn V (Apollo 6 and 13) and the Shuttle (STS-51-F) (counting the SRBs as engines, though the SRBs had separated long before the SSME was shut down on STS-51-F).
Deep throttle ability isn’t strictly necessary to land a rocket, as SpaceX has shown, though the hover-slam is a gamble as an “all or nothing” technique. However, the ability to hover does require deep throttle.
If the structure of the rocket is too damaged from re-entry to be reused, then recovering only the engines makes sense.
I just watched a booster flight back from space and it seems to work just fine after all those stresses because it landed. It is pretty obvious that making the air frame reusable is very likely.
Is Blue Origin Really going to try a hover Slam with those Big engines? Seems not likely.
Being that SpaceX had a very light payload I have wondered if they had more fuel in the tank at touch down to act as ballast to allow them hover on this last flight?
I don’t know of any space companies planning engine out capability in the future other than SpaceX
I also see little reason to build rocket engines that don’t run on methane because it is clean, less coking problems, and a greener fuel to power the busier reusable age.
I know, reuse of the entire rocket stage is preferable, though we don’t know what SpaceX’s engineering analysis is yet. If the entire stage is reusable without replacing major structures, that is a superior method to only recovering the engines. But minor bending of the rocket-frame or slight denting of the tank structure, which would not be visible to a casual observer, would necessitate the replacement of those structures. I’m sure SpaceX will give the recovered rocket a thorough review to see how well it held up. I agree that it is likely that SpaceX will succeed in reuse of the entire stage.
SpaceX did it. Why not Blue Origin?
SpaceX did have more fuel and oxidizer in reserve for the landing, and that may have been enough ballast for the rocket to come to a hover, but it’s very clear from the landing videos that they did not hover.
RP-1 has greater energy density. I anticipate that it will continue to be used as a fuel for first stage engines for this reason.
One might presume that the landing software would perform a hover slam regardless of retained propellent mass.
It’s not energy density that counts, it’s impulse density. If a methane engine can be produced with a sufficiently superior isp (at sea level), then the advantage of RP-1 all but disappear. Oxygen/Fuel ratio is also a factor, with RP-1 probably leading here. With all factors accounted for it is likely that the volumes and dry mass of both RP-1 and methane first stages would be similar, with perhaps the CH4 stage being slightly smaller. However, the lift-off mass of a methane stage would certainly be lower. Also, methane would be greener, non-coking and cheaper (and manufacturable on Mars). Apparently there are ignition issues with methane and of course use of methane demands a more complicated (and presumable expensive) engine design. For now Falcon is RP-1, basically for the reason of an easier and cheaper design path from Falcon 1. BFR will be methane powered and we might expect that RP-1 designs will not last much beyond 2025.
Take a look at that booster in the morning photos. See at that missing paint? Looks sexy, like a used spacecraft. The only problem is that heat changes the heat treat of the aluminium skin. Or at least if the structure absorbs enough Q and the fuel/LOX can’t sink the heat, that heat might go into the booster skin and change the heat sink. I’m sure it’s something Space X know’s about and has planned for. However, it might be an issue. Let’s hope I’m wrong. I’m hopeful that I am, and that there are not major fundamental roadblocks to use seeing a reflight in 2016.
Is it soot or is it charred thermal protection blanket? I bet that I have seen something about heat shielding on the Falcon.
It looks like scorched paint and primer to me. That looks like bare metal coated with soot/scorched paint/primer. Which would mean it took a heat soak.
I already made the suggestion that fuel tank should be inside the O2 tank to have ice on the whole surface and was told it would freeze the fuel. Seems ice on the skin would be a solution??
Using methane as the fuel (for BFR or some future Falcon incarnation/replacement) will help.
“Is Blue Origin Really going to try a hover Slam with those Big engines? Seems not likely.”
No, I suspect BE-4 will be deeply throttleable for hover and soft landing like BE-3. Let me get back to you with a source – I think it was the BE-4 press conference with Jeff Bezos and Tory Bruno.
It probably would make sense to land with hover on verniers so the many small of few big tradeoff is not clear cut. Besides, from what I understand, it is the pump design that limits low throttle setting.
” from what I understand, it is the pump design that limits low throttle setting “
A good reason to use the Flometrics pistonless pump.
