Rocket Crafters, a Florida-based space launch company that has pioneered 3D printed rocket fuel, has completed testing for its Comet engine, a large-scale proof-of-concept test model for the STAR-3D hybrid rocket engine. The testing, which began in February, demonstrate that the patent-pending hybrid rocket engines could be viable for commercial use.
As one of the emerging space launch companies, Rocket Crafters has similar goals to other space startups: it wants to make space flight more accessible. As part of this mission, the company has developed and patented a hybrid rocket engine, the STAR-3D, so named because it is Safe, Throttleable, Affordable, Reliable and 3D printed.
What makes the engine a hybrid? Well, it combines both liquid Nitrous Oxide and solid ABS as fuel. According to the company, the solid ABS fuel enables greater energy density, while the liquid oxidizer allows the engine to be throttled by increasing or decreasing the amount of oxidizer. The company has also developed a horizontal 3D printing method (patent-pending) which is capable of producing fuel grains and reduces the manufacturing time substantially for orbital-class solid fuel.
With 5000 pounds of thrust, the Comet engine underwent three tests: the first two were a success, while the third test experienced an overpressure anomaly, which caused damage to the test stand and engine. After an extensive analysis of the failure, the Rocket Crafters team determined that there was an initial failure in an ancillary part of the engine which led to the over-pressurization inside the combustion chamber. This, fortunately, was not indicative of any issues with the core STAR-3D engine design.
“This is why we test,” said Robert Fabian, Rocket Crafters President and a 25-year veteran of military space and missile operations and maintenance. “We find and fix problems in testing, so we don’t have them on the launch pad. We’re moving forward from here.”
The large-scale proof-of-concept Comet tests were preceded by a series of 49 successful lab tests ranging from 250 to 500 pounds of thrust. With the results from the most recent test fires, the Rocket Crafters team is moving forward with its development and plans to conduct a test flight powered by a smaller version of the STAR-3D hybrid rocket engine. This upcoming test will mark the inaugural launch of the company’s flight engine and will showcase how the engine performs in motion.
Rocket Crafters has also planned two larger test flights into space and back to Earth and then into orbit. Once these tests have been successfully completed, the Florida-based company will launch a commercial service for Low Earth Orbit launches using the Intrepid small satellite launch vehicle.