XCOR tests rocket parts in a motorcycle


May 7, 2012

Aerospace company XCOR has tested the bearings for its rocket propellant piston pump by installing them in the engine of a motorcycle

Aerospace company XCOR has tested the bearings for its rocket propellant piston pump by installing them in the engine of a motorcycle

It costs a lot of money to assess rocket engine parts using professional-grade testing equipment ... and, like most of us, aerospace company XCOR doesn’t have money to burn. So, when it came time to test the bearing components of their new rocket propellant piston pump, the XCOR engineers got creative – they put them in the engine of a motorcycle, and sent it on a road trip.

The pump is designed to deliver liquid oxygen and kerosene within the company’s planned suborbital spacecraft, the Lynx. As it turns out, the Triumph Street Triple motorcycle develops approximately the same horsepower and has the same cylinder arrangement as that pump. According to the engineers, this made it an ideal choice as a long-life pump test platform.

They proceeded to modify one of the bikes, incorporating their bearings into its engine. It was then taken on a 24-hour road trip, in which it was ridden from Roswell, New Mexico, back to the company's headquarters in Mojave, California. That amount of use reportedly represents the equivalent of 400 Lynx flights. Data readings on the bearings’ status were taken along the way – by the end of the trip, there was said to be no extra wear discernible on the bearings.

“This test would have cost us over $500 per minute had we operated it on a traditional pump test stand,” said XCOR CEO Andrew Nelson. “The entire trip represented about half a million dollars in net savings in both time and money for the company.”

Footage of the road trip – and a little more information – can be found in the video below.

Source: XCOR

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

I would like to have learned more about the bearings and how they would work in the aerospace application. Indeed, why not just use off the shelf Triumph m/cycle bearings in the rocket and save heaps more !!!!!


This doesn't sound like a NASA budgetary boondoggle here. The company already has shown an inventiveness and drive to cut costs while maintianing performance. I'd expect to see these bearings on new bikes (can't have a bike that's too maintenance free). Better yet would be to have Triumph get into the business of in-orbit shuttles or work transports--yeah!


"An engineer can do for a nickel what any damn fool can do for a dollar." -- Henry Ford Via:

Somehow Civil Engineer's have it the other way around.

Dave B13

Being a former speed triple owner, I'm surprised the thing lasted the whole trip. Triumph's reliability aside, this seems like an awesome project to have been a part of. I wish someone would pay me to ride across the country on my bike.

Hui Son

Dave B13 - and then sell the dollar version to a Federal Government committee for 50 dollars! The stories about 100 buck screwdrivers etc are not all false.

The Skud
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