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XCOR tests new rocket engine for suborbital spaceflights

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Apr 1, 2013, 23:00 UTC

Sen—XCOR Aerospace has been testing a new type of rocket engine that will power its Lynx suborbital spacecraft. 

The piston pump powered rocket engine has been designed to be fully reusable and capable of powering Lynx into space several times a day.

At the recent test the rocket engine was fired for 67 seconds. XCOR has received funding from Boeing for the development and testing of the piston pump engine.

The next set of tests will be conducted with a flight sized liquid oxygen fuel tank and will fire the engine for the full flight duration that would be required to blast Lynx into suborbital space.

“Through use of our proprietary rocket propellant piston pumps we deliver both kerosene and liquid oxygen to our rocket engines and eliminate the need for heavy, high-pressure fuel and oxidizer tanks. It also enables our propulsion system to fly multiple times per day and last for tens of thousands of flights,” said XCOR Chief Executive Officer Jeff Greason.

“This is one more step toward a significant reduction in per-flight cost and turnaround time, while increasing overall flight safety.”

XCOR's Lynx spacecraft is designed to carry two people, a professional pilot and a space tourist. Lynx will be capable of reaching an altitude of about 100 km (330,000 feet), thereby reaching the edge of space. A ticket for such a suborbital flight is $95,000.

XCOR tests its rocket propulsion system is tested under full piston pump power. Credit: XCOR/Mike Masse

“Unlike the expensive and finicky turbopumps on today’s rocket propulsion systems, XCOR’s piston pumps are designed to be as powerful in their thrust class as turbines, but as easy to manufacture, maintain and operate as an automotive engine,” said XCOR Chief Operating Officer Andrew Nelson.

“This is the culmination of a 12 year program to develop this unique technology. The kerosene piston pump has been successfully flight-proven during our 40-flight test program on the X-Racer aircraft. We’ll be entering another flight test program soon with Lynx and these pumps and engines will power XCOR and the industry to the next level.”

The Lynx suborbital vehicle will take off and land horizontally like an aeroplane and looks set to compete with Virgin Galactic in the space toursim market.