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XCOR Aerospace successfully tests piston pump powered rocket

Last week saw the successful test by XCOR Aerospace of their LYNX rocket engine with both propellant and oxidiser being supplied by positive displacement pumps – a claimed first in the industry.

Based in Mojave, California, XCOR is one of a number of small aerospace companies there making innovative steps towards low-cost spaceflight. Last week XCOR successfully tested an engine meant for their LYNX suborbital spacecraft, designed to travel to 100km up to four times per day by using the same craft taking off from the ground, flying to the edge of space and landing instead of a mothership-and-orbiter approach.

XCOR intends to do this by making the rocket engine in LYNX as economical to build, maintain and operate as possible, and part of this is the design of the pumps feeding the propellant and oxidiser into the engine itself. Almost all rockets today use either turbo, or rotary, pumps or feed the oxidiser and fuel into the combustion chamber under pressure from an inert gas supply.

XCOR is banking on being able to dispense with expensive turbopumps and instead replace them with much easier to produce positive displacement pumps operating at high speed, similar in operation to the pistons in your car engine.

Last week saw this approach bear fruit in a spectacular way:  a 67-second engine run with the propulsion system mated to the flight weight Lynx fuselage.

You can find out more about XCOR by visiting .

Image: XCOR XR-5K18 “Lynx” main engine test. Credit: Mike Massee/XCOR 

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About The Author
My name's Chris Pounds. I started Astronomy Aggregator in 2012 as a hobby site for my interests in spaceflight and astronomy. I'm finishing up an MSc. in Aerospace Engineering. My undergraduate degree was in Mechanical Engineering with a final year dissertation focussed on performance characteristics of aerospike rocket nozzles.
  • April 23, 2013 at 13:59

    This is the first time i am reading about a rocket using piston technology and in my opinion it is better to use such kind of pumps instead of expensive turbopumps.

    • astroagg
      April 24, 2013 at 14:35

      Well the reason large rockets use turbopumps is because large rockets use a lot of propellant very quickly and turbopumps are the way to get it because pumps like the XCOR version would probably fly apart under the strain.

      XCOR’s system can get away with using a piston pump because their rockets are much smaller and dont need as much propellant or oxidiser.

      Compare the Lynx’s engines – each one produces 2900lbf of thrust compared to a Space X Merlin engine producing 161,000lbf.

  • Steven Dempsey
    June 5, 2013 at 00:40

    This is pretty sweet. The pumps that actually move the fluids are probably still costly and complex, especially the LOX one.

    I was wondering what that 4-port housing was; the Lynx will have four nozzles.

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