First Engine Assembled for DARPA & Boeing Reusable Experimental Spaceplane

Aerojet Rocketdyne technicians complete final assembly on the first AR-22 rocket engine, shown at its facility located at Stennis Space Center. The engine was built for Boeing as part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Experimental Spaceplane program. This new Boeing spaceplane, called Phantom Express, is intended to demonstrate a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space access. (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

STENNIS SPACE CENTER, Miss., June 4, 2018 (Aerojet Rocketdyne PR) – Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed assembly of its first AR-22 rocket engine built for Boeing (NYSE:BA) as part of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Experimental Spaceplane program. This new Boeing spaceplane, called Phantom Express, is intended to demonstrate a new paradigm for more routine, responsive and affordable space access.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AR-22 engine, derived from the Space Shuttle Main Engine that was designed from the outset for reusability, is the main propulsion for Phantom Express.

“Phantom Express builds on our legacy of reusable space flight experience to provide the ability to quickly augment and replace on-orbit capabilities, which face an increasing array of threats from potential adversaries,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president. “Our immediate task is to demonstrate this rapid turnaround capability for this engine on the ground, paving the way for a demonstration program.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed assembly of its first AR-22 rocket engine, shown at its facility located at Stennis Space Center.  (Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

The AR-22 engine is capable of generating about 375,000 pounds (170,097 kg) of thrust and was designed to fly 55 missions with service every 10 missions. This reusability feature makes the AR-22 ideally suited for Phantom Express.

The reusable Phantom Express spaceplane will take off vertically and land horizontally. The vehicle will be equipped with an expendable second stage capable of placing up to 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of payload into low Earth orbit.

“The aircraft-like operations of Phantom Express are an important factor in the rapid turnaround of this spaceplane,” said AR-22 Program Manager Jeff Haynes. “Additionally, the engine has a hinged nacelle that makes it easier to access and inspect the engines for rapid turnaround.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne assembled the AR-22 at its facility at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The engine will undergo a series of daily hot-fire tests at Stennis starting this summer to demonstrate its ability to support the high flight rates envisioned for Phantom Express. These tests will also provide valuable insight that will be used to refine Phantom Express flight and turnaround procedures, while also informing the design requirements for the new ground infrastructure that Boeing is developing for the flight program.

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:AJRD), is an innovative company delivering solutions that create value for its customers in the aerospace and defense markets. The company is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader that provides propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, tactical systems and armaments areas, in support of domestic and international markets. Additional information about Aerojet Rocketdyne can be obtained by visiting our websites at www.Rocket.com and www.AerojetRocketdyne.com.

  • Chip Snyder

    It is really great to see Aerojet Rocketdyne/ Boeing advancing shuttle heritage /derived technology in a forward thinking manner. Bravo DARPA, Boeing and AR
    I hope we see this fly one day (sooner than later)

  • newpapyrus

    Being able to deploy nearly 1.4 tonnes of payload into orbit a day could place more than 40 tonnes of water to an orbiting solar powered propellant (LOX/LH2) producing water depot per month, nearly 500 tonnes of water per year. So this reusable space launcher would be absolutely revolutionary!

    Marcel

  • ThomasLMatula

    ??? If it’s water you want in orbit the tanker version of the BFR will do a 150 tons in a single launch for under $10 million. This system will be outdated before it flies.

  • Michael Halpern

    Its outdated now, its been outdated for about 2 years.

  • Michael Halpern

    It’s already out moded

  • AdmBenson

    Phantom Express may be the launcher DARPA has in mind for its’ Blackjack LEO constellation plan. If it ever comes to a shooting war, though, LEO is likely to get polluted quickly with orbital debris and maintaining the constellations would be difficult. A possible solution to this is to put the satellites into lower orbits where they (and any debris) will naturally decay and reenter in weeks rather than months or years. Of course, this implies the need to continually refresh the constellations with new satellites. Doing that with Phantom Express would be very expensive. Perhaps DARPA should consider reviving the SHARP project from the 90’s. Actually, if you could get the per satellite price way down, then it becomes cost prohibitive for the bad guys to shoot at them. No one is going to take out $20K satellites with million dollar missiles very long.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    DOD would do better to develop their own 2nd stages to ride on Falcon boosters. We’ll know this year if the Falcon 9 is capable of operating like a squadron of aircraft. If so, Falcon is the logical base for a operationally responsive launch vehicle. I think having a squadron of Falcon 9 rev 5 boosters operate like the SR-71’s does not seem out of the question. Yes they’re maintenance hogs, and expensive, but you can operate them on a responsive basis. When the USAF puts out a RFP for developing an operationally responsive space booster, SpaceX will be be able to come in with a quote on an operational system with years of flight history.

