Home Air Sierra Nevada Corp tests VORTEX engine for DARPA’s OpFires hypersonic program

Sierra Nevada Corp tests VORTEX engine for DARPA’s OpFires hypersonic program

VORTEX engine
Photo: US Army

Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) announced it has 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.

SNC said it is extending its hybrid VORTEX engine capabilities to advanced, deep throttling, restartable propulsion systems, for the OpFires undertaking. The system utilizes benign solid fuel with a liquid oxidizer, both of which are storable on Earth and in space.

According to the company, 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 VORTEX flows integrated into the hybrid significantly improves performance of the hybrid engine” said Dr. Marty Chiaverini, director of Propulsion Systems at SNC.

OpFires is a joint DARPA and US Army program seeking to develop an advanced booster capable of delivering a variety of payloads at a variety of ranges. Additional considerations include the need for compatible mobile ground launch platforms enabling integration with existing ground forces and infrastructure, and specific system attributes required for rapid deployment and redeployment.

The goal of the program is to develop and demonstrate a novel ground-launched system enabling hypersonic boost glide weapons to penetrate modern enemy air defenses and rapidly and precisely engage critical time sensitive targets.

The OpFires program will conduct a series of subsystem tests designed to evaluate component design and system compatibility, and culminate in integrated end-to-end flight tests.

“This program opens up a new market for SNC for preplanned or on-demand propulsion control capabilities that are applicable to both military and beyond Earth orbit propulsion capabilities,” said Tom Crabb, vice president of SNC’s Propulsion & Environmental Systems business unit. “Deep throttling and restart capabilities expand the tools for smart and unpredictable trajectories for various vehicles and systems.”

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.