The DARMA Initiative: Affordable Upper Stage Rocket Engine

One of the most interesting objects on display at Space Access ’11 was a full-scale rocket engine from a little-known company called DARMA Technology. A transplant from South Korea, the Denver-based company is marketing the engine as having performance close to that of the HL-10 upper stage, but at a fraction at the cost.

The reusable Chase-10 engine is powered by liquid-oxygen (LOX) and methane and has a thrust of 22,000 lbs., somewhat lower than the RL-10’s 24,750 lbs of thrust. In its promotional material, the company says the rocket has a simple, robust design built with advanced manufacturing techniques that make it an affordable alternative to other engines in its class. The engine is reusable with a lifespan estimated at 10,000 seconds.

DARMA is marketing it for $3 million apiece, which company officials say is almost 13 times lower than the $38 million cost for an RL-10 rocket used in the second stages of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. The RL-10 is built by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and originally flew in 1959.

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TGV Rockets, South Korean Firm Team Up on Engine for Tourism Project

In an effort to jump-start a stalled space tourism project, TGV Rockets is teaming up with Seoul-based Challenge & Space to “Americanize” the South Korean company’s rocket engine, Aviation Week reports.

AirBoss Aerospace chose the Chase 10 engine for its four-seat Proteus suborbital space vehicle in 2005. However, the project has been held up due to U.S. government concerns over foreign sourcing of the rocket technology.

“We’d like to Americanize the engine, and run it through tests with more U.S. content to eventually make it a U.S.-certified engine,” C&S research engineer David Riseborough told AvWeek.

TGV is leading the effort to obtain certification for the methane-liquid oxygen engine. The Oklahoma company is looking for contracts stateside; one possibility is the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory’s $70 million Fully Reusable Access to Space Technology (FAST) program, which is developing technology for aircraft-type operation.