Because nobody else can possibly have a viable idea now the Elon Musk has spoken. I mean, he’s 10 times the engineer that Von Braun or Goddard or Korolev ever were, just ask his fanbois. Can’t you just enjoy the achievements and incremental progress without trying to talk everybody else out of business with your ceaseless adoration?
I honestly don’t see what they are going to do to compete????
They could do engineering instead of letting legacy concepts dictate their designs. Compensating nozzles, Roton variations, dual chamber engines, clustering up to 7 cores. There are many ways to skin this cat and copying is one of the less effective methods.
Roton was just a truly awful idea. Bad in architecture, bad in systems, bad in aero, Bad in execution…. It was truly awful..
Yet, it was unique and you only found out the drawbacks by building it and testing.
Sorry, it was obvious to almost anyone who had a degree in Aerospace engineering, that the Roton was just a fundamentally bad idea. It may also explain why they had so few aerospace engineers running things at that firm.
1) The rotary “Slinger” pump can be analyzed as a rotating machine, while simple, the hub-to-Tip ratio goes in a negative slope to increase pressure and the solidity factor decreases as pressure increases. Essentially if you take that Rotary slinger and “Double” it’s pressure, the volume flow rate drops by a factor of 4 and there is no easy fix to this. On an axial flow turbine if you need to double pressure, volume flow remains constant. That’s a serious advantage, because pumps are really volume flow devices.
2) A quick look at the aero had the shock waves interacting with the rotors, so you couldn’t use them until you slowed down below Mach 1, and a rotating blade is exposed to the vector sum of tip speed plus vehicle speed. You can’t run the blades supersonic, so the “Rotor” was just goofy for the speed regimes.
3) The vehicle was going to be 10X heavier then the biggest russian helicopter. Just designing all that gear was going to be a significant developement effort.
4) The vehicle was too big to transport, even parts. The Roton base heat shield was supposed to be a one piece carbon structure, and the only shop that could build it was east of the rockies, but at some 28′ wide it was too big for any road, and it was a high hazard helo lift. You can move a big A/C unit or statue with a chopper if you only have to go 2 miles but it’s really dangerous to hump it 900 miles.
Some ideas are just stupid on paper, they don’t get better in flight test.
The ideas spawned by it however, have some promise. Some abysmal failures inspire useful concepts.
To expand a bit. The failure to date of the suborbital industry does not mean that there are no lessons to be learned from it. Some things work and some don’t, some are only obvious in the rearview mirror.
Using the basic concept of impeller/turbine as a single unit leads to the possibility of turbine blades as the last pump stage in the gas generator section, which leads to hotter allowable turbine inlet temps, which leads to higher GG efficiency. A higher exhaust temp and pressure from the GG has a higher Isp and higher system Isp. Which may or may not be worth the trouble. There is a patent on a jet engine that does this and liquid cooling should be better yet.
Learning from failure is at least as important as learning from success. Wile E Coyote shouldn’t run the development office.
I will skip any tarty comments and merely ask you to cite useful ideas spawned by Roton.
I have done cold flow on a turbine/impeller inspired by the Roton concept. If I get enough play money to risk, I will do a hot flow gas generator to see how close I can get it to a complete engine. It’s possible that it will lead to an economical staged combustion engine, or possibly a dual bell with Isp near that of staged.
The negatives you listed above are a warning of things to avoid by other companies. There are some limited areas where rocket tipped rotors would be useful.
Make sure you have financing to complete projects to the point of getting another funding round at least, otherwise you just have unfinished hardware that proves nothing. Take incremental steps that are useful in their own right. Don’t start a major project with low funding and high unknowns.
Derision on my part aside, redneck has the best answer. Engineering progress will allow other companies to compete. The other companies employ competent, imaginative engineers too. Now that SpaceX has raised the bar, the others will have to follow. Mr. Musk is writing the first word in reusability and affordability, not the last word. In 50 years astronautical engineers will look back on the idea of reusability as the beginning of affordable space travel even if the actual hardware has become primitive junk by then.
The idea of clustering multiple under-powered engines as the configuration of choice is also a little suspect. SpaceX only has the Merlin engine at this time so they have no choice but to cluster multiple engines instead of using fewer, more powerful ones.
Who says they’re underpowered? They’ve now moved the F9 into a HV class vehicle and they seem to do that job admirably well with basically no failures throughout several iterations.
SpaceX have deliberately chosen that size engine as their power plant. Raptor is powering their MCT and MCS.
