Startup Ursa Major announced on Wednesday that it has completed the rehabilitation of its Hadley rocket engine for use by the space launch vehicle and hypersonic launch system. The Colorado -based company said it has already begun delivering flight -ready Hadley engines to two customers, the Phantom Space and Stratolaunch, and expects to produce a total of 30 engines this year.
The Hadley engine is relatively small compared to rocket engines, with a power of approximately 5,000 pounds. At this level of performance, Hadley can be compared to Rutherford’s machine at Rocket Lab, of which nine power the first phase of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket.
In his announcement, Ursa Major described the versatility of the Hadley engine used in two different environments. Phantom Space makes its Daytona rocket as a small elevator, using seven Hadley engines in its first phase to lift up to 450 kg in low Earth orbit. A single vacuum-enhanced Hadley engine will power the upper stage. Phantom said it is planning the launch for 2023.
In contrast, the Stratolaunch produced the largest aircraft in the world, with a wingspan of 385 feet (117 meters). The plane, known as Roc, recently completed its fourth test flight and reached an altitude of 15,000 feet (4.6 km). This massive carrier aircraft will be used to launch Falls A vehicles powered by hypersonic missiles, which will serve as a test platform for hypersonic research. Stratolaunch plans to begin test flights this year and offer commercial and government services by 2023.
“It’s very difficult,” Joe Llorente, founder and CEO of Ursa Major, said in an interview with Ars about building a general -purpose rocket engine. “When you focus on one task, you focus on one application. You have designed exactly the things that can go wrong with the machine you have to use.»
Designed to serve multiple users, the Hadley engine has undergone a longer test time, approximately 40,000 seconds so far. Tested in air launch simulations, for multi-replay capability, deep choke, and more. “You’re trying to simulate more of the problems that the machine has to go through and survive after a mission or an application launch,” Llorente said.
After working on a Merlin rocket engine at SpaceX and BE-3 at Blue Origin, Laurienti founded Ursa Major in 2015. He saw many startups, but felt there was a niche for a company focused solely on propulsion. . His company decided to start with a smaller machine (because smaller machines would survive economically) and then grow from there. The Hadley engine now has several customers – another Air Force X -60A aircraft – and Llorente said interest is strong.
Llorente said his sales pitch when meeting potential clients is simple. “Having the machine on the shelf will save you five years,” he said. “You can probably save $ 100 million as well. So usually it’s a quick and quick conversation. »
At Ursa Major, Laurienti sought to keep machine costs low by using consumer 3D printers and maintaining a relatively small workforce. The total number of employees of the company has recently risen to more than 200 employees. So far, Ursa Major has raised approximately $ 140 million.
And while the Ursa Major started small, the company is already working on developing a larger Ripley engine. With 50,000 pounds of thrust, Ripley is targeting the mid-range launch market.
“We see Ripley entering the market here over the next two years with two partners,” Llorente said. “And then surely another machine program is going on that we have not yet talked about, but hopefully soon.»
At this point, Laurienti should have an idea of whether the market is really ready to support a commercial aerospace company focused solely on liquid rocket motors.