As a small, entrepreneurial space company, XCOR Aerospace has found innovative ways to test and demonstrate its technology. One of its best-known examples was the EZ-Rocket, a Long-EZ plane fitted with twin rocket engines built by XCOR. The company announced this week that it did something similar, using another mode of transportation to test technology intended for its suborbital spaceplane.
XCOR wanted to test the bearings that are used by the piston pump in its rocket engines, but found that conventional test stands were expensive. “The pump test stand costs about $500 a minute to run,” said XCOR chief engineer Dan DeLong in the video above. Instead, they found the bearings could be used in the engine of the Triumph Street Triple motorcycle, which has a similar horsepower as XCOR’s engines and a similar arrangement of cylinders. And, as it turns out, the motorcycle is a lot cheaper than a test stand. “The motorcycle [cost] is gasoline,” DeLong said.
In addition, a motorcycle test can be more scenic than a test stand. XCOR fitted the Triumph motorcycle with the rocket motor bearings and drove it from Roswell, New Mexico to Mojave, California, running the motor for about 20 hours. The result: there was “no discernible difference in bearing wear between when we started and when we finished,” DeLong said. And, as XCOR COO Andrew Nelson noted, the company saved over half a million dollars by testing it on a motorcycle versus the test stand.
“Oh, and everyone had a lot of fun along the way!” Nelson added in the release.