Street bike used as platform to test propulsion parts for Lynx Suborbital Vehicle

May 4, 2012
Street bike used as platform to test propulsion parts for Lynx Suborbital Vehicle

XCOR's innovative piston pump technology took a ride from Roswell, NM to Mojave, CA in April 2012.

"We debated how best to put many hours of wear time on the critical bearing components of our piston pump, that are subject to significant wear and tear," said Dan DeLong, XCOR Chief Engineer. "This particular motorcycle, the Triumph Street Triple, develops about the same horsepower and has the same cylinder arrangement as the liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel pumps for the Lynx suborbital spacecraft. That makes it ideal for a long-life pump test platform. The bike is much less expensive to operate than the full up rocket pump test stand. We're adding hours of run time each ride, not just minutes."

The was customized for the XCOR rocket piston pump technology and then shipped to Motion Performance in Roswell. There XCOR engineers finished modifying and testing the bike for the trip. After making presentations at local schools with the bike as part of XCOR's ongoing Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) educational outreach efforts, the XCOR team was given a send-off by Roswell Mayor Del Jurney and members of the Roswell-Chaves County Economic Development Corporation. The trip symbolically started at the Robert Goddard Museum which honors the father of modern liquid rocketry and his early pioneering work in Roswell.

"We put twenty hours--the equivalent of 400 Lynx flights--on the rocket pump bearings by driving from Roswell to Mojave taking periodic data readings along the way to make sure things were in good condition," remarked Dan. "The trip was a great success and the bike performed flawlessly. Plus we got to drive through some of the most spectacular parts of the American Southwest."

"XCOR continues to solidify its reputation as an innovative, nimble company when it comes to research and development practices," commented XCOR Chief Operating Officer, Andrew Nelson. "This test would have cost us over $500 per minute had we operated it on a traditional pump test stand. The entire trip represented about half a million dollars in net savings in both time and money for the company. More importantly, it validated that our critical pump subassemblies will have the ultra-long life needed to meet the safety needs of our customers and a vehicle that is designed to fly thousands of times over many years. Oh, and everyone had a lot of fun along the way!"

"We saw some amazing country," remarked XCOR Senior Engineer and principal driver Mike Valant, "we traveled through New Mexico, passing the Very Large Array, then turned northwards to Route 66, traveling as much of the old highway as possible. Meteor Crater was a highlight, as well as the towns of Holbrook, Seligman, Kingman, Oatman, all the classic waypoints on the Mother Road. We drove through sun, snow, rain and everything in-between. Personally for me, it was one of the greatest adventures I've had. It was challenging, and there was a lot of payoff. In addition to keeping the bike on the road through all the weather, we had to pay attention to how it was behaving and make sure there was no trouble."

"The data show no discernible difference in bearing wear between when we started and when we finished," remarked Dan DeLong. "I call that a success."

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3 / 5 (2) May 04, 2012
Depending on the cost I see no reason such a part could not be used in conventional vehicles, as they did in the test. So long as production cost could be made similar and some aspect of the bearing, such as superior wear prevention, is better than the standard, there's no reason not to use it widely.
3 / 5 (2) May 04, 2012
But was the stress per second the same?
not rated yet May 04, 2012
Yes. Probably even worse in the motorcycle, given what XCOR wrote elsewhere:

"Using this innovative pump design, drive gas to operate the pumps can be delivered by any of the three classical methods: staged combustion, gas generator, or expander."

Remember, they're testing a *bearing*. Even a conventional bearing would show essentially no wear from Roswell to Mohave.
5 / 5 (1) May 04, 2012
The temperatures and thermal gradients are all wrong given this is for a cryo pump. The gradients will create distortions from thermal expansion that may induce strange or unexpected loads in the bearings. The tribology and material wear properties will be very different as well.
3 / 5 (4) May 04, 2012
Yeah, I don't get the point of this test, either. A motorcycle is an operating environment which differs tremendously from a rocket.

If the test were valid, then any motor bearing suitable for motorcycles would be just fine to adapt for use in a rocket engine. In which case there's no need to engineer something new, is there?

I could put rocket engine struts on a motorcycle as handlebars, too, but it would prove just about as much about their durability in their intended use. Which is to say, not much.

