Ursa Major plans to destroy the trend for vertical integration in the design of launch vehicles

Original author: Caleb Henry
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Most developers of new launch vehicles prefer to create engines on their own. Ursa Major Technologies wants to change that. The photo shows three of the eight Hadley engines (kerosene-liquid oxygen fuel vapor), built by the company after the launch of their mass production. Photo source: Ursa Major Technologies

A start-up from Colorado, Ursa Major Technologies (UMT) launched a line of rocket engines in the expectation that small media designers would prefer ready-made solutions instead of self-built ones.

Just this spring, Ursa Major has already delivered several copies of its first product - a motor called Hadley, a load of ~ 2267 kgf on a kerosene-liquid oxygen fuel pair - to the client of the Generation Orbit; also in the development of a larger version of the engine.

Founded in 2015, Ursa Major received a grant from the Space Angels Network, a “initial investors” syndicate that was previously sponsored by NanoRacks, Made In Space, Planet and other promising space-related startups in the autumn of the same year; UMT also recruited Deborah Lee James and Northrop Grumman CEO Ronald Sugar as consultants for the former Air Force.

The main task in Ursa Major is to see a paradigm shift in the developers of small systems: they should be given to design and manufacture of engines to outsource, and not try to copy the methodology of SpaceX or Blue Origin.
The founder and CEO of UMT Joe Laurenti formulated this idea as follows: “The first thing we hear as an argument is“ but our engine is special and our company will not be without it. ” Suppose, but if through the use of third-party engines, it will be possible to increase the margin, it will probably be interesting to most anyway. ”

Three leaders in the field of ultra-small launch vehicles - Rocket Lab, Virgin Orbit and Vector Space Systems - have so far built their own engines. But at least two companies, Generation Orbit and ABL Space Systems, have voiced their plans for using Ursa Major products in their own launch vehicles.
Generation Orbit from Atlanta conducted a test burn in June at the site of the Cecil Florida CosmodromeJacksonville; Integrated ground tests with the connection of "running mockups" of fuel and oxidizer tanks showed that Hadley is fully capable of accelerating a GOLauncher1 single-stage rocket with an air launch at least to hypersonic speeds.
ABL Space Systems, based in El Segundo , California, is formed mainly from SpaceX and the Virgin Orbit; here they build a two-stage PH RS1 with an expected launch price of about $ 17 million - the second stage is also designed using Hadley, and the first with two Ripley engines from UMT, with a total load of ~ 32 tf. The first launch of the carrier is expected in 2020.

Laurenti believes that by focusing exclusively on engines, his company creates a product better than those who disperse the resources to manufacture the entire rocket; according to Joe, the launch services industry is waiting for the same thing as aviation once, and providers will start making money on operating activities, and not on the direct production of components.
“Look carefully — do you see Boeing making engines for itself?” And of course, United Airlines is not doing this, ”Laurenti explains.“ No, United Airlines is engaged in delivering something from point A to point B, just like the United Launch Alliance or SpaceX. The ability not to fence up vertically integrated chains is what we want to give other companies. ”

However, before founding Ursa Major, Laurenti himself worked in SpaceX, and in Blue Origin - like a big half of his employees. The result is obvious: driving in the autumn of 2016 into a building that once belonged to Ball Aerospace in Berthau, Colorado, measuring about 585 square meters, Joe and his team were burning Hadley, their first engine, by the spring of 2018, after 16 months of development and production ; by this time, as Laurenti said, eight have already been made. Also, the company promises to finish the larger Ripley engine on the same fuel pair as Hadley by 2020, but with a load of ~ 16 tf. “If even one or two rocket startups succeed, then we’ll get our market share,” says Joe.

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