HyImpulse hybrid rocket motor roars to life for the first time

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Launch startup HyImpulse successfully tested its 16,800-pounds-force hybrid rocket motor Sept. 15 at German space agency DLR’s Lampoldshausen facility.

VALLETTA, Malta — Launch startup HyImpulse successfully tested its 16,800-pounds-force hybrid rocket motor mid-September at German space agency DLR’s Lampoldshausen facility.

Headquartered in Neuenstadt am Kocher, Germany, HyImpulse is developing its three-stage SL1 launch vehicle designed to carry payloads of up to 500 kilogram to Sun-synchronous orbit. The light-lift launch vehicle will be powered by 12 identical 16,800-pounds-force hybrid rocket motors — eight on its first stage, and four on its second stage — plus four smaller versions of the engines powering its third stage.

The HyImpulse-developed hybrid rocket motor is powered by a paraffin-based fuel and liquid oxygen. The motor is designed to make use of simpler hardware than a liquid-fueled system while offering greater safety than strictly solid-fueled motors.

HyImpulse said that the Sept. 15 hot-fire test, its first, confirmed that the paraffin/LOX hybrid rocket engine performed on par with liquid hydrocarbon-based fuels. This performance was achieved utilizing a simpler propulsion system than liquid-fueled rocket engines — which lends itself to reliability — at a fraction of the cost.

In addition to the hot-fire test being an important milestone on the company’s road to a 2022 maiden launch of the SL1, it was also an important step in HyImpulse’s bid to secure ESA development funding.

HyImpulse is developing a three-stage rocket for small satellite launches. Credit: HyImpulse/Fernanda Francisca Photography

HyImpulse along with Isar Aerospace and the OHB-backed Rocket Factory Augsburg received a letter of support from DLR in July for proposals the three German startups submitted under Boost!, an ESA program that aims to foster new commercial space transportation services.

HyImpulse CEO Mario Kobald said the company hopes to receive roughly 500,000 euros in Boost! funding in the coming months to mature the SL1 design and stay in the running to compete for a larger follow-on award. 

In the meantime, HyImpulse will look to utilize a single 16,800-pounds-force hybrid rocket motor to power a sounding rocket launched from the Esrange Space Center in Sweden in March. 

HyImpulse is a DLR spinoff founded in 2018 out of the chemical propulsion center of the German space agency’s Lampoldshausen facility. It is funded by Rudolf Schwarz, chairman of German technology company IABG, and has a 2.5 million-euro grant from the European Commission to advance its launcher technology. The company aims to offer frequent, reliable and low-cost access to space.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said that HyImpulse, Isar Aerospace and Rocket Factory Augsburg each received 500,000 euros in funding this summer under the European Space Agency’s Boost! program. An ESA spokesman said Sept. 28 that the agency was still evaluating proposals.