Astrobotic and U.S Air Force Announce Rocket Research and Development Collaboration

Public-private partnership set to enhance both organizations’ rocket development and testing capabilities 

Mojave, CA – April 3, 2024 – Astrobotic and the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Rocket Propulsion Division at Edwards Air Force Base have entered into a Cooperative Research & Development Agreement (CRADA) to enhance both organizations’ capabilities and collaborate in the development of advanced liquid rocket engine, rotating detonation rocket engine (RDRE) technologies, and on-base rocket flight testing capabilities using Astrobotic reusable rockets.  

“This agreement between Astrobotic and AFRL will enable joint work on new rocket engine technologies, including their applications to in-space propulsion, along with their early flight demonstrations. For Astrobotic, working with AFRL, this rocket-engine flight testbed will demonstrate future capabilities in rocket propulsion such as RDREs and novel additively manufactured materials for high-temperature, high-pressure, chemically-reacting gas environments,” said Dr. Javier Urzay, Chief of the Combustion Devices Branch at AFRL, “These technologies are still at a relatively early development stage but have potential game-changing impacts for liquid and solid rocket propulsion systems relevant for Air and Space Force’s missions.” 

The collaboration will help Astrobotic design, develop, test, and demonstrate emerging commercial capabilities with critical applications to air and space military operations, including tactically responsive space access, hypersonic propulsion and testing, and tactical point-to-point rocket transport of cargo. Under the CRADA, AFRL and Astrobotic plan to use Astrobotic’s Xodiac and Xogdor-class vertical-takeoff, vertical-landing (VTVL) rockets to flight test new liquid rocket engines, integrated systems, payloads, and concepts of operation to mature these types of capabilities. 

“The drive behind this cooperative agreement was to work the fastest and least-expensive transition pathway of revolutionary technology, which always come out of AFRL,” said Dr. Shawn Phillips, Chief of the Rocket Propulsion Division at AFRL, “AFRL Rocket Propulsion experts are the best in the world with industry being the pathway for transition, and we believe that such public-private partnerships will be the gold standard for cradle-to-grave innovation.” 

“This CRADA between Astrobotic and AFRL will leverage the parties’ complementary skillsets to achieve mutually beneficial goals,” said Sean Bedford, Astrobotic’s Director of Business Development. “Astrobotic is an industry leader in reusable rocket design, VTVL rocket operations with small teams in austere environments, and innovative testing. This agreement represents a unique partnership that will combine our strengths with AFRL’s subject matter expertise to accelerate development of key capabilities through collaborative design, cutting edge analysis, high-cadence ground experimentation, and relevant environment flight testing.” 

To optimize this collaboration, Astrobotic will co-locate parts of its Propulsion & Test department with AFRL subject matter experts at Edwards Air Force Base. The CRADA also provides Astrobotic access to facilities on AFRL’s storied “Rocket Ridge” at Edwards AFB, which has hosted development and testing of engines for numerous high profile launch vehicles, including the Space Shuttle and Saturn, Titan, Atlas, Delta, Thor, and Minuteman families of rockets. Working together on base will allow the teams to more closely collaborate on the development of emerging liquid rocket and RDRE technologies.  

Distribution Statement A: Approved for Public Release; Distribution is Unlimited. PA# AFRL-2024-1465