Author Topic: Ursa Major Technologies  (Read 8069 times)

Offline uranium

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Ursa Major Technologies
« on: 09/30/2016 03:51 PM »
http://www.ursamajortechnologies.com/#home

"...manufacturer or turnkey propulsion solutions for a wide range of vehicles sized for servicing the micro- and nanosatellite launch community."

I see at least one engineer from Blue Origin, and a few photos on their Instagram feed here: https://www.instagram.com/ursamajortechnologies/

I'd be interested to hear more.

Offline jongoff

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #1 on: 10/04/2016 05:04 AM »
http://www.ursamajortechnologies.com/#home

"...manufacturer or turnkey propulsion solutions for a wide range of vehicles sized for servicing the micro- and nanosatellite launch community."

I see at least one engineer from Blue Origin, and a few photos on their Instagram feed here: https://www.instagram.com/ursamajortechnologies/

I'd be interested to hear more.

You beat me to the punch on starting a thread about Ursa Major. I had intended to start one a week ago, but wanted to check with them first to see if they wanted the attention. Apparently they're not planning on saying much in public until they have their engine firing, but were happy to have a NSF thread started for them.

Key publicly-available info worth mentioning:

1- They're working on a 5klbf LOX/Kero staged combustion engine that is made from predominately 3D printed parts. This engine could be used in clusters for a booster engine, or more likely as an upper stage engine.
2- They're then planning to do a ~35klbf LOX/Kero or LOX/Methane engine, also leveraging 3D printing and staged combustion.
3- They just moved into a facility in Berthoud, Colorado that includes both design/fabrication, and colocated testing facilities. I got a tour about a week ago, and it's the kind of site I would've loved to have found back when I was thinking Altius was a rocket company.
4- Their team is primarily ex-Blue Origin engineers (a lot of core members of the BE-3 team), with several having worked at SpaceX on Merlin 1D before that. This team is sharp, and really seem to know what they're doing. Though the proof in that pudding will be in the testing...

~Jon

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #2 on: 10/04/2016 05:30 AM »
I wonder what companies they think will buy their engines.  There are a lot of small-launcher start-ups these days, but it seems like they all build their own engines.

Offline kch

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #3 on: 10/04/2016 06:17 AM »
I wonder what companies they think will buy their engines.  There are a lot of small-launcher start-ups these days, but it seems like they all build their own engines.

How many of those start-ups have had problems (and/or fallen by the wayside) due to various engine-related difficulties?  If they can supply reliable, reasonably-priced engines in suitable sizes that perform well, perhaps more of the start-ups would be successful ... worth a try, I would think.  :)

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #4 on: 10/04/2016 07:22 AM »
I wonder what companies they think will buy their engines.  There are a lot of small-launcher start-ups these days, but it seems like they all build their own engines.

How many of those start-ups have had problems (and/or fallen by the wayside) due to various engine-related difficulties?  If they can supply reliable, reasonably-priced engines in suitable sizes that perform well, perhaps more of the start-ups would be successful ... worth a try, I would think.  :)

It also limits what a launch start-up can do because they have to build a launcher around an existing engine, and it limits how much differentiation the launch company can really have.  It also means more levels of risk for Ursa Major: the risk they won't meet their technical goals, the risk no start-up launch company will materialize to buy it, and the risk that start-up will fail.  It's more than the usual risk.

It also means the engines will be less well-tuned to a particular launch design because the launcher and the engine aren't developed together.

And it can make it harder for a start-up to gain funding if they say they'll use Ursa Major engines because then there's less differentiation the launch company can do -- other companies could pop up that also use the same Ursa Major engines.  And the start-up will have more risks it can't control -- Ursa Major having technical failures or going out of business.  And the interests of the engine manufacturer and rocket manufacturer won't be aligned.

In a mature market, such as that for aircraft, a supply chain with multiple layers that separates the engine manufacturers from the airframe manufacturers can flourish, because there are multiple proven, stable suppliers at each level.  It's less clear that can happen when the market (small satellite launch) hasn't even been proven yet.

Offline kch

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #5 on: 10/04/2016 08:33 AM »
I wonder what companies they think will buy their engines.  There are a lot of small-launcher start-ups these days, but it seems like they all build their own engines.

