Ursa Major’s Groundbreaking Draper Engine: A Leap Forward in Hypersonic and In-Space Propulsion

By Lydia Amazouz Published on May 30, 2024 07:30
Ursa Major’s Groundbreaking Draper Engine A Leap Forward In Hypersonic And In Space Propulsion

Ursa Major has announced the successful ground and hotfire tests of its new hypersonic rocket engine, Draper, marking a significant milestone in the company’s development of advanced propulsion systems.

Tested at their headquarters in Berthoud, Colorado, the Draper engine showcases innovative design and rapid progress, setting new standards in the industry.

Development and Testing of Ursa Major's Draper Engine

The Draper engine, which boasts a 4,000-pound-thrust closed catalyst cycle, utilizes a non-cryogenic fuel that enhances storability, making it an ideal choice for in-space propulsion applications. This fuel choice allows the engine to maneuver objects in orbit without fully depleting its propellant, enabling additional mission functions.

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The ability to operate on storable, non-cryogenic fuel means that missions can be planned and executed with greater flexibility, and without the stringent requirements of cryogenic storage. This characteristic is especially important for missions requiring extended loiter times or those involving multiple burns over a long duration.

Ursa Major's ability to achieve these successful tests well ahead of schedule is a testament to their engineering prowess and the effectiveness of their accelerated development program. The engine’s development benefited from a robust collaboration with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), providing both financial support and technical guidance.

This partnership has been crucial in advancing the Draper engine from concept to successful testing phases, demonstrating the value of public-private partnerships in the aerospace sector.

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Chief Technology Officer Brad Appel expressed his excitement over the program's rapid progress, highlighting the engine’s potential for both hypersonic and in-space applications in the coming years.

The engine's design, which draws on the architectural and manufacturing legacy of Ursa Major's Hadley engine, combines the storable attributes of a solid rocket motor with the active throttle control and range of a liquid engine.

This combination provides the necessary maneuverability and flexibility required for hypersonic defense, offering a versatile solution that can adapt to various mission requirements.

Implications for U.S. Defense and Hypersonics

The Draper engine is poised to play a crucial role in enhancing the United States' hypersonics capabilities, addressing critical gaps and countering adversaries' advancements in anti-satellite technologies. By effectively simulating hypersonic threats, the engine supports the U.S. in maintaining a strategic advantage in this rapidly evolving field.

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The ability to maneuver in space without rapidly depleting fuel reserves means that defense systems can remain operational for longer periods, providing sustained coverage and response capabilities in contested environments.

Dr. Shawn Phillips, Chief of AFRL’s Rocket Propulsion Division, praised the program for delivering a versatile, storable rocket engine in an incredibly short timeframe. He emphasized the importance of this achievement in meeting the U.S. Air Force and Space Force leadership's call for faster capabilities and stronger industry collaborations. The Draper engine’s development is not just a technological advancement, but also a strategic asset in maintaining U.S. leadership in space and hypersonic technologies.

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The success of the Draper engine highlights the importance of developing propulsion systems that are not only powerful and efficient but also adaptable to a wide range of operational scenarios. This adaptability is crucial in an era where space and missile defense require rapid responses to emerging threats.

The Draper engine’s combination of storable fuel, robust thrust, and precise control offers a unique solution that can be tailored to meet diverse mission needs, from defending against hypersonic missiles to ensuring the longevity and maneuverability of space assets.


An editor specializing in astronomy and space industry, passionate about uncovering the mysteries of the universe and the technological advances that propel space exploration.

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