Virgin Galactic Test Fires LauncherOne Engines

  • Jan 24, 2014 9:21pm GMT

Yesterday, Virgin announced that they had hot-fired both a 3,500 lbf thrust rocket engine and a 47,500 lbf thrust rocket engine, called the “NewtonOne” and “NewtonTwo” respectively, as part of a rapid liquid engine development program. Further, the NewtonOne engine has successfully completed a full-mission duty cycle (5 minute burn) on the test stand, firing for the full duration expected of the upper stage engine on a typical flight to orbit. Virgin said these tests are being conducted on two new state-of-the-art test stands that the team designed, assembled and installed internally. (The propulsion team has clearly been working around the clock the past year!)

I noted that the picture of the test stand Virgin Galactic build is labeled "Necker_Ariel." For a spilt second I thought, "Why would they build the rocket test stand on Necker Island?" before coming to my senses and realizing that it is not on an island, it is in Mojave and is just named "Necker," much like SpaceX has a Conference room named "Von Braun."

LauncherOne, capable of sending 100 kg (220 lbs) "small-sats" to low earth orbit, is designed to fly to space in two stages after being released from WhiteKnightTwo (aka VSS Eve).

The rest of the press release says: "As part of the ongoing test program, the NewtonOne engine has now been fired dozens of times, achieving the target thrust during a full-duration test. The test team has successfully completed as many as six distinct test firings in a single day, as a demonstration of the rapid test-retest capability critical to the liquid engine program. The larger NewtonTwo engine has also been fired multiple times at short duration, with longer duration firings scheduled to occur in the coming months. Additionally, Virgin Galactic engineers and technicians successfully completed a quick turnaround test in which engines were swapped out and fired within 12 hours, an important early demonstration of LauncherOne’s responsive, quick call-up capability and of the versatility of both the engines and the test stand.

“The unique environment in Mojave enables the team to design, manufacture, assemble and test the engines in a single location, which allows us to make progress swiftly,” said Whitesides.

Both engines were custom-designed by Virgin Galactic to serve as the propulsion system for the LauncherOne satellite launch vehicle, which uses a single NewtonOne on the upper stage and a single NewtonTwo on the main stage. Both engines are simple, pressure-fed LOX/RP-1 systems built with a low part-count design. The NewtonTwo engine is a scaled-up version of the NewtonOne, sized to serve as the first stage engine for LauncherOne, with a nozzle optimized for air-launched performance. Powered by those two engines, LauncherOne will carry small satellites to low-Earth orbit affordably and responsively, enabling a new generation of private and government missions. "

Click here for the full Press Release