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'Interstellar' breakthrough! How cow dung is fueling Japan's space ambition (WATCH)

Japanese space startup achieves a groundbreaking milestone by successfully testing an environmentally sustainable orbital rocket, fueled by liquid biomethane derived from cow dung, showcasing engineering advancements and a commitment to affordable and eco-friendly space travel solutions.

To the moo-n! How cow dung is fueling Japan's space ambition (WATCH) snt
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First Published Dec 17, 2023, 5:19 PM IST

A Japanese space startup has achieved a significant milestone in the development of its inaugural orbital rocket, which is set to be fueled by gas derived from cow dung. Interstellar Technologies Inc. recently conducted a static fire test of the combustion chamber at Japan's Hokkaido Spaceport as part of the Cosmos engine's development for its Zero rocket. 

The successful 10-second burn in the combustion chamber signifies engineering advancements and underscores the viability of using liquid biomethane as an environmentally sustainable rocket fuel, as stated by Interstellar representatives on December 7. Notably, the Zero rocket is designed to utilize liquid biomethane fuel locally produced from livestock manure, specifically cow dung, paired with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer. This achievement not only represents a leap forward in rocket technology but also aligns with the startup's broader mission of creating affordable and environmentally sustainable space travel solutions.

The Rocket: Zero's Unique Features

Scheduled for its inaugural flight in 2025, the Zero rocket is set to become a prominent player in the space launch arena. Standing at an impressive 105 feet (32 meters) in length with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.3 meters), it surpasses the size of Rocket Lab's Electron vehicle, which is 59 feet (18 meters) tall. Launching from the Hokkaido Spaceport, the Zero rocket boasts a payload capacity of approximately 1,760 pounds (800 kilograms) to low Earth orbit.

A noteworthy feature of Zero's design is its new combustion chamber, incorporating a pintle injector technology akin to SpaceX's Merlin engines, renowned for powering Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. This innovation has been developed and refined through collaborative efforts involving Tokyo University and JAXA Space Innovation through Partnership and Co-creation (J-SPARC), the Japanese counterpart to NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).

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Fuel Source: Liquid Biomethane from Livestock Manure

What sets Zero apart is its unconventional fuel source—liquid biomethane (LBM) produced from livestock manures. The LBM is derived by separating and refining methane, the primary component of biogas, and liquefying it at extremely low temperatures, approximately -160 degrees Celsius (-256 Fahrenheit). This process results in a high-purity fuel, comparable to conventional rocket fuels used in the past.

Reduced Components and Manufacturing Cost

One of the notable achievements of Interstellar Technologies is the reduction in the number of components required for Zero's rocket engine. The company claims to have lowered manufacturing costs significantly, making the rocket more economically viable. The design innovation contributes to a streamlined production process, setting the stage for cost-effective space travel solutions.

Environmental Impact and Climate Change Mitigation

Beyond the technological advancement, the use of livestock manures as a fuel source addresses environmental concerns. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is mitigated by converting it into a usable fuel, reducing its impact on climate change. Additionally, this approach helps address regional challenges such as odor and water pollution associated with cow dung.

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Interstellar Technologies Inc.'s successful testing of the Zero rocket powered by cow dung-derived fuel marks a noteworthy achievement in the realm of space exploration. The innovative approach not only showcases advancements in rocket technology but also underscores the company's commitment to creating affordable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly solutions for the future of space travel.

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