Pulsar demonstrates UK-built rocket engine

UK nuclear fusion firm Pulsar Fusion has developed and tested its first launch-capable, high power chemical rocket engine.

The UK acceptance tests took place at Cranfield Ordnance Test & Evaluation Centre (COTEC) November 17 and 18. These static tests will be followed by an international demonstration for space clients in Switzerland on November 25.

Pulsar Fusion CEO Richard Dinan said: “We are delighted with the UK test firings at COTEC. It is a hugely significant moment and we are proud this rocket is built in the UK. To have a British rocket test on UK soil is novel.

“Pulsar is among a very few companies around the world to have built and tested these technologies. We have a team of fantastic scientists with a wealth of experience to thank for these milestones. We have also drawn talent from some of the UK’s top universities who have begun working with and testing our plasma thrusters at campus facilities.”

The firm's ‘green’ (non-toxic) hybrid rocket engine combusts nitrous oxide (N2O) oxidiser and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) fuel and oxygen. This new model enables Pulsar to manufacture these compact rocket engines with record lead times. According to the company, the engines also benefit from relatively benign failure modes in comparison with conventional liquid propulsion types.

Pulsar Fusion received UK government funding in September 2021 to further develop its HET (Hall effect thruster) plasma satellite engines, capable of 20km/second particle exhaust speeds. These Pulsar thrusters have recently been tested at Harwell’s facilities where they withstood 20g of vibration, simulating a rocket launch. Pulsar hopes to carry out in-orbit demonstrations of the engines soon.

According to Pulsar Fusion, its rocket engines could be used for a variety of applications, including launching people and satellites into space. The company’s ultimate ambition is to use nuclear fusion technologies to produce a hyper-speed propulsion engine for interplanetary travel. A prototype is expected in 2025.