Aerojet Rocketdyne has successfully completed a second series of propulsion system tests in support of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)’s Operational Fires (OpFires) program.
DARPA’s OpFires program aims to develop a two-stage ground-launched hypersonic missile capable of engaging high-value, time-sensitive targets from standoff range in contested environments.
During the propulsion tests, called cold gas testing, the test articles operated successfully with all components providing critical data to the operation of the OpFires propulsion system. The test series followed last year’s successful subscale propulsion test firings.
“We’re pleased to be a part of developing this vital defense technology, applying our decades of experience in hypersonic and missile defense technologies,” said Eileen Drake, Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and president.
The effort to date has advanced the technology for an upper stage featuring a tunable propulsion system, according to DARPA.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has been supporting the program through a Phase 1 contract to design propulsion concepts and technologies for OpFires. The contract continued with an $8.8 million option for Phase 2 of the program, which is expected to culminate in late 2020 following multiple test firings.
DARPA OpFires Program
DARPA’s OpFires program aims to develop and demonstrate a novel ground-launched missile system equipped with hypersonic tactical boost glide vehicle that can penetrate modern enemy air defenses and rapidly and precisely engage critical time-sensitive targets in contested environments.
The first two phases of the program focus on the propulsion technologies required to deliver diverse payloads a variety of ranges.
Phase 1 of the program was a 12-month effort focused on early development and demonstration of booster solutions that provide variable thrust propulsion across robust operational parameters in large tactical missiles. The Phase 1 contracts were awarded to Aerojet Rocketdyne, Exquadrum, and Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) in 2018.
Since the Phase 1 contract award, the three companies have made critical discoveries in advanced rocket motor technology for the OpFires upper stage, completing more than 30 motor trials from subscale through full size. These advances put the program on track for booster critical design review in late 2020.
Exquadrum completed a full-scale, full-duration test fire on Sept. 19, 2019, which marked the performer’s culminating event for OpFires Phase 1. SNC completed its Phase 1 testing in October, and Aerojet Rocketdyne completed six subscale tests in August.
The OpFires program reached a major program milestone in late 2019 with the completion of the booster preliminary design review of the two-stage tactical missile system. Phase 2 of the OpFires program will mature designs and demonstrate performance with hot/static fire tests targeted for late 2020.
Phase 3 of the OpFires program will focus on weapon system integration and aims to develop an operational system design leveraging propulsion systems concepts developed under the first two phases of the program. Phase 3 will conclude with integrated end-to-end flight tests scheduled to begin in 2022.