HyImpulse runs successful engine tests for hybrid rocket in Shetland


German-rocket company HyImpulse Technologies has successfully carried out a series of engine tests at the Shetland Space Centre in Scotland last week.

HyImpulse’s engine tests are the first to be conducted at the new Shetland Space Centre, which is located at the former Scatsta airfield. The company’s test program is expected to culminate in the launch of a sounding rocket from Unst in Shetland, the most northernmost isle in the UK, later this year.

HyImpulse’s CEO Mario Kobald said, “We have run a series of different short and long tests on our hybrid motor to qualify it for the first launch of our sounding rocket and are pleased to say that they have worked well. This follows a first round of testing in Germany.

“We are using solid fuel – basically candlewax – that is easy to handle and really cheap, with a further major advantage that there can be no hazardous accidents during shipping and prior to testing and operations.

“During the testing we introduce a liquid oxidiser and heat to make the motor fire. This has been a big step forward in proving that the technology is working.”

A spinout company from German aerospace research agency DLR, HyImpulse is developing a three-stage rocket capable of carring payloads of up to 50kg to a low earth orbit

HyImpulse plans to conduct further engine testing in July and to launch the sounding rocket in the autumn.

The company’s hybrid rocket engine uses a paraffin-based fuel and liquid oxygen. Use of an inert fuel should make logistics and launches safer and cheaper, while improving reliability and performance, said HyImpulse.

Other companies using hybrid rocket engines include Virgin Galactic, which recently reached space for the first time with its SpaceShipTwo and Norwegian company Nammo.

The Shetland Space Centre is in Saxa Vord, Unst and aims to be a launch site for small rockets transporting satellites into polar and sun-synchronous orbits. Last October Lockheed Martin said it is transferring its UK satellite launch program, Pathfinder, to Shetland.

Shetland Space Centre CEO Frank Strang said, “It has been a tremendously exciting two weeks at Scatsta, with the first rocket engine testing marking a major milestone in the development of the space industry in Shetland.

“There is lots more to come from HyImpulse and our other partners including Lockheed Martin, ahead of the first planned vertical rocket launch from Unst next year.”

The engine tests were supported by local companies including marine engineering company Ocean Kinetics, equipment and plant company Streamline, Shetland Power Tools and renewable energy firm Nordri.

Managing director of Ocean Kinetics, John Henderson said, “We were delighted to be approached by Shetland Space Centre to work on this project for Hylmpulse Technologies.

“We fabricated the main support frame for testing the rocket, which included a load-bearing support structure for the rocket engine, nozzle support, and also the stainless steel cryogenic fuel and purge pipework for supplying the rocket engine.

“We placed and secured the engine into its test location and carried out site services including inspection and testing of the pipework.

“Although we are very familiar with delivering bespoke projects, this is, of course, a completely new sector for Ocean Kinetics. The space economy is a fascinating one, and certainly an area for which our services are particularly suited, and we very much look forward to being involved in it, as it evolves.”

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Ben has worked as a journalist and editor, covering technology, engineering and industry for the last 20 years. Initially writing about subjects from nuclear submarines to autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies, he was editor of a leading UK-based engineering magazine before becoming editor of Aerospace Testing in 2017.

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