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Norway Launches Rocket with Hybrid Engine

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
September 28, 2018

The Nucleus rocket during launch. (Credit: Nammo)

ANDOYA, Norway, 27 September 2018 (ESA PR) — Today, Norway’s first hybrid rocket to reach space demonstrated new hybrid propulsion technology for a cleaner, safer, more flexible method of powering small launch vehicles.

Soaring up to five times the speed of sound from the Andøya Space Center, the 9 m long Nucleus sounding rocket passed the edge of Earth’s atmosphere to reach an altitude of over 107 km in less than three minutes.

After its suborbital flight it returned to Earth, splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean, 180 km off the coast of Norway. Its payload, supplied by the Andøya Space Center, comprised electronics that transmitted inflight data and video for further analysis, as well as a dispenser to eject six ‘daughter payloads’ at altitude.

Nammo in partnership with ESA’s Future Launchers Preparatory Programme designed and built the new hybrid motor driving this rocket. The motor combines liquid and solid propellant.

Nammo chose highly concentrated liquid hydrogen peroxide as the oxidiser reacting with a rubber-like substance as fuel. These substances are safe to handle and the byproducts of combustion are mostly water and carbon dioxide – making the motor environmentally friendly too.

The oxidiser and solid fuel remain separated inside the rocket until mixed at ignition. Hybrid propellants have low evaporation rates so the rocket can be loaded safely, well before launch. This reduces the cost of launch service operations compared with other technologies.

The fuel being a non-toxic, non-explosive solid simplifies manufacturing and handling, further lowering cost.

Being able to vary the flow of oxidiser during flight and thus the thrust meets a wide range of mission requirements, the motor can even be shut down and reignited for complex missions.

The aim is for hybrid propulsion to match the precision offered through liquid propulsion, while lowering risks and costs, which would be ideal for smaller European launch sites like the Andøya Space Center.

Today’s demonstration will provide valuable data on the behaviour of this hybrid propulsion system in flight. The next step is to build a larger motor to increase thrust from today’s 30kN to about 75–100 kN, extend the burn time, and to reduce weight and cost.

“Hybrid technology has the potential to become a highly competitive building block for an orbital launcher – our ultimate goal,” commented Adrien Boiron, Chief engineer at Nammo.

3 responses to “Norway Launches Rocket with Hybrid Engine”

  1. Saturn1300 says:

    Not nitrous oxide. This has been done with kerosene. Pressurized HP I guess. I think HP is toxic and must be shipped in AL barrels. The Romanian gave some info in his videos on this. Done forgot his name and company. BTW there is a hoverboard flying around F1 races. They call him Jet Guy. This sounds like model jet engines. I have not checked. Could be turbo jet or turbo prop. There would be enough thrust and fuel would not be heavy. More energy in jet fuel than in batteries. Somebody said I was a brave man to fly my built from plans Bobcat ultralight. This guy sure beat me. He is flying 500′ high or so. Wild.

  2. duheagle says:

    No one has thus far demonstrated any way of scaling up single hybrid motors to very impressive size. The various engines produced for Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo over the past decade or so have been, to say the least, problematical in their performance and adverse side-effects.

    The Nucleus rocket’s motor produces about 1/9 the thrust of the SpaceShipTwo motor. Now the plan is for a Mk.2 motor to scale that up to roughly 1/3 the thrust of the SpaceShipTwo motor. This is probably doable, but going beyond that point may well not be. Should a Mk.2 engine of the desired thrust level prove buildable free of the problems which have plagued VG, that would seem to be a good place to stop.

    If the aim of this project is eventual construction of an orbit-capable vehicle with even a modest payload, said vehicle, then, is going to have to rely on clustering of the planned Mk.2 motor in its first stage. Given the lower specific impulse of hybrid motors compared to kerolox engines, to roughly match performance of the Rocket Lab Electron the first stage of such a vehicle would appear to require at least three of the planned Mk.2 motors with a single such motor powering the second stage.

    This is a pretty reasonable clustering factor for a first stage so perhaps the Norwegians will pull this off. I look forward to seeing how this project plays out.

  3. Tim Pickens says:

    Hybrids have a place, and that place is a function of end technical objective. Ex. A rocket powered wing vehicle might be fine with a long single port fuel grain if it can tolerate a sizable center of gravity shift, should the vehicle undergo a premature shutdown and the vehicle needs to land with the remaining oxidizer onboard.
    Most of the time the idea for a manned vehicle returning full of propellant is a show stopper. Some seek a solution of using short and fat multiport fuel grains to minimize the CG shift. Multiport fuel grains are tricky, and managing the multi port burn out and the residual fuel grain is very tricky, but they can be successfully operated. There is another method to manage the CG shift, if one is willing to collocate the hybrid motor case inside the oxidizer tank.
    A sounding rocket is a great use of the hybrid propulsion system! Using a long and skinny fuel grain and avoiding the multiports makes life easier in all respects. The Hyperion rockets that Korey Kline flew at Wallops were high performance and there were tricked out. There is still lots of performance gains that can be extracted with exotic fuels and feed system tricks.
    I want to build and fly one more hybrid before I retire. It will be designed to break all amateur altitude records. It is on my bucket list, and I hope I can get some of the old HALO band back together and then head to Black Rock for a launch event. If we have to, we might launch from a barge in the Gulf at 200 miles out. Been there and done that and made me sea sick so not my 1st choice.
    I am a fan of hybrids and liquid rocket propulsion. I see applications for both. It really depends on the end goal and how much time, money, and capability a person has. Also whether a throttling motor is needed. Stay tuned, hybrids are not going away, and they should only get better!

    Ad Astra

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