Reusable rocket engine clears major capability test

2024-04-16 Editor : Li Yan ECNS App Download

China's rocket scientists and engineers recently conducted a major test on a new type of engine — the most important component in the nation's attempts to build reusable carrier rockets.

The twice-ignition test, which took place on Friday at an engine testing facility in Fengxian county, Shaanxi province, successfully verified the reusable engine's capability and actual performance, according to the Academy of Aerospace Propulsion Technology, China's major manufacturer of liquid-propellant rocket engines, based in provincial capital Xi'an.

The most remarkable element in the testing procedure was that the engine was ignited 30 times in 15 ignition tests, and it accumulated more than 3,900 seconds of burning operation, said the academy, which is a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the country's major space contractor.

According to its designers, the new engine consumes liquid oxygen and kerosene, and has a thrust of 130 metric tons. It incorporates advanced technologies such as a continuous variable thrust system.

The engine will be used as the main propulsion system on reusable rocket models that have been in the process of research and development at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, designers said.

Gao Xinhui, a senior researcher at the Xi'an academy and project manager of the 130-ton-thrust engine series, said on Monday that the new engine is being developed based on existing liquid oxygen-and-kerosene engine models.

"Through continuous improvements and tests, the new engine has had stronger power and better operating efficiency compared with existing types. Our engineers have also extensively reduced its overall weight and size," he said.

Gao said that Friday's test was intended to verify the rapid maintenance procedures designed for the engine model after its use, improving its reliability and also exploring its service limit.

"We will continue to carry out such tests to check how many times it can be reused, and examine its performance in each test," he added.

Designers at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp are working on several types of reusable rockets, which have become popular in the international space community following the success of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket fleet.

The latest development was announced in March by Wang Wei, a senior company executive. He said that researchers are designing two reusable rocket types — one with a diameter of 4 meters and the other 5 meters — and plan to make their debut flight in the coming two years.

Jiang Jie, a top rocket scientist at the company, said a reusable space transportation system will substantially improve China's capability of entering and developing the outer space, and will help reduce safety risks of launching activities, lower launching costs and boost space technology.

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