Rocket Lab’s Rutherford Engine Lifts Off

A video has been posted of New Zealand-founded company Rocket Lab launching their new Rutherford engine. The burn lasts for a full two minutes and 40 seconds, completing an important flight qualification test.

The company says the engine will now be ready for its first test flight in the second half of 2016. The launch will be part of the development programme for the Electron rocket, whose liftoff will be powered by nine Rutherford engines.

The Rutherford engine is small and will not pack as much punch as its competitors, but Rocket Lab thinks it will be able to launch small satellites into orbit at a low cost. An Electron launch is expected to cost about US$5 million, compared to SpaceX’s US$60 million launches.

Notably, the Rutherford is made primarily out of 3D printed parts. It also uniquely uses battery-powered electric motors to power the pumps that deliver propellant to the rocket’s combustion chamber.

“Rutherford started as a clean sheet of paper. Without the burden of heritage engines, we were able to make the most of today’s most advanced technologies in ways not attempted before,” Rocket Lab propulsion lead Lachlan Matchett said in a statement.

The company now plans to scale up production of the engine for test and commercial launches.

Rocket Lab was founded in 2007 by Peter Beck. The company’s headquarters are in in Los Angeles.

Original article by Sarah Fecht, Popular Science, March 24, 2016.

Illustration by Rocket Lab.

Tags: Popular Science  Rocket Lab  Rutherford engine  

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