There are several companies that are currently working hard on the development and testing of rocket engines and other spacecraft components for the commercial space program in the United States. So far, the most successful company in commercial spaceflight has been SpaceX. The company has already conducted several missions to resupply the ISS.
Another of the companies in the commercial space business is called ATK. The company has announced that it has successfully tested its newly developed CASTOR 30XL upper stage solid rocket motor this week at the Air Force’s Arnold Engineering Development Complex in Tennessee. The company says that the test was the final qualification for the commercial motor that was developed with cooperation from Orbital Sciences Corporation.
The two companies were able to get the engine qualified in 20 months from concept to completion. The rocket engine is designed to ignite at altitudes of over 100,000 feet. The test for the engine occurred in the Air Force facility using a large vacuum chamber designed specifically to simulate upper atmospheric conditions. ATK says that initial data indicates the motor performed as designed.
The next for the company is to analyze the results of the test against its performance models. This particular rocket engine is designed to be used by Orbital as an enhanced secondary stage for the Antares launch vehicle. Antares is designed to perform commercial cargo resupply missions to the ISS for NASA just as SpaceX has been doing. The solid rocket motor is 92-inches in diameter, 236 inches in length, and weighs about 58,000 pounds. The rocket nozzle itself is 8 feet long.