On that point, Musk reported that Raptor is looking to be a 500,000 lb thrust unit (so smaller than BE-4 and much less than some speculations of 1.5million), because that is the optimal thrust to weight figure that has come out of their testing/calculations. Of course, much of that conclusion would have been driven by the upfront design choice of a large engine cluster. Another thought is pump size and longevity. A large engine will need larger pumps. Perhaps a larger pump is easier to cool. Perhaps a larger pump has more stress on it, so reducing the expectation of reliability, especially in a reuseabilty scenario.
27 raptors on a 45 FEET diameter core and we are on our way to Mars. Rumor has it Musk is already tooling the machine/rollers to build the 45 FEET diameter core?
OLD English measuring unit about the length of my shoe 🙂
I’m guessing you mean 15 metres. You’re as bad as me quoting lbs of thrust.
….so 27 Raptors would equal about 3 Falcon heavies, but with a better core/tankage mass fraction….so somewhere north of 150 tonnes to LEO and maybe approaching 200.
Still don’t think MCT will launch from Earth. It will launch from orbit – fuelled in orbit by the BFR (27 Raptors) fully reusable upper stage. However, the initial Mars explorer missions may very well go direct.
Likely it will launch from both earth and orbit.
108 and you can go to Jupiter. 1080 and you might go to the Andromeda Galaxy. The weight of the plumbing alone will be prohibitive. Build a bigger, more powerful engine.
You totally lost me?
Number of engines?
SpaceX will use about 30 to go to Mars?? 🙁https://www.reddit.com/r/sp…
They tripled the original 9 for FH. I just quadrupled that number to get to 108 and multiplied by 10 to get to 1080. The point, as Doug raised above, is that you just cannot keep adding engines because the weight of the supporting equipment becomes prohibitive. Musk bought the rights to the Merlin engine and has progressively tweaked it to get more production out of it. Still, it is an engine designed to power a medium lift vehicle. That’s why they are developing a more powerful engine. I personally wonder why nobody has dusted off the plans for the engines that powered the Saturn V? They seemed to do the job pretty well but I assume that there is a good reason that those designs have been abandoned.
who did musk buy ‘rights’ from, for the merlin engine?
They designed and built it. Merlin 1A borrowed from some work that NASA did, but, all of that has been replaced.
And F1 is ancient and had its own issues.
Far better to build newer better ones.
As to the plumbing, I think that you have it wrong. In the old days, the plumbing would be an issue. They would have had to add heavier and heavier piping throughout. With new material, it is already stronger.
The actual pre-metrication English “foot”? Or the slightly larger US “English foot”? Or the slightly smaller pre-1959 old English “foot”?
You probably mean the “international foot”, which is defined in terms of metres. (0.3048m. Replacing the smaller “(old) English Foot” and the larger US foot, now called the US Survey Foot.)
As late as the 1980s, you had 11 US states using the US Survey Foot, 6 using the International Foot, 14 using metres (misspelt meters), and 19 states not having any standard for what people called a “foot”.
(Could be worse, before metrication Germany had 21 different “feet”.)
45 foot core, I hope they are close to a barge canal.
Build it where you launch it
under-powered? For what?
They are proving that they have the RIGHT focus which is economics.
And when it comes to seeing who is winning, go look at cray vs Beowulf and who won.
The other companies employ competent, imaginative engineers too.
Yes, they do. And now, perhaps their management will be more willing to listen to the engineers as they explore options to reduce costs. In the era of fat cost-plus government contracts, there was no incentive to reduce costs or take risks on things like reusability. Now, facing price competition from SpaceX today and Blue Origin in a few years, the legacy companies must find ways to compete or die. It’s quite likely that the next ten years of rocket development will be some of the most interesting since the 1960s.
The idea of clustering multiple under-powered engines as the configuration of choice is also a little suspect. SpaceX only has the Merlin engine at this time so they have no choice but to cluster multiple engines instead of using fewer, more powerful ones.
Was the H-1 under-powered? The Full Thrust F9 first stage is now roughly comparable to the Saturn 1B first stage with only one more engine in the cluster. In both cases, engine-out fault tolerance is superior to designs with fewer engines. The Merlin is not only not under-powered, it has demonstrated more “stretch” than any other engine with which I’m familiar. The Full Thrust version of the Merlin 1-D produces over twice the thrust of the early Merlin 1-A’s that powered the first two Falcon 1’s.