  • newpapyrus

    Just five reusable Phantom Express robotic space planes– launching daily– could put over 200 tonnes of water into orbit in just one month. And they’d be much easier to serially mass produce and to launch than the titanic BFR:-)

    Marcel

  • gunsandrockets

    A blast from the past, indeed. Because it is unmanned, because it is scaled down, because of the more modest reusability goals (expendable 2nd stage), the Phantom Express is the quick-turnaround economical cargo transport that NASA had originally hoped for but failed to get with the Space Shuttle. If only NASA had fielded something like this in 1977!

    The question is, does the success of the VTVL concept as exemplified by the Falcon 9 indicate the VTHL method of the Phantom Express is already obsolete?

  • ThomasLMatula

    LOL! That is like saying it’s better to fly 200 passengers across the country in a 100 Cessnas than in a single jet liner. And don’t count on them being cheaper to build that the BFR, this is Boeing you are talking about.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, it would be a much better solution since each could launch multiple satellites as needed.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yep, as out moded as Stratolauncher and Launcher One, something everyone will realize when Elon Musk does a 24 hour turnaround with a Falcon 9 as it’s designed to do

  • Michael Halpern

    no Stratolauncher (provided new Black ice rocket in development) and Launcher One at least have new engines and are cheap, and aren’t oversized Hydrolox engines

  • Michael Halpern

    yes

  • AdmBenson
  • Michael Halpern

    more relevantly, this is SpaceX he’s comparing them to. A horizontally integrated company verses a Vertically integrated company, and one of the suppliers for Phantom Express is AJR, the AR-22s alone are likely somewhere between “ridiculously priced” and “absolutely crazy to the point where it’d be cheaper to start an entire production line and develop the engine yourself if you need more than 2”

  • Michael Halpern

    this is a boeing rocket it wont be cheap,

  • Michael Halpern

    BFR could get it done in 1 or 2 days, and have 200t spare, with one BFB and one BFS, unlike Phantom Express BFR is fully reusable, whereas PE is as reusable as F9, assuming none of the insulation foam flies off, a fully reusable rocket is just fuel operations and routine maintenance, a partially reusable rocket is fuel, operations, maintenance and expended portion and the expended portion will always cost more than fuel

  • Michael Halpern

    its actually worse because your JATOing the Cessnas to adjust for the expended upper stage

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…economical cargo transport…”
    Can you define “economical” and “cargo” please.

  • newpapyrus

    The Phantom Express will have just two engines. The BFR, on the other hand, will have 38 engines. So yes, the Phantom Express will be substantially cheaper to build:-)

    Marcel

  • newpapyrus

    Since the Phantom Express will be designed to be launched on a– daily basis, just one vehicle will be able to deploy more than 496 tonnes of water into orbit annually. Just ten simple space planes would be able to deploy more than 4960 tonnes of water into orbit annually.

    Even if you launched a titanic 38 engine BFR every month for a year, it couldn’t even deploy half as much water as just ten tiny space planes could in a year.

    Marcel

  • Michael Halpern

    BFR is capable of launching daily, if not multiple times per day needs a small fleet of BFS so integration is constant but it can be done, and its designed to be used at least 100 times before any real refurb and at least 1000 times total, Phantom Express’s engines are designed for 10 uses before refurb and a total of 55 times before replacement, and it doesn’t expend the upper stage, so really how much you can launch the space plane is a question of how fast you can produce the upper stages, spoiler alert, they take more than 24hrs to build. its like instead of taking a cargo jet to transport goods you are taking 100 cesnass and JATOing all of them for tonnage bigger will ALWAYS win, now if you are going to specific orbits, a smaller craft might make sense. you are also forgetting to take away the mass of your water tank out of each launch, that adds up, it is cheaper and easier to use bfr for bulk

  • Michael Halpern

    those 2 engines are made by AJR, its not outside the realm of possibility each of those engines will cost 20x that of Raptor, add to that the upper stages that are expended, and so on. AJR is not cheap, Delta IV has failed commercially because the RS-68 is extortionately expensive,