For decades, human beings have been using hydrogen to power many of the rockets that propel us into space. This fuel has been essential for develop the space industry, but we live in times when we are rethinking the methods used to reach Earth orbit. Times when we need more reliable, safe and economical options.
The good news is that the space sector has several initiatives on the table, some of which have made great progress. SpaceX has shown that reusable rockets are a very promising path to reducing the costs of access to space. This company is also working on new methane Raptor engines for the Starship launch system as an alternative to hydrogen.
The bet on methane from the US, China and Japan
And it’s not just about the United States. While the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk has not yet managed to demonstrate the operation of its new engines in a real scenario (the next-generation Starship exploded in a test in April this year), China has taken a huge step in this regard. Last July, the aerospace company LandSpace achieved the unthinkable.
A Zhuque 2 Y2 rocket equipped with new TQ-12 engines capable of running on methane reached orbit. The Asian giant’s firm ranked first in this race. Now there is a third player that also aims to make a place for itself on the next-generation rocket scene. This actor is Japan, which together with its space exploration agency (JAXA) and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has taken on the challenge, according to Nikkei.
The reasons why organizations from these three economic powers consider methane as an important part of the future of space exploration are multiple. One of them, without a doubt, is that hydrogen poses many risks associated with conservation and use. When fuel is loaded, it flows into the tanks at cryogenic temperatures, which requires very delicate procedures to be carried out.
The Zhuque 2 rocket from the Chinese firm LandSpace
In addition, analysts say, operating rockets with hydrogen as fuel is much more expensive than doing so with methane, which has lower production costs and is easier to store and transport. Taking these and other advantages into account, JAXA laid the foundations for a new type of engine at the beginning of the new millennium. In fact, he developed a small prototype of a methane propulsion system.
The advances in the following years were not significant, but the interest in finally having an alternative to hydrogen engines has once again generated interest. The Japanese space agency has consolidated a partnership with Mitsubishi Heavy Industriesone of the industrial branches of the Asian giant Mitsubishi Group, to build a next-generation rocket that runs on methane.
This time the challenge seems to be serious. JAXA and Mitsubishi are already designing the engine of the future rocket. And, as part of the project, they are studying this combustion method to develop configurations that will reduce the weight and cost of the rocket. This is, without a doubt, a very ambitious objective that should not remain solely on paper. There is even a roadmap that establishes the objectives to be met.
Japan has proposed that the new rocket, whose name is still unknown, can make its first flight in 2030. If the project evolves as planned, the Japanese hope to have an alternative to the H-IIA launch system, also from Mitsubishi . We are talking about a rocket that has been flying since 2001 and has a very successful operational history: it achieved 39 consecutive missions without problems.
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Source : incakolausa