XCOR Aerospace and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have successfully demonstrated hydrogen piston pump technology that could one day lead to pump-fed cryogenic upper-stage rocket engines and on-orbit propellant transfer systems, XCOR and ULA announced June 8 in a joint press release.

Mojave, Calif.-based XCOR said it has been developing piston pumps for more than eight years as an alternative to turbo pumps for space applications. After XCOR performed risk reduction and demonstration projects in 2009 that validated liquid oxygen and liquid nitrogen piston pump operations, ULA asked XCOR whether the pump technology could be used for liquid hydrogen, a common fuel for high-energy upper-stage rockets. In less than four months, according to the joint press release, XCOR built and tested a single piston test article. ULA and XCOR have since begun the next phase of the project to further mature the technology, they said.

“XCOR has demonstrated the beginnings of an important technology development path that has promise to significantly improve the competitiveness of future ULA launch vehicles,” ULA’s vice president of business development and advanced programs, George Sowers, said in a statement.

NASA’s 2011 budget request currently before Congress includes significant funding for advanced propulsion and propellant transfer research.