I don’t think it’s a matter of how good the engineers are. It’s a matter of design choices and what motivates those design choices. In many instances it may not be the engineers leading those choices. Musk’s motivations were to create rapidly reusable launchers and to get to Mars. So, one could argue that his design choices were made more based of optimism than of engineering talent or certainty of success. The point dtars is making though still appears to be valid. Either by genius or by great dollops of luck, SpaceX now look to be in a position to able to considerably out compete the incumbent opposition. And, that opposition don’t seem to be reacting sensibly to the reality of the situation. Instead they seem to be displaying a head in the sand mentality.
“Can’t you just enjoy the achievements and incremental progress without trying to talk everybody else out of business with your ceaseless adoration?”
BURN THE HERETIC! ELON! ELON! Maud’Dib! ..err.. ELON!
Reusability is the key to the universe!
“If you want to compete with SpaceX you must copy them or die”
Wrong. the last thing you want to do is copy SpaceX. SpaceX is already far ahead of all others.
These companies need to develop something new.
But agree that building out single engine rockets is foolish.
These companies should take note of the super computer races and where it went from few EXPENSIVE lightening fast CPUs to huge numbers of parallel inexpensive relatively fast CPUs. that is the same approach that Musk uses in SpaceX.
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BTW, if I were one of these companies, I would put some money into doing rocket engines without O2. O2 is far too heavy. Instead, IIRC, microwave/laser heating of LH2 shows promise for engines to get us off the planet. By not using O2, you cut something like 50% of your weight. That is huge.
Agree with losing O2, a big reason for SpaceX success is the Magic of GPS, knowing where the rocket is, with in inches at every instant.
Shoot that baby!!!!
No single technical issue is the biggest reason for SpaceX success. The biggest characteristics ensuring SpaceX success at each step are a corporate culture that refuses to allow politician’s inputs into what is built and who builds it to influence decision-making at SpaceX, and the determination to keep building markets that will allow them to finance development of new vehicles that will then service their next set of markets.
The key future issue, IMHO, will be when does this company that rejects the intensely politically influenced cost+ and sub-contracting cultures of old aerospace, have to trust those building *other* vehicles to move people onwards towards Mars, with the equipment to thrive there. They theoretically could develop all vehicles and equipment, but that will inevitably cost more of what SpaceX’s investors can and will provide, and will be slower than using other equally determined New Space companies. At this point, market development must give way to multi-node market utilization to provide the next drops in total costs. Judging when that point has been reached will be crucial to dreams for space settlement.
He says they only need a billion dollars to get flying.
How much is nasa helping this??
So far, NASA has no contracts with SpaceX around Raptor development. SpaceX has refused contracting that is not built on performance first, then payments. Beyond private investors’ money, SpaceX revenues are financing Raptor development.
Trying to protect themselves from the dark side 🙂
The supercomputer analogy works for the total thrust achievable by clustering. For engine-out fault tolerance, though, the appropriate computer-related analogy is to RAID disk storage arrays. SpaceX has done both at once.
actually, when you build clustering, there are checkpoints, and other ways of dealing with CPUs/boards dying. IOW, it still handles fault tolerance in the same way that Musk uses 3 CPUs instead of a single rad-hard CPU.
All I know of it is from their own announcements, Wikipedia, and the ULA fact sheet.
The paper is from 2002, the BE-4 did not begin development until 2011. However, that’s a very good direct comparison of the theoretical capabilities of an RP-1 based rocket with a Methane based one.
That’s a very interesting research paper, thanks for linking to it.
The announcements said it was a “Tap-Off” cycle..
BE-3 uses two turbopumps (one for LH2 and one for LOX) because of the vastly different densities of of the two propellants (LH2 is like whipped cream, LOX is denser than water) require the pumps to spin at very different speeds.
The renderings I’ve seen of BE-4 suggest that the fuel (methane) and LOX pumps are on a single spool.
that link don’t work
According to this paper, the SSME (the only US staged combustion engine) has been throttled to 17% during a test, but not during operation. The paper claims “SSME
“throttling and power level operation is achieved by varying the fuel preburner oxidizer valve (FPOV) for mixture
ratio control and the oxidizer preburner oxidizer valve (OPOV) for power level control”.
