NASA awards contract worth $55 million for work on engine for reusable launchers and strike aircraft

General Electric has been selected over Pratt & Whitney and Rolls-Royce to work with NASA's Glenn Research Center on a high-Mach revolutionary turbine accelerator (RTA) demonstrator.

GE plans to offer high-pressure core technology for the RTA based on its TECH56 programme, originally launched as a platform for a possible CFM56 successor. The RTA effort is aimed at pushing turbine engines to speeds above Mach 4.

This could allow turbine-based engines to power the first part of a two-stage reusable launch vehicle, the second stage of which would be powered by a dual-mode supersonic-combustion ramjet (scramjet).

The resulting turbine-based combined cycle (TBCC) engine is a candidate to power NASA's X-43B hypersonic demonstrator and is competing with an alternative rocket-based combined cycle (RBCC) concept, with selection due in 2006-07. Glenn leads the RTA project, which is part of the Advanced Space Transportation Programme managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama.

Under the $55 million contract, GE will work with NASA Glenn to design an RTA ground test engine with a first-run target date of late 2006. The initial mid-scale demonstrator is expected to have a fan diameter of about 0.89m and a follow-on, full-scale demonstrator would be about 1.5m in diameter.

Rolls-Royce and Williams International are competing to build a small-scale flight demonstrator engine, the award for which is expected by the end of the year.

Baseline goals for the RTA include a thrust/weight ratio of more than 10, M4-plus capability, the ability to operate thousands of flights a year, low maintenance and high durability. The full-scale demonstrator is aimed at both NASA's third-generation reusable launch vehicle and a US Air Force military spaceplane, as well as providing the basis for the USAF's proposed M2-4 long-range strike aircraft (LRSA).

The launch vehicle applications have a provisional service entry target of 2015 and the USAF's strike aircraft is planned for around 2020.

n The RBC3 consortium, a team consisting of Boeing's Rocketdyne Propulsion and Power business, Pratt & Whitney and Aerojet, has completed the first major engine systems requirement review for the RBCC ground test engine. This is being funded through NASA Marshall as the Integrated System Test of an Airbreathing Rocket (ISTAR) programme.

Source: Flight International