Watch: This Japanese rocket is powered by cow dung

Watch: This Japanese rocket is powered by cow dung
via VideoFromSpace
Bryan Ke
By Bryan Ke
December 14, 2023
A Japanese space startup has successfully tested its new rocket that uses cow dung as a fuel source, marking it a step toward its goal of creating affordable rockets that also help mitigate climate change.
How it works: Developed by Interstellar Technologies Inc. and tested at Hokkaido Spaceport’s Launch Complex-0 in Taiki, Hokkaido, Japan, the small satellite launch vehicle called Zero was powered by liquid biomethane (LBM) fuel produced from livestock manures, with liquid oxygen serving as its oxidizer. The rocket’s combustion engine burned for 10 seconds during the testing.
In a press release on Dec. 7, Interstellar Technologies explained that the LBM is produced by separating and refining methane, which is the primary component of biogas, “and subsequently liquefying it at approximately -160 degrees Celsius (-256 Fahrenheit).” With this process, the rocket could reach a high purity of 99% or higher, much like conventional rocket fuels used in the past.

How it was made: With a height of 32 meters (104.9 feet) and a diameter of 2.3 meters (7.5 feet), Zero’s in-house designed combustion chamber adopts the same pintle injector used by SpaceX’s Merlin engines found in the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.
The achievement was made possible due to the combined development and improvement efforts of Tokyo University and the JAXA Space Innovation through Partnership and Co-creation, with JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) being Japan’s equivalent to NASA. Tokyo University and J-SPARC’s design reportedly led to a higher combustion performance for the pintle injectors that are generally known to have limited performance.
The big picture: With their design, the company managed to reduce the number of components needed for Zero to around one-tenth of what a conventional rocket engine usually required. The company said that this effectively lowered the manufacturing cost for the rocket engine.
By using livestock manures, the company also helps mitigate climate change, as methane is a potent greenhouse gas next to carbon dioxide, and reduces other societal concerns within the region, such as odor and water pollution produced by cow dung.
 
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