Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed assembly of the first rocket engine for DARPA’s quick launch rocket, Phantom Express, being built by Boeing.
[The engine] can fly for 55 missions with servicing only every 10. To speed up turnarounds, the engines will be installed in a hinged nacelle for better access and the entire spacecraft will use an operations procedure similar to those developed for aircraft.
The first AR-22 engines will be used for daily hot-fire tests at Rocketdyne’s Stennis Space Center facility in Mississippi to demonstrate that it can handle multi-mission conditions and that the fast turnarounds are both feasible and practical. In addition, Rocketdyne says that the test information will help spaceplane builder Boeing to improve the Phantom Express ground infrastructure.
Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne both have it very sweet. They have gotten DARPA to fund the development of their own low-cost reusable rocket, while other private companies have to go it alone.
Still, it appears that Boeing is leveraging its engineering experience from building the X-37B for the Air Force for this project. Whether the company can expand the rocket’s customer base beyond the Air Force remains unclear.
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