How come XCOR Senior Engineer and principal driver Mike Valant's arm didn't break? I rarely have seen anyone congratulating himself so vigorously for his cleverness. But in this case, the cleverness seems to be directed at deception. His company avoided real durability testing to improve profit and covered it over with smoke and mirrors.

Would you buy a rocket engine bearing from this man?
1 / 5 (1) May 04, 2012
Many rocket test firing facilities are not climate and/or vaccuum controlled to do full durability tests in the precise environments they will be operating. Those are usually shorter term tests to verify that they can operate. Based on materials science they can frequently extrapolate how something will act when it is in various temperature and environmental ranges, and because of those ranges it's likely that a special material was required, so standard bearings would not be suitable. Without knowing the variables of the materials used in this bearing none of us are qualified to say whether or not this was a valid test, but this being a company that is one of the pioneers of the field it would stand to reason that they are doing what they can to be successful, and focusing less on obfuscation. If this test did acurately replace an extremely expensive test then I'd say good job on efficiency. Worst case scenario they attempted to draw attention to the civil space access industry.
not rated yet May 05, 2012
I'm ignorant on the assembly but what will be the operating temperature of the bearings? Cryogenic pumping sounds cold.
1.6 / 5 (7) May 06, 2012
jselin and Urgelt
have very good points and I concur totally, metals are not static, there is age hardening at the least and other movements in seemingly static metal structures - otherwise we wouldnt have duralamin, cold temperatures are especially know for embrittlement issues and what about solid solution issues re the gases involved, adsorbent issues, its all too complex to assume a simple test will cover the combinatorial complexity and multitude of issues.

Liquid nitrogen is cheap (about the cost of milk), wouldnt it be a valid test to run N2 through the bearing (at least) in some way approaching equivalent conditions as a starting point, then further tests with the gases expected etc - using a motorcycle seems quite stupid frankly with all the issues involved
1 / 5 (1) May 07, 2012
To be clear, is this Mike Massee of XCOR or just a coincidence?
I would run a few LN2 bench tests on the actual pump design and get at least a handful of flights worth of run time with SEM surveys of the race before and after. Relatively easy to do in house with the surveys done out on contract. I agree there's not always a need for elaborate outside test contracts but they need to at least replicate the flight conditions before considering it qualified.
1 / 5 (3) May 08, 2012
jselin failed dismally at joke construction with obverse 'logic'
To be clear, is this Mike Massee of XCOR or just a coincidence?
I dont know who Mr Massee is and didnt know someone of that name is at XCOR. There is a Michael Massen, artist in New York however, I'm an engineer, food scientist & technology development consultant in Perth, Western Australia.

If I was from XCOR however, then my comment above yours would demonstrate some scary integrity & with considerable risk of employment criticising a 'test' with a motorcycle if this is relied upon for a cryogenic pump.

But jselin did add detail with this observation worth of run time with SEM surveys..
Thanks for following my lead regarding liquid nitrogen & also restating in a rather different way what I was driving at. Your enthusiasm in translating my grammar to content in your own words & adding detail is appreciated :-)

1 / 5 (1) May 14, 2012
If I was from XCOR however, then my comment above yours would demonstrate some scary integrity & with considerable risk of employment criticising a 'test' with a motorcycle if this is relied upon for a cryogenic pump.

That's why I asked... a member of their staff has nearly the same name as yours so your post would have been quite telling of internal disagreement on the test.

It sounds like I angered you in some way but I was just giving my input which just happened to be well aligned with yours as we both employed similar logic. I'm unfamiliar with obverse logic and a google search leaves me a bit confused... if you don't mind explaining for my education, how does it apply to what I said?
1 / 5 (3) May 19, 2012
Well I interpreted your comment as obverse in that it's not the normal thing an employee would do, ie. to criticise their company, furthermore its not logical the employee then does it on a public forum disclosing their name. Logic in quotes was my vain attempt at adding sarcasm...

Not angry, just a little peeved at ready willingness to accept such an unlikely paradigm yet ignore the difference in spelling.

My use of the term obverse in conjunction with 'logic' was probably flawed from a strict grammatical perspective in context with your posting, I don't come across that much in technical discussion and I do fill these comment boxes rather quickly so don't reflect much on the {wide} variations in how my comments might be received.

Upon closer inspection though, this may cast more light on the issue http://en.wikiped...bversion in respect of my comment you made add a pinch of sarcasm and pompousness to offer some artistic licence in the syntactical conjunction :-)

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