JAXA Tests Pulse Detonation Engine in Suborbital Flight

S-520-31 lifts off with pulse detonation engine aboard. (Credit: JAXA)

JAXA said that on Tuesday it tested a pulse detonation engine that uses shock waves powered by methane and other gases to create thrust. The Japanese space agency believes the project could produce smaller but powerful engines for use on deep-space exploration missions.

The engine was launched aboard on the S-520-31 sounding rocket from the Uchinoura Space Center. The Japan Times reported JAXA recovered a capsule with test data from the ocean.

Rocket Model/No.Launch Time
(JST)
Launch Vertical AngleMaximum Altitude ReachedLanding Time
S-520-3105:3080.0 degrees235 km/146 miles
(244 seconds after launch)
476 seconds after launch
Source: JAXA

“This experiment is the world’s first flight demonstration of rocket engine technology that safely and efficiently converts shock waves (explosive waves) generated when a mixed gas of fuel and oxygen reacts explosively into thrust,” JAXA said in a press release. “Technology of the detonation engine system (DES) combines a pulse detonation engine (PDE) that intermittently generates shock waves and a rotary detonation engine (RDE) that continuously rotates shock waves in a donut-shaped space.”

The Japan Times reported that JAXA is working the Nagoya University professor Jiro Kasahara to develop an engine that would be about one-tenth the size of ones currently used on deep space spacecraft. The engine, which could be ready for use in about five years, would be able to operate for extended periods of time.