Vector, a smallsat launch company comprised of NewSpace and enterprise software industry veterans from SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, McDonnell Douglas, Boeing, Sea Launch and VMware, has announced that the company received a U.S. patent for their enhanced liquid oxygen-propylene rocket engine.
According to the firm, Vector is the first and only launch provider to use propylene fuel and liquid oxygen (LOX) in an operational launch system. This engine patent validates the innovative nature of Vector's approach and further protects the company's fundamental technology as it prepares to deliver customer payloads to orbit.
Vector's decision to pursue liquid oxygen and propylene as an alternative propellant technology is a strategic one. The unique properties of propylene as rocket fuel, including its density when chilled to near-cryogenic temperatures and energetic capabilities compared to that of other hydrocarbon fuels such as RP-1 or Methane, enables Vector to deliver higher engine performance with smaller fuel tanks and avoid turbo-pumps traditionally used for other hydrocarbon fuels. By using oxygen and propylene as propellants and propriety engine technology, Vector is effectively reducing the complexity and cost of its rockets, which are smaller, more reliable and unique to the launch vehicle market.
Development of Vector's enhanced liquid oxygen-propylene rocket engine first began at Garvey Spacecraft Corporation, with early research sponsored by NASA and the U.S. Air Force. Vector's acquisition of Garvey Spacecraft in 2016, and the subsequent development of the Vector-R rocket, is a continuation of that technological lineage.
Poised to reshape the multi-billion-dollar launch market by dramatically increasing access and speed to orbit, Vector has borrowed best practices from the automotive industry to revolutionize the rocket production process. In just the last two and a half years Vector has built its Vector-R launch vehicle, and opened production facilities in Tucson to immediately ramp up rocket manufacturing and fly satellites into orbit.
John Garvey, the President of Launch Services, Vector, said his is the only launch company committed to propylene as a propellant and the first to use it in an operational vehicle — his patent is an important validation and also serves as intellectual property protection. The company has been incrementally testing this critical technology for several years in a series of flight test projects and are happy to see the patent awarded. This signals another important milestone for Vector as the firm works toward orbital launch capability.