Japan successfully tests rocket engine powered by cow dung

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A Japanese startup has just successfully ignited a methane-fueled rocket engine. There are space companies all over the world pursuing this same goal, but Interstellar Technologies’ biomethane is produced from cow manure from dairy farms on the island of Hokkaido.

Interstellar Technologies (IST) is known for being the first private company in Japan to successfully launch a suborbital rocket. It achieved it in 2019 with the 10-meter-high MOMO rocket. The following year it began developing a two-stage orbital launcher called ZERO. It is a 32-meter-high rocket with the capacity to launch 800-kg loads into low Earth orbit.

ZERO will be equipped with nine small Cosmos engines (plus an additional one in the second stage). These low-cost engines use a concentric pivot injector like that of SpaceX’s Merlin engines. In their scale version, they achieve a thrust of 60 kN. In their flight version, they will have a thrust of 130 kN.

The Cosmos engine is fueled by liquid biomethane derived from cow poop. It uses it as fuel, but also to cool the combustion chamber. It is a sustainable alternative to methane obtained from liquefied natural gas, according to IST. Like other engines, Cosmos uses liquid oxygen as an oxidizer.

The first engine ignition test lasted 10 seconds and was a success. IST has shared a video in which you can see a persistent blue flame, typical of the methane rockets to which we are starting to get used to it. The company has more firing tests scheduled for January. The ZERO rocket is expected to lift off in 2025.

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