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Japan Successfully Tests Rotary Detonation Rocket Engine – Designed for Deep Space Due to Low Fuel Use

When it comes to making a rocket (and really whenever you want to put something in space) size and weight are two of the most important factors. In order to alleviate the burden as much as possible, new methods and technologies are always being sought to help with this. One of the main components that has the most weight? The fuel. Hence in Japan are experimenting with new thrusters that consume less.


As reported by the Japanese space agency JAXA, hhave successfully tested a new rocket powered by a rotary detonation engine. It is a special propellant that uses shock waves to propel itself, produced by burning methane and oxygen. By detonating explosions in a controlled manner in a circular pattern, a boost is produced that is much more efficient by using less fuel.

We have previously seen the odd laboratory experiment. However, now Japan has gone a step further, testing the technology from miles high. The engine was mounted on the S-520-31 rocket, released on July 27, 2021 from JAXA’s Uchinoura Space Center in Japan.

Once the rocket reached the proper height, the rotary detonation system was separated from the first stage of the rocket. From there proceeded to activate for a total of 6 seconds performing rotating detonations. After that a second pulse detonation system ran for two seconds. Finally a capsule with the collected telemetry data and videos fell into the ocean to be later collected by the authorities.

  S-520-31

JAXA S-520-31 rocket with the new propellant inside.

More boost, less fuel

Now that the trial has been successful, JAXA says it will proceed to analyze in detail all the data collected during the experiment. This will allow you to continue researching and developing rocket engines much more efficient than the current ones, specially designed for long trips such as deep space, where the important thing is to minimize the weight as much as possible.

According to JAXA, the rotary knock engine generates knock waves and compression waves at “extremely high” frequencies, thereby achieving greater thrust. On the other hand, the system uses much less fuel than a traditional one as it is not detonating continuously. Hence it is considered that is efficient, by using less fuel and at the same time generating a greater boost.

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The difficulty in these thrusters lies in get them to work. On paper the theory works, when it comes to putting it into practice it is much more difficult, especially in the extreme conditions in which a rocket is found crossing the atmosphere or in space. For now, Japan can boast of having managed to operate the first rotary detonation engine in space, which is no small feat.

Vía | The Japan Times
More information | JAXA