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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