Japanese space startup developing LNG-powered rocket

Japanese private company Interstellar Technologies is working on a liquefied natural gas-powered orbital rocket as it is looking for ways to lower costs of reaching space.

The small startup will use LNG for the main engine on its micro satellite launcher named Zero, currently under development.

The company aims to use the launcher to transport small satellites to various orbits from its Taiki launch site.

Interstellar said it conducted tests on a wide variety of fuels including methane, kerosene, and ethanol with the latter currently used in its sounding rocket “Momo”.

However, it selected LNG engines for its Zero project as these engines are “environmentally friendly, non-toxic, easy to procure and handle, and pose no risk of sea contamination”.

In addition, LNG advantages include higher engine performance and lower cost in comparison to other common propellants, according to the startup.

Interstellar has earlier this year conducted static firing tests for the LNG engine at its site on Japan’s island of Hokkaido.

The LNG engine development is a collaboration that includes Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Muroran Institute of Technology.

The startup says it has fully utilised know-how of JAXA as the agency has been conducting firing tests using LNG for over 30 years.

Interstellar is looking to deploy the Zero launch vehicle in 2023 but it will not be an easy task.

The company has faced difficulties as it has recently delayed a plan to launch its Momo-5 rocket due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Following the delay, the company launched a crowdfunding campaign on May 2 to support its fixed costs and research operations raising more than 39 million yen.

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