Tuesday, March 20, 2012

XCOR's Little Engine That Could

A test firing of the 5K18 Lynx engine. Image source: XCOR.

Doug Messier at Parabolic Arc reports on the revolutionary engine technology XCOR hopes will give it the competitive edge and suborbital and eventually orbital flight.

XCOR investor Lee Valentine gave a lecture on the XCOR 5K18 engine and its potential capabilities.

“XCOR has got an engine, the prototype for the Lynx engine, that has got more than 550 flight equivalents on it,” Valentine said. “We have not identified any wear mechanism, and the senior engineering team thinks that that engine is going to be good for many thousands of flights. Indeed, with all of the engines that XCOR has ever built, we have never worn one out or identified the wear mechanism.”

What that gives XCOR is the ability to fly the suborbital Lynx space plane with airline-type operations, Valentine added. In the same way that Southwest can fly the same 737 from one place to another with quick turnarounds, XCOR will be able to fly the Lynx into space, turn it around in 35 minutes, and fly it back.

With a single ground crew and pilot, Lynx will be able to fly four times per day. If you add a second pilot and another ground crew, eight flights are possible.

Valentine said that XCOR’s engines are more reusable than the space shuttle’s main engines, which had to be rebuilt after two flights, and propulsion systems developed by other companies.

The article also notes that United Launch Alliance is helping fund an orbital version of the engine that might one day replace the Centaur's propulsion system.

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