Japan’s Interstellar Technologies goes full throttle toward small orbital rocket

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LOGAN, Utah — Japanese startup Interstellar Technologies is developing the main engine for an orbital rocket designed to carry 100 kilograms and slated to conduct its initial test flight in 2020.

“Our goal this year is to complete component testing for the regeneratively cooled main combustion chamber, turbopump and gas generator, and to perform an integrated firing test in early 2019,” Uematsu Chiharu, project manager for Interstellar Technology’s suborbital Momo rocket, told SpaceNews at the Small Satellite Conference here. “We already have all the key technologies.”

Interstellar Technologies is raising money for its orbital rocket, tentatively called Zero. Japanese investors have contributed “a few million” dollars to date but the firm will need additional funding to begin commercial service in 2021, said Ken Terakawa, structural engineer, for Interstellar Technologies of Hokkaido, Japan.

Interstellar Technologies rocketInterstellar’s Momo-2, Japan’s first privately developed sounding rocket, which entered service last year, carrying small payloads for universities and research institutions. Momo-2, a liquid fueled rocket to carry 20 kilograms to an altitude of 100 kilometers, crashed four seconds after liftoff in June.

Interstellar is drawing on Momo components, control algorithms and operations expertise as it develops its orbital rocket, Terakawa said.

Since Rocket Lab of the United States and New Zealand conducted its first successful launch in 2017, Interstellar Technologies has found it easier to raise money. “Now, people see the business potential,” Terakawa said. “We are expanding our business and going full throttle.”

Marubeni Corp., a Japanese trading and investment company, plans to support Interstellar Technologies by selling flights on the rocket, said Atsuchi Takao of Marubeni’s Aerospace and Defense Systems Department.

Interstellar’s orbital rocket will be a liquid-oxygen and kerosene gas-generator cycle liquid fueled rocket designed to loft 100 kilograms to 500 to 700 kilometer sun-synchronous orbits. Momo is an ethanol and liquid oxygen pressure fed rocket.