STENNIS SPACE CENTER, MS (WLOX) - The rocket engine designed for the next generation of delivering payloads into space continues to be tested at Stennis Space Center.
The latest burn of the AR-22 engine designed by Aerojet Rocketdyne took place on Monday.
The engine is currently going through 10 days of 100-second burns to demonstrate its reliability for future use, which will be to blast the unmanned Boeing Phantom Express experimental space plane into orbit and deliver satellites and other payloads to space daily.
Those involved said the test was "boring." In other words, there were no problems. For the AR staff, and those with Boeing and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DERPA), "boring" means everything is on schedule.
The AR-22 will be used with the experimental space plane, which, when operational, will act as a daily payload delivery vehicle for satellites going into service.
"Being able to operate that engine daily is critical and proving we can operate that main engine is a critical risk mitigation for the program. So we're really excited about the progress we're making here at Stennis," said Boeing Phantom Express Project Manager Steve Johnston.
The way the plane works is like how the Space Shuttle used to operate, but with much more frequency.
"This takes off like a conventional rocket," said DEPA Program Manager Scott Wierzbanowski. "It is a vertical take-off. It will release its payload in the 200,000 to 300,000-mile range, then go ahead and land horizontally. So it'll land on a runway, and it'll go back to the launch pad and launch vertically again the next day."
The AR-22 engine is like the shuttle's RS-25. The hope is the AR-22 will work just as well as its predecessor did, only this engine will be used on a daily basis.
"If we're able to have a system that's re-useable and can be used often, we're able to reduce the cost of the program or the cost of payloads into orbit by orders of magnitude. So we're talking single-digit millions of dollars in order to get a payload into orbit," Wierzbanowski said.
The Boeing Phantom Express space plane will be able to deliver payloads between 3,000 to 5,000 pounds. And if everything goes as planned, the deliveries could begin as early as 2021.