Suborbital Vehicle Parts Tested on Triumph (Video)

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Triumph Speed Triple Used to Test Propulsion Parts for Lynx Suborbital Vehicle

One would think that when testing mechanical parts for its suborbital vehicle, the Lynx, XCOR Aerospace would be using some high-tech machinery.

But the story was quite different last month for the California-based company. Instead of using a machine that could cost up to $500 a minute (yes, a minute) to test some bearings for the rocket-propellant piston pump in one of its Lynx vehicles, XCOR used a motorcycle – a Triumph Street Triple.

The Triumph was integrated with the bearings, and ridden from Roswell, N.M., to Mojave, Calif., in April. The test allowed XCOR to test the piston pump bearings for its liquid rocket-powered Lynx-family of vehicles, which serve three missions – research and scientific missions, private spaceflight, and micro satellite launch (only on the Lynx Mark III).

Dan DeLong (XCOR Chief Engineer) says: “We debated how best to put many hours of wear time on the critical bearing components of our rocket propellant piston pump, that are subject to significant wear and tear.

“This particular motorcycle, the Triumph Street Triple, develops about the same horsepower and has the same cylinder arrangement as the liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel pumps for the Lynx suborbital spacecraft. That makes it ideal for a long-life pump test platform. The bike is much less expensive to operate than the full up rocket pump test stand. We’re adding hours of run time each ride, not just minutes.”

First, the Triumph Street Triple was customized with the XCOR rocket piston pump technology. The team then shipped the motorcycle to Motion Performance in Roswell.

Once the machine was used for some education purposes at local schools, the XCOR team took off from the Robert Goddard Museum, which honors the father of modern liquid rocketry and his early pioneering work in Roswell.

Dan DeLong says: “We put twenty hours-the equivalent of 400 Lynx flights-on the rocket pump bearings by driving from Roswell to Mojave taking periodic data readings along the way to make sure things were in good condition. The trip was a great success and the bike performed flawlessly. Plus we got to drive through some of the most spectacular parts of the American Southwest.”

Andrew Nelson (XCOR Chief Operating Officer) says: “XCOR continues to solidify its reputation as an innovative, nimble company when it comes to research and development practices. This test would have cost us over $500 per minute had we operated it on a traditional pump test stand. The entire trip represented about half a million dollars in net savings in both time and money for the company.

“More importantly, it validated that our critical pump subassemblies will have the ultra-long life needed to meet the safety needs of our customers and a vehicle that is designed to fly thousands of times over many years. Oh, and everyone had a lot of fun along the way!”

Mike Valant (XCOR Senior Engineer and Principal Driver) says: “We saw some amazing country. We traveled through New Mexico, passing the Very Large Array, then turned northwards to Route 66, traveling as much of the old highway as possible. Meteor Crater was a highlight, as well as the towns of Holbrook, Seligman, Kingman, Oatman, all the classic waypoints on the Mother Road. We drove through sun, snow, rain and everything in-between. Personally for me, it was one of the greatest adventures I’ve had. It was challenging, and there was a lot of payoff. In addition to keeping the bike on the road through all the weather, we had to pay attention to how it was behaving and make sure there was no trouble.”

Dan DeLong says: “The data show no discernible difference in bearing wear between when we started and when we finished. I call that a success.”

Highlights of the experiment are attached above. For additional information on XCOR Aerospace, log onto xcor.com.