Fired up: Rocket engine designed for reusable flights tested

July 2, 2018 by Rebecca Santana
Fired up: Rocket engine designed for reusable flights tested
An AR-22 rocket engine is test fired on the A-2 test stand at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Stennis, Miss., Monday, July 2, 2018. Triggering a massive cloud of vapor and a roar, officials on Monday test fired the rocket engine designed to be part of a reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Triggering a massive cloud of vapor and a roar, officials on Monday test fired a rocket engine designed to be part of a reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time.

The AR-22 engine will power an experimental spacecraft—called the Phantom Express—that's a collaboration between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Engineers are currently testing the engine over a 10-day period by firing it up for 100 seconds and then doing it again 24 hours later. Monday's was the sixth of what is anticipated to be 10 test fires.

Tom Martin from Aerojet Rocketdyne said Monday's test at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi was "awesome" to see although a bit "boring" because everything went exactly as planned.

"The action starts when the engine shuts down. The whole idea is, 'How do we get this engine ready to go in 24 hours?'" he said. "Nothing went wrong. The data is exactly what we expected. The engine did exactly what we were expecting it to."

The goal is to create a new type of spacecraft that can launch into low Earth orbit on short-notice—days instead of months or years—and cost less than traditional space programs.

The spacecraft would be unmanned and roughly about the size of a business jet. It would take off vertically and once it reaches a certain altitude a second stage would be released that could then deploy a satellite to orbit.

Fired up: Rocket engine designed for reusable flights tested
Employees and media view an AR-22 engine, being used for a developmental reusable spacecraft, in Stennis, Miss., Monday, July 2, 2018. Triggering a massive cloud of vapor and a roar, officials on Monday test fired the rocket engine designed to be part of a reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The first stage would glide back to earth and land horizontally on a runway like an airplane. It would then be able to quickly launch again for another flight. The craft could carry payloads between 3,000 and 5,000 pounds, said Steve Johnston, from Boeing.

Historically, launching satellites into space has been an expensive endeavor that requires a lot of lead time, said Scott Wierzbanowski, from DARPA.

"What we wanted to do at DARPA was change that paradigm. We wanted to enable tactical use of space, to be able to make it more affordable, to reduce times to space," Wierzbanowski said. "We want to show that you can have a reusable space system and use it on a daily basis."

An AR-22 engine, being used for a developmental reusable spacecraft, is seen in Stennis, Miss., Monday, July 2, 2018. Triggering a massive cloud of vapor and a roar, officials on Monday test fired the rocket engine designed to be part of a reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

One of the key challenges is drying the moisture in the engine that's created when the fuel—liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen—combusts, said Jeff Haynes, from Aerojet. Once the engine has been test fired, they run high-pressure air through the system for hours to dry it out.

"It generates a whole bunch of moisture and water within the engine," he said. With the space shuttle program, that moisture was also an issue but the drying only had to happen over weeks or months. "We have to show that we can do it in about eight hours, maybe six hours."

Wierzbanowski said the Phantom Express actually uses many of the capabilities and technologies from the space shuttle—specifically the main engine and thermal protection system.

Fired up: Rocket engine designed for reusable flights tested
Tom Martin, launch strategy and business development director for Aerojet Rocketdyne, talks to media in front of one of the AR-22 engines for a developmental reusable spacecraft in Stennis, Miss., Monday, July 2, 2018. Triggering a massive cloud of vapor and a roar, officials on Monday test fired a rocket engine designed to be part of a reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Fired up: Rocket engine designed for reusable flights tested
A giant cloud of vapor hovers over the A-2 test stand after an AR-22 rocket engine was test fired oat the NASA Stennis Space Center in Stennis, Miss., Monday, July 2, 2018. Triggering the massive cloud of vapor and a roar, officials on Monday test fired the rocket engine designed to be part of a reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Fired up: Rocket engine designed for reusable flights tested
A detail of some of the complexity of the AR-22 engine, being used for a developmental reusable spacecraft, is seen in Stennis, Miss., Monday, July 2, 2018. Triggering a massive cloud of vapor and a roar, officials on Monday test fired the rocket engine designed to be part of a reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
Fired up: Rocket engine designed for reusable flights tested
Two AR-22 engines, being used for a developmental reusable spacecraft, are seen in Stennis, Miss., Monday, July 2, 2018. Triggering a massive cloud of vapor and a roar, officials on Monday test fired a rocket engine designed to be part of the reusable spacecraft that can launch into space repeatedly with a quick turnaround time. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Explore further: Image: NASA concludes summer of testing with fifth flight controller hot fire

Related Stories

Commercial rocket engine testing moves forward

December 20, 2010

NASA conducted a test fire Friday of the liquid-fuel AJ26 engine that will power the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Taurus II space launch vehicle. The test at the agency's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi supports ...

First J-2X combustion stability test a success

December 5, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA conducted a key stability test firing of the J-2X rocket engine Dec. 1, marking another step forward in development of the upper-stage engine that will carry humans farther into space than ever before. ...

Image: The shake, rattle and roar of the J-2X engine

May 17, 2012

(Phys.org) -- The shake, rattle and roar lasted just seven seconds, but the short J-2X test conducted May 16 at NASA's John C. Stennis Space Center in south Mississippi moved the space agency ever closer to a return to deep ...

Recommended for you

Japan space robots start asteroid survey

September 22, 2018

A pair of robot rovers have landed on an asteroid and begun a survey, Japan's space agency said Saturday, as it conducts a mission aiming to shed light on the origins of the solar system.

First to red planet will become Martians: Canada astronaut

September 22, 2018

Astronauts traveling through space on the long trip to Mars will not have the usual backup from mission control on Earth and will need to think of themselves as Martians to survive, Canada's most famous spaceman half-jokingly ...

Three NASA missions return first-light data

September 21, 2018

NASA's continued quest to explore our solar system and beyond received a boost of new information this week with three key missions proving not only that they are up and running, but that their science potential is exceptional. ...

Dwarf companion to EPIC 206011496 detected by astronomers

September 20, 2018

Using ESO's Very Large Telescope (VLT), European astronomers have uncovered the presence of an M-dwarf around the star EPIC 206011496. The newly found object is more than 60 percent less massive than our sun and is bounded ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.