Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) reached a major milestone in the advancement of hypersonic propulsion with its patented VORTEX engine, advancing to the next phase of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Operational Fires (OpFires) program.
Through OpFires, SNC is extending its hybrid VORTEX engine capabilities to advanced, deep throttling, restartable propulsion systems. The system utilizes benign solid fuel with a liquid oxidizer, both of which are storable on Earth and in space. Recent testing shows positive results in being able to package significant energy into a small volume that will have the ability for deep throttling and smooth restart capabilities on command. “The VORTEX flows integrated into the hybrid significantly improves performance of the hybrid engine” said Dr. Marty Chiaverini, director of Propulsion Systems at SNC.
“This program opens up a new market for SNC for preplanned or on-demand propulsion control capabilities that are applicable to both military and beyond Earth orbit propulsion capabilities,” said Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s Propulsion & Environmental Systems business unit. “Deep throttling and restart capabilities expand the tools for smart and unpredictable trajectories for various vehicles and systems.”
The first two phases of DARPA’s OpFires program focus on the propulsion technologies required to deliver diverse payloads to a variety of ranges. Since Phase 1 contract award, SNC has made critical discoveries in advanced rocket motor technology for the OpFires upper stage, completing more than 30 motor trials from subscale through full size. SNC hopes to demonstrate these engines in flight and offer the engines to new, promising vehicle systems.
In addition to the deep throttling, restartable, storable system for DARPA, SNC is expanding its propulsion capabilities and products with near-term flight for its Dream Chaser spaceplane Reaction Control System, maturation of upper stage engines and development of other liquid storable engines for spacecraft, lunar, and other exploration and protection applications. SNC is also co-investing with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for development of the engine for USAF needs.