The high cost of launch vehicles, especially rocket engines, has always restricted humans from carrying out large-scale space activities. As the core component of a liquid propellant rocket engine, the thrust chamber occupies 1/3 to 1/2 of the cost of an engine. If its cost can effectively reduce, then the large-scale production of liquid engines can be achieved and the cost of commercial space activities can be truly reduced.
Yu Yuan, the senior engineer of a Chinese private space company, LandSpace Technology Co., has been working towards this goal since 2017. His innovative work on pin-injector comprehensively uses new technologies and achievements in materials and manufacturing fields in China, such as high-strength and high-conductivity copper alloys, rapid electroforming nickel, hot isostatic pressing, and robot lasers welding.
The outcomes have significantly shortened the production cycle of the thrust chamber, and to some extent automated the thrust chamber production, thereby resolving the scalability and cost issue in the mass production process of thrust chambers.
When everything finally goes into production, the effect is outstanding. It takes LandSpace about 100 days, from design to production, to produce a thrust chamber for a 10 ton liquid oxygen methane engine. In contrast, the traditional process takes about one year.
Compared to the traditional process, a 100-ton liquid oxygen methane thrust chamber, that is currently under development, is 25% lighter, the production cycle is shortened by more than one year, and the manufacturing cost is 70% less. It can be reused more than 20 times, establishing a basis for rocket reusability in the future.
In Yuan’s view, these innovative efforts can truly make space more accessible, and become the fundamental technologies for other space programs like global low-orbiting wireless network constellations, large-scale orbital space stations, and personal space tourism.