With the introduction last week of the ‘Electron’ rocket and its ‘Rutherford’ electric engine, Space is a little bit closer than it’s ever been before. New Zealand-based Rocket Lab unveiled its new engine and plans for Electron and has set a new benchmark for the space industry.
The Rutherford is the first new rocket propulsion system developed in 50 years.
Named after the New Zealand-born, Noble prize winning physicist Ernest Rutherford, the engine has redefined the way typical rocket engines function and the way in which they are made. It’s the world’s first battery-powered engine. Although it runs on liquid rocket fuel, its turbopumps (that pump propellant into the combustion chamber of a rocket engine) are driven by brushless DC motors and lithium-polymer batteries, a far simpler, more compact, and more cost-effective system than previous gas generator/liquid propellant systems.
Peter Beck, CEO of RocketLab, said, “If you look at a launch vehicle and where the bulk of the cost derives from, you quickly arrive at the rocket engine. It’s really difficult to build a low-cost rocket engine, and one you can produce in large numbers. It’s really only the advancement in battery technology that has enabled us to go to electric turbopumps. Even three or four years ago, the technology wouldn’t have been sufficient. But there have been enormous advances in a short time period, and now the electric motor is about 95 percent efficient, versus the 60 percent efficiency of the gas motor.” … (read more)