ST. LOUIS — Rocket propulsion startup Ursa Major announced May 23 it won a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory contract to support the development of two of the company’s rocket engines.

The Colorado-based company said it could not disclose the value of the agreement but said it is an “eight-figure” contract,, larger than a previous $3.6 million Air Force contract it received last year for development of Ursa Major’s Hadley engine for small launch vehicles. 

The new contract funds development of the company’s Draper engine for hypersonic vehicles and its 200,000-pound thrust Arroway engine for larger rockets.

“Under the contract, Ursa Major will build and test a prototype of its new Draper engine for hypersonics, and further develop its 200,000-pound thrust Arroway engine for space launch,” the company said.

Shawn Phillips, chief of AFRL’s rocket propulsion division, said Ursa Major “continues to be an important partner to AFRL as we build hypersonics capabilities and remove America’s dependence on foreign propulsion systems for launch.”

The Draper engine is a 4,000-pound-thrust closed cycle hydrogen peroxide engine designed for hypersonic applications. Because its propellant is storable, the engine can provide rapid-response capabilities, founder and CEO Joe Laurienti said. Ursa Major plans to build a dedicated test stand for Draper and plans to hotfire the engine within 12 months.

“The United States faces a gap in hypersonic capabilities,” he said. 

The Draper engine has the storable characteristics of a solid motor but with the higher performance and maneuverability of a liquid engine, Laurienti said. “Those qualities allow it to better simulate hypersonic threats as a target vehicle.” 

The engine would be used to build target vehicles simulating hypersonic missile threats.

Arroway engine

AFRL is also supporting the development of Arroway, a reusable liquid oxygen and methane staged combustion engine for medium and heavy launch vehicles, expected to hotfire in 2025.

The engine was introduced in August 2022 with the goal os supporting next-generation heavy launch. 

Ursa Major designs, manufacturers and tests engines in Berthoud, Colorado. Many of its components are 3D printed. 

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...