For decades, satellites have been getting smaller but the rockets that launch them haven’t. Most active vehicles are still designed for historically large satellites and this is forcing a new generation of SmallSats to rideshare on enormous rockets in an expensive system of compromise.
Of the small satellites forecast to be launched between 2021 and 2030, 70% are predicted to fall in the under 250-kilogram weight class. However, launch vehicles that can operate at this weight lack appropriate propulsion systems. There is a clear market demand for dedicated launch vehicles that can take small satellites exactly where and when they need to go, but the fundamental technical challenge is that rocket engines and their associated pumps and turbomachinery are incredibly difficult to scale down. Attempts to scale down existing technology commonly result in spiralling costs and complexities.
Protolaunch believes that the right engine is the key to unlocking a successful microlauncher, and aims to supply that propulsion.
It is developing an engine based around a novel thermodynamic cycle designed specifically for small payloads from the outset. This is possible because of its core engine technology, which acts as the enabler for a new type of launch vehicle.
The Protolaunch engine has three key advantages:
- Simplicity: it eliminates complex turbomachinery and operates at pressures up to 20 times lower than existing concepts.
- Weight reduction: it uses additive manufacturing with a light-weight alloy selection for components that were traditionally the heaviest parts in a rocket.
- Sustainability: it facilitates use of carbon-neutral fuels in a way that was historically very difficult for blow-down engines to achieve, removing the reliance on and the weight penalty of extreme high-pressure tanks.