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Launcher successfully tests E-2 engine turbopump

Highest performance recorded for a US-made kerosene rocket engine turbopump

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In the latest test of its E-2 rocket engine for the U.S. Space Force, Launcher demonstrated the capabilities of its E-2 engine turbopump, recording the highest performance of a kerosene rocket engine turbopump ever manufactured in the United States (above, a video of the 2-minute test performed on September 22, 2022)

The milestone follows Launcher’s successful test-fire demonstrating the highest-performing liquid oxygen & kerosene rocket engine combustion chamber ever built in the United States.

“We would like to thank the U.S. Space Force and NASA for their support of innovation and for making Launcher’s latest high-performance records possible,” said Launcher CEO Max Haot. “By achieving our turbopump milestone, Launcher is one step closer to realizing its mission to expand space access.” Launcher’s partners also include Velo3D, EOS, and NASA Stennis Space Center, supporting and technology enabling the development of our E-2 liquid rocket engine.

Launcher’s E-2 engine is a closed-cycle liquid rocket engine that will power its Light rocket to orbit with a single engine in its first stage. The successful E-2 turbopump tests took place in late September 2022 at NASA Stennis Space Center. The E-2 test team achieved or exceeded all power, input and output pressure, efficiency, and vibration goals over the course of 11 tests, including long duration, cavitation, and boosted flow.

Launcher successfully tests E-2 engine turbopump registering the highest performance for a US-made kerosene rocket engine turbopump

The pump assembly used Kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOX) as working fluids. The power for the turbine in this test campaign was high-pressure gaseous nitrogen. This test milestone was formally approved by the U.S. Space Force as part of Launcher’s Tactical Funding Increase (TACFI) contract.

To achieve this high-performance milestone, the E-2 turbopump assembly was designed for high pressure capabilities, with 330 bar (4,786 psi) of liquid oxygen and fuel output pressure achieved enabling E-2’s high-pressure oxidizer-rich staged combustion engine cycle. Thanks to additive manufacturing, the E-2 turbopump is also lightweight and compact: the single-shaft turbopump includes a turbine, two fuel pumps (RP-1) and a liquid oxygen pump (LOX).

This streamlined turbine design achieves an industry-leading 72% efficiency – surpassing the typical 60% efficiency found on other rocket engine turbopump turbines. Its high-efficiency pumps allow the E-2 to keep its engine pre-burner at a low temperature (200°C), thereby lowering the cost of materials and reducing the risk of oxygen flammability, a key challenge in developing oxidizer-rich staged combustion engines. It also provides a margin to achieve designed engine thrust levels. The turbopump’s simplified design also eliminates the need for a kicker turbine or liquid oxygen booster pump, despite a relatively low input pressure from the rocket propellant tanks.

The E-2 engine turbopump was additively manufactured at Launcher’s facility, which enabled the startup company to control the cost and lead time of turbine, housings, rotating inducers, and impellers. Launcher’s E-2 engine performance specification is a critical component in its commitment to build the highest-performing liquid rocket engine of any small launch vehicle worldwide. Performance is key to expanding space access by reducing the propellant needed to reach orbital speed – thus increasing the potential payload mass and revenue-generating capacity of the launch vehicle.

As part of the U.S. Space Force’s TACFI contract, Launcher’s next step in E-2 engine development will be pre-burner component testing beginning in November 2022, followed by a long-duration test of the integrated E-2 engine (thrust chamber and turbopump in a closed-cycle) in Q1 2023.

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