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PGA engine preburner test firing
A full-scale fuel preburner for Stratolaunch’s PGA rocket engine undergoes a test firing at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. (Stratolaunch Photo)

Stratolaunch Systems, the space venture founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, says it has successfully completed the first hot-fire test of a key component for its hydrogen-fueled PGA rocket engine.

The full-scale hydrogen preburner was fired up last Friday at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, less than a year after design work started.

“This is the first step in proving the performance and highly efficient design of the PGA engine. The hot-fire test is an incredible milestone for both the propulsion team and Stratolaunch,” Jeff Thornburg, vice president of propulsion at Stratolaunch, said today in a news release.

The preburner typically begins the combustion process in a rocket engine and drives the fuel pumps to bring the engine up to full power. The PGA’s preburner is fabricated exclusively through additive manufacturing, also known as metal 3-D printing. That allows for rapid prototyping on a much faster scale than traditional manufacturing methods.

Stratolaunch didn’t disclose how long Friday’s firing lasted, but the company said the duration and power levels of the preburner tests would be increased over the coming months.

When completed, the hydrogen-oxygen engine should produce 200,000 pounds of liftoff thrust for a wide range of launch vehicles that Stratolaunch is developing in-house. The first in-house rocket, known as the Medium Launch Vehicle or MLV, is due to fly in 2022.

Stratolaunch is also working on the world’s largest airplane at its facility at California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. Flight tests of the twin-fuselage, 385-foot-wingspan plane are expected to begin soon, with the aim of using it as a platform for air-launched rockets by as soon as 2020. The first launches would make use of Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus XL rockets rather than the MLV.

The PGA rocket engine takes its name from the initials of Paul G. Allen, who created Stratolaunch in 2011 and passed away at the age of 65 last month after a battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

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