GE Developing Jet Engine To Power Reusable Rocket Boosters

August 29, 2002

EVENDALE, OHIO - GE Aircraft Engines (GEAE), in cooperation with NASA's Space Launch Initiative Propulsion Office, has begun a study to develop a jet engine to power reusable flyback rocket boosters for a second generation reusable launch vehicle.

The Space Launch Initiative Propulsion Office launched the study to assess military and commercial jet engines that could power a reusable booster.

"We are pleased to once again partner with NASA to develop an advanced propulsion system for future space transportation applications," said Dr. Mike Benzakein, manager of advanced technology programs at GEAE. "Our goal is to provide a propulsion system that will dramatically increase vehicle safety and reliability while reducing the cost of operating and maintaining reusable launch vehicle boosters."

The Space Shuttle uses solid rocket boosters that are parachuted into the sea and retrieved for reuse after launch. The Space Launch Initiative is considering vehicle concepts that would fly first stage boosters back to a designated landing site after separation from the second stage vehicle. These flyback boosters would be powered by jet engines once the booster rocket engines have shutdown and have been separated from the second stage.

The powered flyback booster would include several jet engines integrated into the booster capable of providing over 100,000 pounds of thrust. The booster would land on a designated runway shortly after launch.

NASA's new study is set to determine the requirements for the engines and identify risk mitigation activities including understanding the impact to current engine designs, the approach to addressing risk issues, and the costs associated with jet engine development and production. GEAE is being considered as a candidate jet engine manufacturer for possible use on the flyback booster.

In addition to this study, GEAE recently began developing a revolutionary high-speed turbine technology for a new Mach 4 jet engine in conjunction with NASA's Glenn Research Center. GEAE was selected for the development of a Revolutionary Turbine Accelerator (RTA) technology demonstrator that may lead to installation on a third-generation reusable launch vehicle.

The RTA features an augmentor/ramburner, a key technology to be developed for the Turbine Based Combined Cycle (TBCC) engine. During take-off and transition to supersonic flight, this device will serve as a conventional augmentor boosting the turbine engine thrust approximately 50%. Between Mach 2 and 3, the augmentor transitions to a ramburner, accelerating the vehicle to speeds above Mach 4. In addition, GEAE is constructing a fan to demonstrate the performance and efficiency of the new augmentor/ramburner.

Research is being conducted on several possible concepts for third generation reusable launch vehicles that would incorporate the RTA . In one such concept, the RTA would be used on the first stage of a 2-stage vehicle capable of hypersonic flight. At Mach 4, the second stage would take over and propel the vehicle into orbit. The two combined propulsion systems are a candidate to help NASA meet the agency's goal of developing safe, cost-effective access to space.

GEAE has a long history of developing high-speed jet engines including the development of the world's first Mach 2 and Mach 3 engines. The GE J79-powered F-104 Starfighter was the first aircraft to achieve Mach 2 flight in 1958. The GE J93-powered XB-70 bomber was the first aircraft to achieve Mach 3 flight in October 1965.

The Space Launch Initiative Propulsion Office is managed by National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., in collaboration with the agency's Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

GEAE, a division of General Electric Company (NYSE: GE), is the world's leading manufacturer of jet engines for military and civil aircraft, including engines produced by CFM International, a 50/50 joint company of Snecma Moteurs of France and GE. GEAE also manufactures gas turbines, derived from its highly successful jet engine programs, for marine and industrial applications. In addition, GEAE provides comprehensive maintenance support, through its GE Engine Services operation, for GE and non-GE jet engines in service throughout the world. Visit GEAE online at