Aerojet Rocketdyne has successfully completed a grueling testing regime of the engine being developed for DARPA’s Phantom Express spaceplane. During testing, the AR-22 engine completed ten 100-second burns over a 240-hour period. This rapid turnaround between firings is unheard of for large hydrogen-fueled liquid rocket engines.
“Successfully completing this highly demanding rocket engine test series validated a new level of booster capability for this transformational launch vehicle,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president, Eileen Drake. “Turning the AR-22 within 24 hours repeatedly over 10 days demonstrates the capability of this engine and the ability to enable rapid, responsive access to space.”
The Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engine is based on the RS-25, the engine that powered the space shuttles. The engine was built utalising very few new parts instead of relying on Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s current inventory. It is, as a result, a staggering achievement that the rocket propulsion manufacturer managed to create this amazing engine.
The 30-meter long Phantom Express spaceplane will be powered by just one Aerojet Rocketdyne AR-22 engines. At launch, a small payload launcher will be strapped to its back. Once in space, the payload launcher will detach and fire deploying its payload into its designated orbit. The Phantom Express will then reenter the Earth’s atmosphere touching down on a runway like a conventional plane.
Although the Phantom Express is being developed for DARAP, it is expected to transition to the commercial sector at a later date. As it is being developed by Boeing, it is likely that once in the commercial service, it will be operated by United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.