ULA Awards Upper Stage Engine Contract to XCOR

Engine hot fire (Credit: XCOR)
Engine hot fire (Credit: XCOR)

MIDLAND, Texas, March 9, 2016 (XCOR PR) — United Launch Alliance (ULA), the nation’s premier launch services provider, has awarded XCOR Aerospace with a new contract through the United States Air Force to develop an upper stage propulsion system for Vulcan, ULA’s next-generation launch system.

Jay Gibson, President XCOR : “We are very proud of our long and ongoing relationship with ULA, and very pleased ULA has chosen XCOR as a potential upper stage engine provider. We have already begun work on the 8H21 development, and are very excited about the long term potential for XCOR to support ULA and the United States Air Force in their evolving launch efforts.”

XCOR’s 8H21 LO2/LH2 engine (25k lbf thrust) is being developed for the upper stage propulsion for ULAs Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES). Since 2008 XCOR has been working closely with ULA on a subscale 2,500 lbf thrust liquid hydrogen engine, which was successfully built and tested in 2015.

In 2016, XCOR began development on the full scale 25k lbf thrust liquid hydrogen engine, the 8H21, under a privately funded contract with ULA. This partnership with the Air Force will further support this engine development.

The 8H21 is a liquid oxygen, liquid hydrogen rocket engine that uses XCOR¹s proprietary piston pumps and other unique rocket engine components to deliver a low cost solution for easier access to space. The 8H21 also uses the same technology that XCOR has been developing for their own reusable engine programs, designed with forward capabilities in mind for future reusable engine development programs.

XCOR Aerospace: XCOR Aerospace is based in Mojave, California. It is currently creating a Research and Development Center in Midland, Texas, and will be establishing an operational and manufacturing site at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with the assistance of Space Florida. XCOR builds safer, more 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 the XCOR Lynx. Lynx is a piloted, two-seat, fully reusable liquid rocket-powered spaceplane that takes off and lands horizontally. The Lynx family of vehicles serves three primary missions: research and scientific missions and private spaceflight in the Lynx Mark I and Lynx Mark II, and micro satellite launch 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 production models are available to customers in the free world on a wet-lease basis for their own manned space flight programs. www.xcor.com.

XCOR Space Expeditions: XCOR Space Expeditions, a wholly owned subsidiary of XCOR Aerospace, is based in Amsterdam with a regional office for Asia in Hong Kong. XCOR Space Expeditions supports a global network of 30 independent resellers with established Lynx flight sales experience. The company’s space-focused training programs offer a variety of medical screening and specialty training missions for future XCOR Lynx flight participants. Strategic partnerships are currently active with global brands including KLM, Unilever, Luminox, Philips, Heineken, Sinomax and Blåkläder. www.xcor.com.

  • Integrated vehicle fluids were supposed to be reliant on hydrolox piston pumps. Does this mean that ULA is leaning toward integrating the main propellant pumps to drive IVF? That’s an… interesting difference in scale…

  • ThomasLMatula

    This is good news. I am sure they need the revenue with the delays on the Lynx It will help cover the gap until they are flying.

  • Yeah, that seems a bit odd to me too. The low thrust of he RL-10 and this 8H21 are sized so they can do a expander cycle, which can be very advantageous. Now, XCOR hasn’t show any turbine equipment, so I don’t think they are doing that. I know their pump system was supposed to be for the IVF, but I never thought they were going to scale that up for the main pump system. We’ll just have to see…

  • duheagle

    Rad and Jeff,

    The IVF will be based on a LOX/LH2-fueled piston engine, but the piston pumps on the XCOR engine are a separate deal. XCOR has shown no turbine equipment because they made the decision years ago to use piston-based positive displacement propellant pumps on their engines big enough to require pumps at all.

    The piston propellant pumps of the 8H21 engine have nothing to do with previous announcements about IVF. XCOR claims its pumps have automotive design and fabrication heritage. The same is even more true of the IVF centerpiece, an auxiliary power unit based on a multi-cylinder LOX/LH2-burning reciprocating piston internal combustion engine being designed and built for ULA by Roush Racing, a long-time engine supplier to NASCAR and other racing circuits. The XCOR piston pumps operate only to move propellant into the engine. They don’t produce power. Like all propellant pumps they consume it. The piston engine heart of the IVF auxiliary power unit does produce power using boiled-off LOX and LH2 from the ACES propellant tanks as fuel and oxidizer. Unless the IVF power unit is also what drives the XCOR piston pumps when the ACES main engine is firing, the two separate sets of piston-based hardware won’t have any direct connection. Admittedly, I have no knowledge of exactly what the source of drive power will be for the XCOR engine piston pumps but I would be surprised if it’s the IVF’s prime mover.

