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First engine hot test: Hell yeah!

Published on:
January 15th 2021

Left the office not knowing how the day would end. We could be up for one of our life's greatest victories. We could also be dead or in jail.

“Whatever happens, let’s cherish this day." I held a small speech at the office over pizza just before we left at 1 pm. "Few people get to experience this.”

We pushed the button as the sun slid behind the mountain's crest. And we will never look at the stars the same way again.

It worked, and it worked on the first attempt.

We couldn't believe it. How was that even possible? There were so many unknowns. The engine, our brainchild, born out of nothing but imagination and math. Would she take the heat and the pressure?

The pipes, the welds, the valves, the O-rings. Would they hold up? We had done lots of water tests, but this was acid and fire.

The test stand was a fortress by the time Tyler was done reinforcing it. Still, though, would the trailer stay put? And the propellants. There have been a zillion of tests with cryogenics but not much with hypergolic, our self-igniting fuel, and oxidizer. Would they react at all, or too much? And how to get them to the test site in the first place?

We've done dangerous things in our life but this was different. There had been so much math. So many possible mistakes. The exact size and curvatures of Asterex, the movable pintle,  the 200 cooling channels. The diameter of the pipes, the home-made flanges with acid-resistant o-rings demanding exact grooves and sizes.

Propellant research spanning old NACA papers, to Peter Madsen’s Spectra report (yeah THAT guy). Calls to friends at Interorbital in Mojave, Skype with Gad locked down in his own lab in India. Open cup tests, now there was smoke, now there was fire. What the heck? Was our concentration even high enough?

Parts from eBay alongside FAA safety and procedure checklists from the DARPA challenge days. Which, actually, was what made us go mobile in the first place.

Launch anytime, from anywhere, we still like that idea. The blast mobile left the shop past 1 pm and we were back at about 4. Travel, setup, safety-checks, and filling up. Three hours, door-to-door. And it was our first.

The engine is 12 kN, designed for 10 MPa, so at only 2 MPa and 8 liters of propellant we expected a small burp at best. We got a dragon. No use pretending we were cool about any of it. The countdown inmakes it evident.

This fire was for about 2-3 seconds. Next, we'll increase pressure and propellant to get the flame a chance to focus and give us the coveted diamonds (although they are debated, more on this in the future). We'll keep raising in a series of tests to see how far Asterex can go before blowing up.

We did the hot test 9 months after funding. Someone, Firefly I think, did theirs in 18 months which they said was a record. Guess we just cut that in half. Hail to busted dream miles in Space.

At over 5000 K temperature, almost that of the sun, the explorers’ first rocket engine just tamed the god of fire. This one is to Tsiolkovsky, Amundsen, Columbus et all. We’re f-ing going to MARS.

Tina Sjogren
Tina Sjogren
CEO & Founder
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