How many of those start-ups have had problems (and/or fallen by the wayside) due to various engine-related difficulties?  If they can supply reliable, reasonably-priced engines in suitable sizes that perform well, perhaps more of the start-ups would be successful ... worth a try, I would think.  :)

It also limits what a launch start-up can do because they have to build a launcher around an existing engine, and it limits how much differentiation the launch company can really have.  It also means more levels of risk for Ursa Major: the risk they won't meet their technical goals, the risk no start-up launch company will materialize to buy it, and the risk that start-up will fail.  It's more than the usual risk.

It also means the engines will be less well-tuned to a particular launch design because the launcher and the engine aren't developed together.

And it can make it harder for a start-up to gain funding if they say they'll use Ursa Major engines because then there's less differentiation the launch company can do -- other companies could pop up that also use the same Ursa Major engines.  And the start-up will have more risks it can't control -- Ursa Major having technical failures or going out of business.  And the interests of the engine manufacturer and rocket manufacturer won't be aligned.

In a mature market, such as that for aircraft, a supply chain with multiple layers that separates the engine manufacturers from the airframe manufacturers can flourish, because there are multiple proven, stable suppliers at each level.  It's less clear that can happen when the market (small satellite launch) hasn't even been proven yet.

Well said.  It will be interesting to watch how this unfolds.  "Time will tell -- it always does."

Online savuporo

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #6 on: 10/04/2016 09:09 AM »
I wonder what companies they think will buy their engines.  There are a lot of small-launcher start-ups these days, but it seems like they all build their own engines.

How many of those start-ups have had problems (and/or fallen by the wayside) due to various engine-related difficulties?  If they can supply reliable, reasonably-priced engines in suitable sizes that perform well, perhaps more of the start-ups would be successful ... worth a try, I would think.  :)

Which ones failed because engines didn't work? Of all the failed would be space companies, and there are many, I can't even recall one.

If anything, it seems that everyone thinks that if you built an engine on a test stand, you now have orbital launch business and ready to build solar powersats or something
Orion - the first and only manned not-too-deep-space craft

Online Gliderflyer

Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #7 on: 10/04/2016 02:57 PM »
According to a recent TRMO interview, Generation Orbit will be using Ursa Major engines for their launch vehicle:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CZ5ixpz6f8#t=45m
I tried it at home

Offline ChrisWilson68

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #8 on: 10/04/2016 03:51 PM »
According to a recent TRMO interview, Generation Orbit will be using Ursa Major engines for their launch vehicle:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CZ5ixpz6f8#t=45m

Good find!

I had never even heard of Generation Orbit before.

It seemed pretty odd that in the interview the guy was on a video call from his house.  Small start-ups need to project the impression that they're real businesses that are going to last, and doing a press interview on a video call from a house gives the opposite impression.


Offline jongoff

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #9 on: 10/04/2016 04:59 PM »
I wonder what companies they think will buy their engines.  There are a lot of small-launcher start-ups these days, but it seems like they all build their own engines.

There are a few smallsat launch companies not baselining internally developed propulsion, and those would be an obvious market for Ursa Major. The other market would be convincing bigger companies that their engines offer enough of a performance advantage compared to their solutions that it would be worth switching over to Ursa Major's design after they start flying.

Being staged combustion, they're going to get better Isp than gas generator engines, and they'll likely beat electropumped engines on T/W ratio if you include the battery mass. A lot depends on what performance they hit, how much the engines cost, etc., but it's not unreasonable to think they could find a market for their engines.

~Jon

Offline jongoff

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #10 on: 10/04/2016 05:11 PM »
According to a recent TRMO interview, Generation Orbit will be using Ursa Major engines for their launch vehicle:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CZ5ixpz6f8#t=45m

Gliderflyer,

Good catch! I had heard the news (from both parties), but didn't know it was public info, so I didn't mention it earlier.

An interesting thing about Generation Orbit is that they've won a Phase II SBIR from AFRL to develop an air-launched suborbital rocket for launching hypersonic test articles. AIUI based on previous public comments from them, this will be the pathfinder for their fully-orbital vehicle, and likely has a decent market from the AFRL and other research groups.

