Ursa Major Wins USAF TACFI Contract

The US Air Force is tapping Ursa Major for rocket engines. The Colorado-based propulsion company has signed a $3.6M contract under USAF’s TACFI (Tactical Funding Increase) program to supply a flight-qualified, oxygen-rich staged combustion (ORSC) Hadley engine. 

The contract, Ursa Major CEO Joe Laurienti told Payload, is the first of its kind in propulsion. 

“More than anything, the scope of this contract is to take our Hadley engine that we have internally developed, we’ve really built to fit the marketplace, and qualify it in a means that fits Air Force specifications,” Laurienti said. 

Engines only

Ursa Major is bucking the trend of vertical integration to focus singularly on propulsion. Its current core product, Hadley, is a 3D printed ORSC engine capable of providing 5,000 lbs of thrust, with applications in launch, hypersonics, and in-space propulsion.

About a dozen Hadley engines have already been shipped, Laurenti said, including five in July alone. Ursa Major is targeting 30 shipments by the end of 2022. The team expects to double that number next year, said Laurienti, “and that still doesn’t meet the demand that we’re seeing.” 

While Ursa Major’s production rate fluctuates based on its testing schedule, Hadley engines are rolling off the line at a rate of just under one a week. 

  • The acceptance testing schedule is pretty packed, too. The company recently tracked 50,000 total seconds of engine runtime and 1,600 individual tests.

“If you look at the year over year curves, every year our testing cadence grows dramatically,” said Laurienti. “And this year is no exception, with a huge amount of acceptance testing prior to customer shipments.” 

Ursa Major has two other engines coming down the pike:

  • Ripley, a LOX and kerosene engine that will provide 50,000lbs of thrust at sea level for LEO and GEO launches. 
  • Arroway, a LOX and methane propelled engine that will provide 200,000lbs of thrust at sea level for medium- and heavy-lift rockets.

Ramping up: Ursa Major has its focus trained on growth. It’s been expanding the team dramatically and currently employs a workforce of ~250. For reference, the company signed its 200th employee in April and had about 125 back in December. 

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