Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) reached a major milestone in the advancement of hypersonic propulsion with its patented VORTEX engine, advancing to the next phase of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) Operational Fires (OpFires) program. Through OpFires, SNC is extending its hybrid VORTEX engine capabilities to advanced, deep throttling, restartable propulsion systems. The system utilizes benign solid fuel with a liquid oxidizer, both of which are storable on Earth and in space. Recent testing shows positive results in being able to package significant energy into a small volume that will have the ability for deep throttling and smooth restart capabilities on command.
The first two phases of DARPA’s OpFires program focus on the propulsion technologies required to deliver diverse payloads to a variety of ranges. Since Phase 1 contract award, SNC has made critical discoveries in advanced rocket motor technology for the OpFires upper stage, completing more than 30 motor trials from subscale through full size. SNC hopes to demonstrate these engines in flight and offer the engines to new, promising vehicle systems.
In addition to the deep throttling, restartable, storable system for DARPA, SNC is expanding its propulsion capabilities and products with near-term flight for its Dream Chaser spaceplane Reaction Control System, maturation of upper stage engines and development of other liquid storable engines for spacecraft, lunar, and other exploration and protection applications. SNC is also co-investing with the U.S. Air Force (USAF) for development of the engine for USAF needs.
SNC is a leader in solving the world’s toughest challenges through best-of-breed, open architecture engineering in Space Systems, Commercial Solutions, and National Security and Defense. SNC is recognized among the three most innovative U.S. companies in space, as a Tier One Superior Supplier for the U.S. Air Force, and as one of America’s fastest growing companies. SNC’s 55-year legacy of state-of-the art civil, military and commercial solutions includes delivering more than 4,000 space systems, subsystems and components to customers worldwide, and participation in more than 450 missions to space, including Mars.