Ahead of 2016 Launch, Rocket Lab Qualifies Its Rutherford Engine for Flight

Cue Dennis DeYoung and the rest of 1980’s mega band Styx, because for those who just love rockets, this may really be “The Best of Times.”  Besides the ongoing phenomenon that is SpaceX, and as well as Blue Origin, which suddenly seems a bit restless proceeding at the pace of a tortoise as its motto and emblem suggest, there is a veritable flood-tide of small booster development coming which looks to completely reshape the segment of the launch industry that NASA now defines as “Venture Class.”

Rocket Lab, Firefly Space Systems, and Virgin Galactic are all set debut their respective systems in the next few years, with others planning to follow.  It is New Zealand’s Rocket Lab however, and its U.S. subsidiary Rocket Lab USA, which appear most likely to taste vacuum first.

Yesterday, RocketLab announced flight qualification for its 5,000 lbf thrust, 3-D printed Rutherford engine as it completed a two year test program including more than 200 runs.

From the announcement:

“The qualification of the engine is a major milestone for 3D printing; Rutherford is the first oxygen/hydrocarbon engine to use additive manufacturing for all primary components of the combustor and propellant supply system. Rutherford also has a unique electric propulsion cycle, making use of high-performance brushless DC electric motors and lithium polymer batteries to drive its turbopumps.

“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,” said Lachlan Matchett, Propulsion Lead at Rocket Lab.

Preparations are underway to begin manufacturing the engines at volume. “We are seeing the vehicle come together, and are looking to move to manufacturing at quantity for both our test and commercial flights,” said Peter Beck, CEO of Rocket Lab.

Electron uses nine Rutherford engines on its first stage, and a vacuum variant of the same engine on its second stage. The vehicle is capable of delivering a 150kg payload to a 500km sun-synchronous orbit, the target range for the high-growth constellation-satellite market.”

Rocket Lab currently has more than 30 flights booked for the Electron, including a $6.5 million dollar award from NASA as part of its Venture Class Launch Services competition.

See Related: Rocket Lab Signs Spire for Its Electron Small Launch Vehicle 

Electron’s first flight is expected to take place later this year from, commencing a flight test program which will be conducted at its New Zealand launch facility.

And you had to know this was coming:



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