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LEGOs And Laughing Gas: Private Company Scores DARPA Contract For New Rocket Engine

A hot-fire test of Rocket Crafter's hybrid engine. Photo: RCI
A hot-fire test of Rocket Crafter's hybrid engine. Photo: RCI

A central Florida rocket company received over $500,000 from the Department of Defense to develop and test a new rocket engine.

The DoD’s experimental research arm, DARPA,is interested in a rocket engine in development from private space company Rocket Crafters.

The Titusville based company is working on a hybrid rocket engine that uses both solid and liquid fuel. Parts of the engine are fabricated using 3D printers.

Rocket Crafter’s CEO and former NASA Astronaut Sid Gutierrez said the engine is safer and more reliable than traditional engines.

He says that dependability also lowers the cost of the rocket.“DARPA is very interested in our engine because it offers them to do some things at a much lower cost”

The company uses Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) for its solid fuel cells -- that's the same material used to make LEGO bricks. It also uses nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, as an oxidizer.

The $542,600 contract will pay for the development of the 8 foot long 10 inch diameter engine, as well as a test stand to measure it’s power. “We will actually be testing it at a location in Cocoa, and we’ll be building the fuel grain itself down on Florida’s Space coast as well,” said Gutierrez.

DARPA asked Rocket Crafters to demonstrate the engine can provide 500 pounds of thrust, as well as the ability to throttle up and down. Gutierrez expects to demonstrate the engines abilities to meet those requirements later this year.

Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program. Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration, and the weekly news roundup podcast "The Wrap."