Rocket Lab adopts a new electric propulsion cycle and produces the first oxygen/hydrocarbon engine to use 3D printing for all primary components.
Typically, the cost associated with launching a lightweight rocket into orbit can easily run upwards of $100 million. In an effort to curb the astronomical expense of space travel, Los Angeles-based startup Rocket Lab is redefining the way rocket engines are manufactured and how they function.
The Lockheed Martin-backed company recently unveiled its latest creation, dubbed Rutherford, which is said to be the first-ever battery-powered rocket engine. The design, which is comprised almost entirely out of 3D-printed parts and powered by batteries rather than liquid fuel, will be used on Rocket Lab’s Electron orbital launch vehicle later this year.
Powered by the brand new Rutherford motor, Electron will be able to deliver small satellites to commercial orbits at a much lower price and a greater frequency. The flagship engine adopts a new electric propulsion cycle that employs electric motors to drive its turbopumps, and is the first oxygen/hydrocarbon engine to use 3D printing for all primary components like its chamber, injector, pumps and main propellant valves.
Compared to the weeks typically associated with more conventional methods, it will only take three days to print the components of the engine out of titanium and other alloys through an advanced form of 3D printing called “electron beam melting.” This also allows for lighter rockets that can be manufactured faster, all while requiring customers to shell out less money per launch. In fact, the company is hoping to begin launching satellites sometime next year, and eventually aims to launch at least one satellite a week, with aspirations of providing at least 100 per year. The startup says its launch cost for the 65’ x 3’ system will be around $4.9 million and will be able to carry small payloads of up to 220 pounds into space.
Intrigued by this out of this world project? Head over to its official page here.