Another company enters the smallsat rocket competition


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Capitalism in space: Another new smallsat company, Rocket Crafters, has entered the competition, focusing on the development of 3D-printed rocket engines using hybrid fuels.

The company’s Cidco Road facility is notable for what is not there, Gutierrez said. Unlike a more typical rocket engine site, there are no signs warning of explosive materials, no use of super-cold or toxic propellants, and no engines equipped with turbo pumps.

Instead, the rocket fuel consisted of plastic tubes made from the same base materials as Legos, measuring two feet long and weighing about five pounds, that were stacked on shelves and safe to touch. Combined with nitrous oxide — commonly known as “laughing gas” — the small-scale test engine on Monday generated about 200 pounds of thrust firing at half-power. It was one of more than 20 such firings over the past year at the facility Cocoa officials rezoned to allow the tests, which were deemed safe to the surrounding people and environment.

“We’re not the noisiest neighbor in the area,” joked Robert Fabian, senior vice president of the propulsion division.

Most rockets rely on super-cold or “cryogenic” propellants such as liquid oxygen or liquid hydrogen, or solid fuel like the space shuttle’s twin solid rocket boosters used.

Hybrid motors have suffered from uneven burns producing bumpy rides, Fabian said. But Rocket Crafters believes it has found a low-cost solution providing a smooth, consistent burn: 3-D printed cylinders of fuel formed in ridged and beaded layers.

We shall see. They hope to fly by 2020, at the earliest. They will be joining an increasingly crowded field. If their design works, however, they will certainly carve out a significant market share, as hybrid fuels are so much safer and easier to handle than traditional propellants.

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2 comments

  • Butcher, baker, rocket man

    Print me a booster fast as you can

    This is what history looks like, and it’s blowing sci-fi away, not least because we’re bending tin.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Interesting story. If Rocket Crafters has figured out a viable way around previously encountered difficulties with hybrid rocket motors that would be impressive. But 200 lbf motors are not dispositive of that. Scaling up by two or three orders of magnitude will be necessary to settle that question. Of course a much more modest scale-up will suffice to launch smallsats, especially one at a time.

    Also, I don’t think “new” is an accurate description of Rocket Crafters. I first heard of this outfit several years ago. The company website says its founding occurred in 2010. It has done modest-sized contract jobs for some time, including for DARPA.

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