Rocket Crafters Gets DARPA Research Contract for Large-Scale Hybrid Engine

TITUSVILLE, Fla. (Rocket Crafters PR) — Rocket Crafters, Inc. (RCI) announced today it has been awarded a $542,600 research contract by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Under the terms of the agreement, RCI is tasked to build and test a large-scale hybrid rocket engine using RCI’s patented Direct-Digital Advanced Rocket Technology (D-DART™). During the eight-month period of performance, RCI aims to design, build, and test a 5,000 lbf peak thrust, throttle-capable hybrid rocket engine based on the company’s potentially industry-disruptive rocket engine technology.

In theory, hybrid rockets have several advantages over the more commonly used solid and liquid chemical rockets. They can be throttled and restarted, unlike a solid rocket, and are less costly and faster to develop compared to liquid rocket engines due to their mechanical simplicity. They are also safer to handle than either solid or liquid rockets. For these reasons, Government and industry researchers have long sought to develop a large-scale hybrid rocket engine but have had significant difficulties with unpredictable thrust and excessive vibration.

RCI’s D-DARTTM rocket engine solves those long-standing problems. Using advanced giant-scale additive manufacturing (also known as industrial 3D printing) equipment, RCI prints near-perfect fuel grains from proprietary high-energy polymer/additive formulas. These grains are designed to dually serve as the engine’s fuel source and combustion chamber.

In this DARPA research effort, RCI intends to build on its previous research with lab-scale prototype engines. Their initial test series achieved a 97.5-percent thrust profile consistency and showed no signs of combustion instability or vibration—a level of performance never before demonstrated in a hybrid rocket engine. With assistance from researchers at the Florida Institute of Technology, Rocket Crafters’ scientists and engineers are currently conducting an extensive study to determine the optimum solid fuel formulation and oxidizer/fuel mixture to be used in the company’s future hybrid-rocket-powered products.

Under the DARPA agreement, RCI aims to design, build, and throttle-test a flight-capable rocket motor using a custom static test oxidizer system mounted on a new hybrid rocket test stand to be constructed at Florida’s Space Coast. These tests seek to verify the hybrid rocket engine’s reliability and consistency while, at the same time, demonstrating throttling and emergency engine shutdown capabilities.

Using its unique hybrid rocket engine technology, Rocket Crafters is designing Intrepid-1™, the first in a family of safe, affordable hybrid-rocket-powered expendable launch vehicles dedicated to delivering small satellites and spacecraft to Earth orbit and beyond. RCI’s vison is to change the way we access space by making it safe, reliable and affordable, facilitating the expansion and growth of space commerce. For more information, please visit www.rocketcrafters.com.

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  • Jonathan A. Goff

    I hope DARPA didn’t just get gulled out of a lot of money. Rocket Crafters has a mixed track record with honesty/reality.

    ~Jon

  • Jeff2Space

    IMHO, hybrids have most of the headaches of both solids and liquids. They’ve always been a solution looking for an actual problem to solve.

  • Jonathan A. Goff

    There probably are some niche areas where hybrids make sense, but I generally agree with you. I’m not a big RocketCrafters fan as they’re the ones that conned the Front Range Airport guys into wasting money on Spaceport Colorado (trying to convince them that their tech would enable suborbital point-to-point flight to Singapore from Denver, and crap like that). They also have been dishonest in the past showing of labs as theirs that were actually Utah State University labs (one of the people in the photo they were trying to pass off as a team member was an employee of mine at the time who was wrapping up his masters degree at USU). They also conned Space Florida out of money recently by claiming to bring hundreds of jobs to the space coast…

    As I said, I’m not a big fan of industry members behaving like that. It gives all of us a bad name.

    ~Jon

  • Vladislaw

    http://rocketcrafters.space/products-services/intrepid-launcher-family/intrepid-1/
    “Capability:
    376kg to 500km 96° Sun Synchronous Orbit
    250kg to 750km 90° Polar Orbit
    220kg to 750km 96° Sun Synchronous Orbit

    Stages:
    1: 4x 82kN Sparta -82B hybrid engines
    2: 4x 3kN Sparta-3V hybrid engines

    Airframe and Aeroshell:
    D-DAC™ Carbon composite
    16.2m Stack height
    1.7m diameter
    24,200kg GTOW (Gross Take-Off Weight)

    Mission Cost:
    $9 Million (USD)
    $23,936/kg (500km Sun Synchronous Orbit)”

    From the article:
    “hybrid rocket engine based on the company’s potentially industry-disruptive rocket engine technology.”

    Over $10,000 a pound .. I do not understand how that pricing will be distruptive?

  • It’ll disrupt your bank account!

  • passinglurker

    Well electron and launcher one are like $50,000 a lb iirc? or is that per kg? Still I think I’ll file this one in the same bin as ARCA and Interorbital until proven otherwise.

  • patb2009

    80% of the complexity lives in the Oxidizer side and a Hybrid has all that.
    Worse, it’s hard to get a consistent O:F ratio as you go down the grain.
    In a solid you get consistent regression or you can tune it, but it’s all level to the face,assuming you did a decent job on the mixing.

    So that makes it hard to get good combustion efficiency in a hybrid,
    and it’s hard to get steady combustion.

  • publiusr

    Sounds like AMROC lives–after a fashion.

    They had all the LOX up top–with lower stages just being tire-rubber tubes.
    I can’t think of a simpler stage.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    Hybrids don’t necessarily scale up that well as Scaled Composites and VG have found out. Restarting a hybrid reliably is something I’d like to see. They are usually started with a pyro device that is expelled during start up making them much like a solid motor that can be turned off.

    Nothing is truly “disruptive” until the bugs are worked out and it can be done at a profit.