Ursa Major announces new rocket engine to replace what Russia previously provided

Capitalism in space: The new rocket engine company Ursa Major yesterday announced a new more powerful rocket engine, dubbed Arroway, designed to replace rocket engines that Russia had been selling.

Arroway is a 200,000-pound thrust liquid oxygen and methane staged combustion engine that will serve markets including current U.S. national security missions, commercial satellite launches, orbital space stations, and future missions not yet conceived. The reusable Arroway engine is available for order now, slated for initial hot-fire testing in 2023, and delivery in 2025.

Notably, Arroway engines will be one of very few commercially available engines that, when clustered together, can displace the Russian-made RD-180 and RD-181, which are no longer available to U.S. launch companies.

Arroway could replace the RD-181 engines that Northrop Grumman uses on the first stage of its Antares rocket. Both engines are comparable in size. However, with Arroway available no sooner than ’25 it still will leave a gap, since right now the company only has enough stock on hand to launch two more rockets, both of which should launch before ’24.

Arroway is also about half as powerful as Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine, so if ULA wishes to use it in its Vulcan rocket a major redesign would be required.

Either way, Ursa Major is demonstrating here again the value of freedom and competition, as well as the foolishness and negative consequences of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine. In response to the international sanctions against it, Russia blocked future rocket engine sales to the U.S. Not only did that not get the sanctions lifted, Russia is now losing that U.S. business, as other American companies are stepping up to replace it.

Rocket engine startup Ursa Major Technologies

Capitalism in space: While there appear to presently be about 100+ new rocket company startups competing to garner market share in the growing satellite launch industry, it appears there is only one startup, Ursa Major Technologies, focused solely on building rocket engines for those rockets.

The company’s business model is based on the idea that while many launch providers make their own propulsion systems, others will choose outsourcing so they don’t have to invest money and time in risky engine development.

It presently has a small engine, dubbed Hadley, that is set to launch on another company’s rocket in ’22, and a larger engine, dubbed Ripley, that is being developed and has a contract for use by the new rocket startup Phantom Space.

In a sense this company is conceivable in competition with Momentus, which builds and sells a space tug, essentially an upper stage engine, for moving smallsats from one orbit to another. Both are aiming for a niche within the new smallsat industry by providing rockets and satellites engines.

If the industry grows as big as hoped, both will likely have plenty of business.

Company aims to sell its rocket engines to smallsat rocket companies

Capitalism in space: The new rocket engine manufacturer Ursa Major is aiming to sell its rocket engines to the new wave of smallsat rocket companies now emerging.

Ursa Major has taken up the challenge of trying to convince launch startups to outsource their engines rather than follow the models of SpaceX and Blue Origin. “The first gut response is ‘our engines are special and we don’t have a company without our engines,’ but if there is a way to increase their margin by flying someone else’s engines, most companies will be interested in coming around,” Ursa Major founder and CEO Joe Laurienti says.

Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and Vector Space Systems — three frontrunners fielding dedicated smallsat launchers — are building engines in house. Currently, just two launch startups — Generation Orbit and ABL Space Systems — have gone public with plans to depend on Laurienti’s 26-person team in Berthoud, Colorado, to supply the engines for the satellite launchers they’re developing.

That we now have companies that have successfully raised investment capital for both building rocket engines in-house for their own rockets as well buying them from independent subcontractors is firm proof that the upcoming boom in smallsat rockets is real, and very robust. The 20s should be a very exciting decade for rocketry.

American manned space: dependent on the Russians in more ways than you think

American manned space: dependent on the Russians in more ways than you think.

As commentators from around the country gnash their teeth at U.S. dependence upon Russia to move cargo and astronauts to the mostly U.S. built/funded International Space Station (ISS), they’ve missed the bigger boat: With one exception, all the commercial spaceflight offerings currently in the works have Soviet or Russian engines as a key part of the rockets involved.