So Ursa has at least one realistic customer, and one that may have most or all of the funding they need to put Ursa Major's engine into flight operations, and provide them with some modest near-term demand. The question to me is if they can get something high enough performance and reliable enough to get someone like VG or RocketLabs to bite. Convincing someone to switch from Make to Buy is a lot harder than convincing someone who isn't making yet to buy.

~Jon

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #11 on: 10/04/2016 05:55 PM »
ULA don't build their own engines, which gives them more options when developing new LVs. The ACES has option of 3 engines and give stage design maybe able switch engines in future without a total redesign. Vulcan is little different as there are 2 fuel option.

Offline jongoff

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #12 on: 10/04/2016 09:34 PM »
ULA don't build their own engines, which gives them more options when developing new LVs. The ACES has option of 3 engines and give stage design maybe able switch engines in future without a total redesign. Vulcan is little different as there are 2 fuel option.

I don't think they're planning on anything Vulcan sized, and while the whole team does have LOX/LH2 experience from their involvement in BE-3 development, I don't think that they're planning on throwing their hat into the ring for an ACES upper stage engine competitor. They're primarily focused on the smallsat launch market.

Not stating anything final, it's not my company after all, but that doesn't seem like the market segment they're currently chasing.

~Jon

Offline A_M_Swallow

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #13 on: 10/05/2016 12:51 AM »
The main engine of a spacecraft may be a large engine but its RCS can be medium sized. Using the same propellant can simplify the design of the vehicle.

Start up are short of money and have a small time to market. An off the shelf engine reduces both.

Offline TrevorMonty

Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #14 on: 10/05/2016 01:43 AM »
ULA don't build their own engines, which gives them more options when developing new LVs. The ACES has option of 3 engines and give stage design maybe able switch engines in future without a total redesign. Vulcan is little different as there are 2 fuel option.

I don't think they're planning on anything Vulcan sized, and while the whole team does have LOX/LH2 experience from their involvement in BE-3 development, I don't think that they're planning on throwing their hat into the ring for an ACES upper stage engine competitor. They're primarily focused on the smallsat launch market.

Not stating anything final, it's not my company after all, but that doesn't seem like the market segment they're currently chasing.

~Jon
My post was to point out that not all LV companies make their own engines and benefits of sourcing externally.
 I should of made it more clear.


Offline leaflion

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #15 on: 10/15/2016 06:29 AM »
The main engine of a spacecraft may be a large engine but its RCS can be medium sized. Using the same propellant can simplify the design of the vehicle.

Start up are short of money and have a small time to market. An off the shelf engine reduces both.

You typically don't see staged combustion thrusters for RCS.  There is a reason for this-they take too long to startup and shutdown.  In order to get RCS-type speeds you can't really have turbomachinery.  Imagine if your steering wheel took 1 second to turn on and then another to turn off when you were driving.  You would crash.

The same applies for escape motors.  Hence why superdraco is pressure-fed.  Also, pressure-fed hypergolic is about the easiest possible engine to develop.

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #16 on: 10/15/2016 08:42 AM »
Key publicly-available info worth mentioning:

1- They're working on a 5klbf LOX/Kero staged combustion engine that is made from predominately 3D printed parts. This engine could be used in clusters for a booster engine, or more likely as an upper stage engine.
Interesting size as this is the level that John Whitehead's team at Lawrence Livermore reckoned it was a toss up between reciprocating pump fed and other engine types, mostly (IIRC) due to the complexity of small turbine design and mfg. What's tough for GG cycle engines is not  going to be any easier for SC engines.