Ha, you’re welcome. The TLDR answer to your question is yes: the staged combustion SSME throttled to 17% and they did it by adjusting the main fuel and oxidizer valves to control power and mixture ratio.
I sometimes feel like a jerk when I post paper links, because instead of providing an explanation or answer I’m telling people to read a dense, academic, arcane, 20 page paper. 🙂
I have the sneaking suspicion that this is $17 million of paper studies. 🙁
Let’s hold some meetings about that!
Yeah, I appreciate the paper links, too. Parabolic Arc has a pretty technical audience, so links to papers or patents are usually well received.
Yes, I’ve read that sometime ago.
“The payload performances of the reusable kerosene and
methane booster are therefore almost identical with
some edge for kerosene.”
can expect a cost disadvantage for CH4 from a launch
vehicle system level point of view.”
“However, if significantly lower operational and
maintenance expenses of the reusable methane rocket
engine are achievable, a methane powered fly-back
booster could get competitive in comparison to a
kerosene powered solution.”
It seems to me it’s more of a score draw, with a hint of bias from the authors (probably from experience) toward kerosene. Also, this is a 13 year old study that reports only a 10.7 isp difference between the two options with figures of 358.2 and 368.9. I was going on a the basis of a near 20 point advantage for methane (can’t find that document to reference though), but perhaps I was mistaken. Musk has mentioned Russians achieving 380 isp, although whether the same increases might be possible with kerosene is unknown at this point. Either way there is no significant performance advantage for kerosene over methane and it’s clearly debatable which fuel may really have a performance advantage. However, from a reusability perspective small performance advantages of first stage fuel may be outweighed by other factors.
Your impression will change during the next 12 months!! 🙂
Read this reddit
Tinker’s design is very close to what Musk will build.
Read Robert Zubrins Case for Mars.
You don’t need break through tech to go to Mars
You need a big reusable booster and a good plan!
SpaceX while build their base with 15 meter in diameter by 12 meters high”buildings”
This Nut Musk will do this!
Where will he get his power? Maybe buy nuke generators from russia.
Get back with me when Musk details his plan and everyone says he can’t do it. He WILL!
Is this the same musk that many claimed could not develop a company that launched rockets, let alone launch them cheaper than even Russia and China?
There are no breakthrough technologies involved, only incremental changes to established ones.
Even what SpaceX has done is not very different from what could have been done after Apollo.
“There are no breakthrough technologies involved, only incremental changes to established ones.”
Yes, and the most important change required is to lower the costs.
“….he is not investing in break-through technologies required to support a civilization at Mars.”
Um, how about these for a start:
– both performance and cost of solar panels
– both performance and cost of batteries
– both performance and cost of electric vehicles
– both performance and cost of space launch
– reusable space launch
I get what you’re saying, but there is no transportation system yet – we cannot even get there. Life-support and rad protection, habs, power, food, all these are certainly doable. Whether humans can live and breed at 0.37g is still in question and there’s only one way we are likely to find out. For now though, the priority is to be able to get there and return safely.
SpaceX could likely keep their customer prices more or less stable and increase margins through reusability should they need additional financing however my view is that they won’t need to do that. IMHO they’ll get business, philanthropists and governments banging on their door once they have FH flying and start building MCT and MCS.
They’ll be the only ones with a coherent plan for getting to Mars and they’ll have a track record that says they can do it.
Just my $0.02 worth, to borrow for CR.
The technical plan is not the thing that matters. Musk is engaged, and has been engaged for the last dozen plus years, in social engineering. He knows that he if he wants to get us to Mars, he needs to capture the zeitgeist.
This is why, from day one, he has been telling everyone within hearing that we need to establish a civilization on Mars. Certainly, he knew at the outset that leading with this assertion would not make him seem more credible. But he also knew that if he kept on stating and restating this goal while he built a rocket company from scratch and checked off one improbable accomplishment after another, that his success with the rockets would lend credibility to his aspirations for Mars.
In 2002, hardly anyone was listening to his crazy notions. But through simple repetition of the concept, along with his anything but simple achievements, he has shifted the playing field.
Today, he has us debating the efficacy of settlement. He’s got folks complaining about “colonization.” None of this was being discussed when he started. He has already moved us closer to Mars.
At some point, if this trend continues, Musk will succeed in his goal. He will take us to Mars. On our dime. He will do that by getting us all lumbering in that direction. That’s the real trick. Not the engineering.