  • Do you mean the IVF will drive the main pump? If so, that doesn’t make logical sense. The IVF gets it’s power from the incident solar radiation that slowly adds the heat of vaporization to the two propellants. If they are expelling the liquid propellant, the gas is expanding so fast it will be cooling quite rapidly from adiabatic expansion. So, no energy to drive the IVF system. Also, make up gas (usually from some kind of heat exchanger) needs to be fed back into the propellant tanks. Now, if the main pump (which admittedly could come from a additinal cylinders that are just not used during coast periods, much like some Cadillacs and other cars shut down cylinders at freeway speeds) is driven by either a turbine or a reciprocating engine that is burning liquid LOX/H2… I can understand that. But in the end, the power has to come from somewhere, which means there has to be a device that turns chemical energy into mechanical work.

  • The other obvious question: Does this mean that ULA has nuked using the BE-3 as the ACES engine? If so, that might be yet another reason why Bezos has decided to mount a PR offensive for Blue Origin. If ULA’s gone away from BE-3 and the USAF is lobbying for an Atlas V.1 with the AR-1 (and it sure seems they are by the pile of cash they just dropped on Rocketdyne), then the BO/ULA relationship could be a little strained. Bezos would at least want to exercise a little PR pressure to make it somewhat harder to walk away.

  • OK, that makes sense. I looked at the IVF block diagram again and the only thing coming off the internal combustion engine is electrical power. (BTW, the LH and LOX pumps for the internal IVF system look like they’re electrical.)

    My antennae got to twitching when I saw two piston technologies in the same place at the same time. Looks like a coincidence, though.

    Do you happen to know what happened to ACES and the BE-3?

  • “The IVF gets it’s power from the incident solar radiation that slowly adds the heat of vaporization to the two propellants.”

    I don’t think that’s right. The block diagram has pressurized gaseous O2 and H2 being collected from a heat exchanger running off of the piston engine exhaust, and fed by liquid pumps. Yes, they’re managing venting of GH2/GO2 through IVF, but I think that’s just gravy. When they really need gases, they make them from liquids.

  • I guess I’ll retook at the specifics on the ACES flow diagram.

    Or maybe not, I’m feeling kinda lazy right now. 🙂

  • Vladislaw

    This paper was from 2015 presented at the AIAA…

    “The broad range in thrust listed above reflect the fact that there are several engine candidates being considered, with the basic design of ACES to be optimized around each engine candidate. ACES can accommodate one 100-150klb, two 50- 75klb, or four 25-35 klb engines, obviously with differences in thrust structures and feedlines resulting. At the National Space Symposium 2015 Tory Bruno, ULAs CEO, identified the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10, a Blue Origin BE-3 derivative, and an XCOR engine as three of the ACES engine candidates. At the time of engine downselect ACES will be tailored to the selected engine”

    Looks like several engines were always considered.

  • I’m trying to figure out whether the down-select actually happened, or whether this is just ULA agreeing to toss some PR at XCOR.

  • If Bezos will be a good partner, I bet ULA will throw all the work their way since they find their own R&D. Look at how ULA has consolidated all solids with ATK. ULA has effectively decided ATK should have a monopoly on large solids and Aerojet should be shut out of the market.

    ULA seems perfectly fine with sole sourcing their components.

  • Vladislaw

    If they are going to use four engines I was thinking XCOR did those rocket racing engines that you could throttle pretty easy?

    The ACES arch. had a four engine lunar lander if I recall?

  • duheagle

    Sorry to be late to this game, but no, IVF driving the piston pumps on XCOR’s engine is exactly not what I meant. I don’t know exactly what will drive the XCOR engine pumps. Maybe they’ll be electric, like the Rocket Labs Rutherford. That would certainly allow them to be deeply throttled more easily than pumps involving turbo machinery.