Engine for Phantom Express assembled and prepped for tests
Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed the assembly of the first AR-22 rocket engine at Stennis Space Center. The engine was built for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Experimental Spaceplane program. The purpose of the new spaceplane, called Phantom Express, is to demonstrate more routine and affordable access to space.
The AR-22 engine is derived from the Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME) which was designed for reusability and constitutes the main propulsion for Phantom Express.
“Phantom Express builds on our legacy of reusable space flight experience to provide the ability to quickly augment and replace on-orbit capabilities, which face an increasing array of threats from potential adversaries,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president via a company-issued release. “Our immediate task is to demonstrate this rapid turnaround capability for this engine on the ground, paving the way for a demonstration program.”
The AR-22 engine is capable of generating some 375,000 pounds (170,097 kg) of thrust and was designed to carry out 55 flights with service missions planned for every ten flights. If everything goes at it currently planned, the Phantom Express will launch vertically and land horizontally. The vehicle is designed to be equipped with an expendable second stage capable of placing up to 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of payload into low Earth orbit.
“The aircraft-like operations of Phantom Express are an important factor in the rapid turnaround of this spaceplane,” said AR-22 Program Manager Jeff Haynes. “Additionally, the engine has a hinged nacelle that makes it easier to access and inspect the engines for rapid turnaround.”
If everything goes as it is currently scheduled, the AR-22 engine should begin daily hot-fire tests this summer at Stennis to demonstrate its ability to support the high flight rates that are currently envisioned for Phantom Express. These tests could also provide insights as to what is reuired to refine turnaround procedures for Phantom Express, while also guiding the design requirements for the new ground infrastructure that Boeing is developing for the vehicle’s flight program.
Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.