When you think about rocket launches, some popular names might pop into your mind: NASA, SpaceX, Blue Origin, just to name a few. However, there are other, much smaller-scale private companies looking to improve space flight and provide low-cost, high-performance launch capabilities, especially for small satellites.
One such company, New-York based Rocketstar, is looking to change the path of spaceflight. Getting to Low-Earth orbit is an aspect of spaceflight that tends to be most expensive and difficult.
In order to solve the issue of getting to space, which many recent rocket launch failures have proven still exists, Rocketstar is focusing on the rocket’s engine, instead of the rocket itself.
According to the company, traditional space exploration companies are using older engines that do not account for changes in pressure once the altitude changes. “That is because the pressure within the traditional bell nozzle remains constant, while the surrounding pressure changes, resulting in loss of thrust. That is why existing rocket companies use stages; they have to ditch the smaller bell nozzle that is effective at ground level for a larger bell nozzle that maintains thrust as they move higher,” according to Rocketstar.
Instead, the company has been working on 3D-printed Aerospike Engines, with nozzles made of titanium, that have their combustion chambers completely open to outside air. The result is an engine with 30 percent more thrust on the launchpad, as well as 40 percent weight-savings. The engines are propelled by liquid oxygen and hydrogen, so water can be used as fuel, and they weigh about 30 percent to 60 percent less than traditional propulsion engines.
According to Rocketstar founder Chris Craddock, the ability to 3D print engines provides his team with a lot of flexibility. In a recent test conducted by Rocketstar, a piece of the engine ended up melting. “So we can just print and throw it away,” said Craddock.
Most previous work with Aerospike Engines has been conducted by academics, and was oftentimes left behind once a project was complete or the student or professor studying had moved on. Rocketsar is now one of only three companies doing consistent work with the Aerospike Engine for commercial purposes.
While the engine is the area of focus for Rocketstar, the company also boasts about the re-usability of the future rocket. According to Craddock, the rocket will head up to space, come back, re-fuel and go right back up, similar to today’s airplanes.
Quick and Powerful Space Flight
Companies like SpaceX are currently working on launchers on a major scale, but Craddock says that it’s still difficult for smaller companies and individuals looking for launch capability. That’s where his company comes in.
Currently, Rocketstar is addressing these constellation satellite companies that wish to get their CubeSat devices into space, but eventually, the company wants to do bigger and better things. “Phase two is Earth to Mars in a month,” said Craddock.
According to Craddock, any functioning colony would require that people get back and forth in a reasonable amount of time, so future Mars settlements would require this kind of transportation. This type of functionality would require an updated ion drive that would bring the thrust up to get people there faster. “We want to address the human condition,” Craddock added when discussing forming colonies and hotels in space.
While Mars transport will still take some time, Craddock and the Rocketstar team will be looking to break a record this month: to get their new rocket engine to break the speed of sound three feet off the launch pad, at a rate of ascent of 1,100 feet per second. If it comes to it, Craddock isn’t afraid to fail at this task, since that allows room for improvement as design and material issues to come to the surface. “Failure is sometimes more valuable than success,” he said.
As for Craddock, he’s a very hands-on employer with a degree in Physics, but attributes all of the company’s success so far to his team. “It takes people to build an engine,” said Craddock.