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  • Why Turbo When You Can Pump?
    Posted by Graham Warwick 4:18 PM on Jun 08, 2010

    Turbopumps are the heart of high-performance rocket engines. They take the propellants and deliver them to the combustion chamber at the extreme speeds and pressures needed to generate the massive thrust required. But turbopumps are complex, expensive, and they don't last long.

    Now upstart Xcor Aerospace has demonstrated that its piston pump technology can be used with liquid hydrogen, opening up potential applications for upper-stage engines, on-orbit propellant transfer and other uses. And Xcor did the demonstration under contract to United Launch Alliance (ULA), the 800lb gorilla of the US launch industry.

    blog post photo
    Liquid hydrogen pump on test. (Photo: Xcor)

    According to Xcor, piston pumps cost less, last longer and can operate over a wide range of speeds, pumping more fuel the faster they go. They can also start and stop quickly, says the company, which has built and flown a three-cylinder crankshaft pump on a 1,500lb-thrust rocket motor.

    Now Xcor is developing bigger piston-pump-fed rocket engines for its Lynx suborbital vehicle. These burn liquid oxygen and kerosene, while Xcor uses liquid nitrogen for testing because its safer. Then ULA asked if the technology could be expanded to liquid hydrogen, which led to a series of bench tests that indicated piston pumps could be used in cryogenic engines.

    ULA says Xcor "has demonstrated the beginnings of an important technology development path" that could improve the competitiveness of future launch vehicles. Now Xcor is hoping its technology will find a place in ULA's long-range product roadmap.

    Tags: os99, Xcor

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