The agreement is a small business innovation research contract known as a TACFI, or Tactical Funding Enhancement, which includes both government and private funds.
WASHINGTON — Rocket propulsion startup Ursa Major announced on Aug. 31 that it has won a contract from the United States Air Force to support the development of the company’s Hadley liquid engine for small launch vehicles.
The $3.6 million deal is a small business innovation research contract known as a TACFI, or Tactical Financing Raise, which includes both government and private funds.
“This partnership is an example of how the federal government advances its research and development progress by partnering with our country’s promising entrepreneurs and innovators,” Shawn Phillips, chief of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s rocket propulsion division, said in a statement. .
Ursa Major founder and CEO Joe Laurienti said the company produced and tested the £5,000 Hadley at its facility in Berthoud, Colorado. The agreement with the Air Force would give the 3D-printed engine a “stamp of approval” and increase customer confidence in the technology, he said.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Laurienti told SpaceNews.
AFRL is a customer of the Hadley engine – which uses liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants – to power the X-60A airdrop missile designed for hypersonic flight research. The program supports Air Force plans to develop hypersonic missiles.
Under the AFRL contract, Ursa Major will test the engine’s performance in harsher flight conditions than normally expected by commercial customers, Laurienti said. “It’s a really broad qualifying campaign.”
This agreement “confirms the dual-use nature of this engine that we’ve been so aggressive about,” he said. “The same engine should work for a commercial launcher or a government launcher without being more expensive.”
The qualifying test campaign will seek to demonstrate that Hadley “operates safely and reliably within the power level and mix ratio required for missions of DoD importance,” Laurienti said.
The qualification will include multiple Hadley engines, and the Air Force will get data on measurements of specific impulses, or ISP, combustion stability, vibration and shock profiles and range of intake pressures and temperatures, he said.
Ursa Major produces about 30 Hadley engines per year for the Air Force and various commercial customers, including small launcher startup Phantom Space and Stratolaunch, which uses a massive carrier to launch rocket-powered hypersonic vehicles.
Laurienti said the company has delivered 12 engines so far this year. After an $85 million funding round last year, Ursa Major’s workforce has grown to 250 employees.
The company is developing a larger engine called Ripley, which can generate 50,000 pounds of thrust.
“We’re getting bigger and bigger,” says Laurienti. “I don’t think that’s necessarily because we’re seeing declining demand in the small launch space. It’s more because we see more versatility in bigger vehicles.”