Norwegian defense firm launches hybrid rocket

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Norwegian aerospace and defense company Nammo has launched its Nucleus rocket, which is powered by a hybrid rocket motor, for the first time.

The rocket was launched from the Andøya Space Center in Northern Norway on September 27 and reached an altitude of 107.4 km. This made it the first rocket powered by a Norwegian motor design to cross the Karman line and the first European hybrid rocket motor to do so in more than 50 years.

The Nucleus is a 9m (30ft) long rocket with a total weight of around 800kg (1700 lb) able to provide 30kN of thrust. The planned final version of the engine will provide up to 100kN of thrust.

Morten Brandtzæg, president and CEO of Nammo, said, “This is a tremendous achievement, and we are really proud of the entire space team. We have invested a lot of time and effort in this project, and it was such a great experience to finally watch it take off.”

Ground testing of the rocket was completed in July.

The Nucleus Rocket is designed to lift scientific instruments into the upper layers of the atmosphere and during this first flight carried three different experiments. Engineers at Nammo hope to scale up the hybrid rocket motor propelling it to lift a range of payloads, including small satellites weighing up to 150kg into low earth orbit.

Nammo’s hybrid engine uses both liquid and solid fuel and emits only water and carbon dioxide. According to the company the oxidizer, hydrogen peroxide, is safer than other liquid fuels because it is non-poisonous. The engine can also be throttled, turned off – and restarted.

Adrien Boiron, lead engineer on the Nucleus project said, “Even though hybrid rockets have been around since the thirties, a number of technical challenges have remained. We are proud that we have been able to solve these and get the concept to work for the first time.”

The Nucleus is Norway’s bid to join the list of countries with the capacity to build launch vehicles for satellites and send them into space from home bases. This includes Russia, India, China, USA, France and Japan.

Nammo is hoping that the new propulsion technology demonstrated with Nucleus will be able to power future launch vehicles for small satellites.

“Over the next few years there are plans to launch thousands of small satellites. The benefit of our new hybrid rocket motor is they can lift them into orbit with the accuracy of a liquid fueled engine, but without the associated complexity and costs, making it ideal for smaller European launch sites,” said Onno Verberne, Nammo’s vice president of business development for space.

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Ben has worked all of his career as a journalist and now editor, covering almost all aspects of technology, engineering and industry. In the last 16 years he has written on subjects from nuclear submarines and autonomous cars to future design and manufacturing technologies and commercial aviation. Latterly editor of a leading engineering magazine, he brings an eye for a great story and lots of experience to the team.

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