Rocket-powered aircraft on the runway

Californian-based space company XCOR Aerospace has won a US Air Force contract to design a rocket-powered vehicle capable of reaching 200,000ft altitude and supersonic speeds.

Using government and private funding, XCOR plans to develop a simple, all-rocket powered vehicle that will fly low suborbital demonstration missions.

The vehicle will build on XCOR’s previous commercial and government technology projects, including reusable liquid rocket engines that are capable of hundreds of restarts, piston propellant pumps, low-cost highly reliable valves, rapid propellant filling techniques, and proven reliable ignition systems.

Supersonic: the rocket-powered vehicle is designed to reach 200,000ft altitudes

XCOR has several years’ experience with a rocket powered vehicle, the EZ-Rocket, which flew 26 times, demonstrated a three-hour turnaround time, and flew two sorties a day.

The contract will allow the USAF to demonstrate high-performance rocket systems and a working prototype that can be used in military and future civilian applications, according to XCOR.

Some of the factors that will be investigated are the labour hours required per flight, turnaround time, what subsystems require the most maintenance, what their frequency of failure is and how long they take to replace.

Based on the results of these tests, XCOR plans to develop new technologies such as more durable sub-systems, or other technologies that the USAF may want to evaluate for their impact on vehicle performance and responsiveness.