Orion Propulsion Puts On Impressive Show At Las Cruces
John Bossard knows
rockets engines. In fact, he knows them so well he can successfully
explain the concepts of a hybrid rocket engine and regenerative
cooling to an Aero-News correspondent in two sentences, and have
the knowledge stick on the first try.
That would explain why this rocket scientist is the Chief
Technical Offer of Orion Propulsion, a small woman-owned company
whose brochure says "What really lights our fire is rockets,
propulsion and testing."
He's also quite clear on the direction he thinks space
exploration should head in the future. "I want NASA to be as
relevant to space programs as the FDA is relevant to my steak
dinner," said Bossard.
What do they describe as a "small company"? The entire staff
numbers twelve souls, but this little company based out of Madison,
Alabama sure made a lot of noise at the XPrize Cup. They had no
less than three technology demonstrators operating at the show, the
smallest of which was a demonstrator the size of a suitcase.
Opening the "demo" case reveals an engine frame containing a
plexiglass tube, nitrous oxide controls and a simple igniter made
of steel wool wrapped around two wires and inserted into the tube.
Running a current through the wires makes the steel wool glow white
hot, which melts the plexiglass. Open the NOS valve, and voila, you
have a rocket engine! Please don't try this at home, boys and
Stored inside their portable trailer/workshop I found a bicycle
that seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary, until I noticed the
tank, pipes and frame behind the seat. Now, keep in mind that Orion
does not build vehicles -- they specialize in rocket engine design,
development and fabrication. Nevertheless, you have to have demos,
so why not make them fun?
The two-wheeler is in fact the Rocket Bike. It does 0-55 mph in
no time flat, and is powered by a very high tech fuel... roofing
tar. Yes, ANN confirmed that the bike is powered by the same stuff
it usually rolls over when moving. Add an igniter and more NOS, and
off you go, triple-underwear and all.
The third demonstrator was... get this... a Chevy truck carrying
a rip-roaring rocket engine in the cargo bed! It's so radical they
had to chain it down so it wouldn't try to emulate the Rocket
Racing League LearJet and barrel down the runway. As it turns out,
that's the next step. Texas freeways will never be the same
On the serious side of the equation, Orion Propulsion has
developed an extensive portfolio, designing and fabricating
engines from 5 to 300,000 lbf of thrust. They will also build data
acquisition and control systems, test stands and ground support
equipment for you if that's what you need.
Need cold flow testing? Check. Got a requirement for a reliable
igniter for that bi-propellant engine, or a vectored reaction
engine on a canfeld joint with torque motors to point the business
end in any direction required? They can take care of that too.
They're already working on their show for next year's XPrize
Cup. Bring ear protectors.