I'll note Whitehead reckoned the problem with small pumped engines is the chamber. In the 500lb range for AKM and probe missions they were all pressure feds and hence quite large. They estimated a pumped chamber could be 1/5 the size and weight of a pressure fed chamber, with significant benefits on both space probe and comm sat size and weight budgets.
Quote
2- They're then planning to do a ~35klbf LOX/Kero or LOX/Methane engine, also leveraging 3D printing and staged combustion.
Another interesting size around the RL10. I'd say they would be angling for some ULA business but doesn't Blue (and possibly XCOR )already have a pretty solid relationship with them?
LOX/Kero should be easier to be space storable than LH2 but that missions that need that capability. Then you have to be able to at least match that of LH2 at some level of chamber pressure and nozzle size.
Quote
3- They just moved into a facility in Berthoud, Colorado that includes both design/fabrication, and colocated testing facilities. I got a tour about a week ago, and it's the kind of site I would've loved to have found back when I was thinking Altius was a rocket company.
Sounds useful if they are looking to do fast design cycles
Quote
4- Their team is primarily ex-Blue Origin engineers (a lot of core members of the BE-3 team), with several having worked at SpaceX on Merlin 1D before that. This team is sharp, and really seem to know what they're doing. Though the proof in that pudding will be in the testing...
It sounds like an interesting mix of skills and equipment.  I'm reminded of XCOR as a propulsion group coming from a larger company and I wish them well. Interesting the BE-3 was listed as a LH2 gas tap off design, which would have only been the 2nd US engine after the original J-2X in the late 1960's.

Personally I've always wondered if gas tapoff can be done with LOX/Kero or if there is some inherent problem, as it's a mechanically simpler cycle that eliminates one set of combustion devices entirely. AFAIK it's never  been done with LOX/Kero and that would be very cutting edge.
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Offline baldusi

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #17 on: 10/15/2016 12:42 PM »
For tap-off you need a heat exchanger to lower the gas temp to under 700K. And the gas has to be clean enough not to foul the turbine. Hydrogen is something like 20 times better than RP-1 at cooling, and it polymerizes at Pc/Tc. I don't think you can really do a kerolox tap-off. Methane would probably be totally doable. But if their experience include Merlin 1D and BE-3, I would totally trust their technical decisions.

Offline jongoff

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #18 on: 10/15/2016 03:27 PM »
Key publicly-available info worth mentioning:

1- They're working on a 5klbf LOX/Kero staged combustion engine that is made from predominately 3D printed parts. This engine could be used in clusters for a booster engine, or more likely as an upper stage engine.
Interesting size as this is the level that John Whitehead's team at Lawrence Livermore reckoned it was a toss up between reciprocating pump fed and other engine types, mostly (IIRC) due to the complexity of small turbine design and mfg. What's tough for GG cycle engines is not  going to be any easier for SC engines.

That was what, 15-20yrs ago now? Has anyone revisited his assessment based on modern manufacturing, materials, and CAE capabilities?

Quote
Quote
2- They're then planning to do a ~35klbf LOX/Kero or LOX/Methane engine, also leveraging 3D printing and staged combustion.
Another interesting size around the RL10. I'd say they would be angling for some ULA business but doesn't Blue (and possibly XCOR )already have a pretty solid relationship with them?
LOX/Kero should be easier to be space storable than LH2 but that missions that need that capability. Then you have to be able to at least match that of LH2 at some level of chamber pressure and nozzle size.

Ursa's pretty clear that their 35klbf LOX/HC concept is focused on addressing what they think the microsat launch market is looking for in a first stage booster engine, not trying to compete with XCOR/AJR/Blue for the ACES upper stage engine contract. And ULA is not going to switch from LOX/LH2 for ACES. Full-stop.

But, that doesn't mean Ursa couldn't subsequently adapt this to LOX/LH2 and add a nozzle extension for upper-stage operations. The Ursa team does have the LOX/LH2 experience to do so from their BE-3 days, but it would depend on them identifying a clear and believable market opportunity. That's just not something that I think is on their radar currently.

~Jon

Offline AncientU

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Re: Ursa Major Technologies
« Reply #19 on: 10/15/2016 10:11 PM »
I wonder what companies they think will buy their engines.  There are a lot of small-launcher start-ups these days, but it seems like they all build their own engines.

There are a few smallsat launch companies not baselining internally developed propulsion, and those would be an obvious market for Ursa Major. The other market would be convincing bigger companies that their engines offer enough of a performance advantage compared to their solutions that it would be worth switching over to Ursa Major's design after they start flying.

Being staged combustion, they're going to get better Isp than gas generator engines, and they'll likely beat electropumped engines on T/W ratio if you include the battery mass. A lot depends on what performance they hit, how much the engines cost, etc., but it's not unreasonable to think they could find a market for their engines.

~Jon

Adds considerably to the robustness of the market when different market segmentations are attempted by start-ups.  This trend is promising for the launch market as a whole.
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