Air Force awards Ursa Major rocket engine development contact

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) has awarded the rocket engine startup Ursa Major a contract to develop two different rocket engines.

Under the contract, the Colorado-based firm will build and test a prototype of its new Draper engine for hypersonics, and further develop its 200,000-pound thrust Arroway engine for space launch.

…Under the AFRL contract, for which neither the lab or company provided a value, Ursa Major will also build a dedicated test stand for Draper and plans to hotfire the engine within 12 months.

Arroway, on the other hand, is a reusable liquid oxygen and methane staged combustion engine for medium and heavy launch vehicles. Ursa Major first announced development the 200,000-pound thrust engine last August, explaining that when clustered together, Arroway engines could replace the Russian-made RD-180 and RD-181, which are no longer available to US launch firms.

According to Ursa Major’s press release, the AFRL contract will allow further development of Arroway with a hotfire expected in 2025.

Ursa Major already has several contracts for its smaller Hadley engine, from the rocket startups Phantom, Vector, Astra, and the Air Force, and has built more than a hundred so far. The Arroway meanwhile is being developed as an American replacement for the Russian engines used by Northrop Grumman in its Antares rocket.

All in all, it appears Ursa Major is becoming a major challenger to Aerojet Rocketdyne, which in recent years had a lock on most government contracts for rocket engines. That lock resulted in very expensive engines that took years to build. The government (and others) are now finding someone else to provide this service at a better cost and far more quickly. We shall see whether Aerojet Rocketdyne responds to this competition properly, or goes the way of the horse carriage.

Smallsat rocket startup Phantom Space gets NASA launch contract

The smallsat rocket startup Phantom Space has been awarded a NASA launch contract designed to encourage new companies.

Phantom Space Corp. announced today it has been awarded four new NASA task orders to launch CubeSat satellites into space as part of the new VADR contract. NASA’s VADR missions (for Venture-class Acquisition of Dedicated and Rideshare) missions intend to meet the agency’s needs for NASA payloads while also fostering the development of new launch vehicles from both emerging and established launch providers. VADR increases access to space by significantly reducing costs using less NASA oversight to achieve lower launch costs with payloads that can accept a higher risk tolerance.

…The company plans to stage the first space flights in 2024, and the NASA CubeSats will be among the first payloads. Two will be onboard the second Phantom flight, and the other two will be on the fourth flight. The CubeSat launches for NASA will occur at the Vandenberg Space Force Base’s Space Launch Complex 8.

The Tucson-based company’s Daytona rocket will use ten Hadley engines being built by the rocket engine startup Ursa Major.

One of Phantom’s founders, Jim Cantrell, gave me a tour of their facility in May. Cantrell had been head of the rocket startup Vector, and when that failed because its own engines were underpowered, formed Phantom. Phantom however does not build its own engines but gets them from Ursa Major, a company founded by former SpaceX engineeers.

Phantom Space orders more than 200 rocket engines from Ursa Major

Hadley engine from Ursa Major

Capitalism in space: The smallsat startup rocket company Phantom Space today announced it has ordered more than 200 rocket engines from the rocket engine company Ursa Major.

The order includes Ursa Major’s 5,000-Pound Thrust Hadley engines and the new 50,000-pound thrust Ripley engines. By using Ursa Major’s Hadley engines, Phantom’s Daytona rocket is slated for orbital launch in 2023, just three years after Phantom Space was formed. Under the terms of the agreement, Ursa Major will supply hundreds of its Hadley engines in different configurations including ground test and upper-stage vacuum variants, as well as numerous Ripley engines for planned upgrades to the Daytona vehicle.

The CEO of Phantom Space, Jim Cantrell, gave me a tour of its facility here in Tucson only three weeks ago, during which I took the picture above of a Hadley engine being tested and prepared for further static fire tests.

Cantrell had been the founder of Vector, his earlier failed attempt to create a smallsat rocket company. He clearly has not let that failure stop him.