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Staged Combustion Engine Fires Up for the First Time, Spits Out 350,000 HP in One Second

Stoke Space FFSC rocket engine firing 8 photos
Photo: Stoke Space
Stoke Space FFSC rocket engine firingStoke Space Nova rocketStoke Space Nova rocketStoke Space FFSC rocket engine firingStoke Space FFSC rocket engine firingStoke Space FFSC rocket engine firingStoke Space FFSC rocket engine firing
It's incredible how many different kinds of rocket engines are being developed at the same time to be used in space exploration. It's something that goes to show, if there was still a need for it, that space is the where the future of humanity can be found.
Over the past few years the biggest players in space exploration have begun investing heavily in the R&D of new rockets and ships that can be reused, thus lowering the cost of each launch. You have probably heard about most of the biggest ones by now: SpaceX, Blue Origin, Sierra Space, Axiom Space, and the list can go on indefinitely.

For every space company that has managed to accomplish something, there are countless other startups that are fighting to make it in this competitive new world. Among them is a crew called Stoke Space, which managed to do something this month that propelled it straight under our spotlight.

Stoke Space is a Seattle-based company that was only founded four short years ago. Its main and stated mission is to provide "low-cost, on-demand transport to, through, and from space" by making use of fully and reusable rockets and space vehicles that could be flipped and sent into new missions with the same frequency passenger aircraft operate today.

A bold mission, one could say, but one that has attracted the attention of the U.S. Space Force, NASA, and the National Science Foundation, organizations that have already funded Stoke's projects to various degrees.

To get to a point where it can live up to its word, the company relies on a rocket called Nova. Still under development, it will be a two-stage system that will be completely reusable, making launches for customers, regardless of their nature, cheap and fast (it remains to be seen exactly how much so).

Stoke Space FFSC rocket engine firing
Photo: Stoke Space
The first stage of the Nova will rely for liftoff on seven liquefied natural gas (LNG) - liquid oxygen (LOX) engines. When its mission of putting stage 2 into orbit is complete, stage 1 will come down to its launch site or some other location for landing.

The stage 2, with a fairing on the top to allow for it to carry cargo, should be capable of performing unlimited restarts of its engines, meaning it will be able to reach and maneuver between a long list of orbits. It too, when the mission is over, is designed to return the Earth in a controlled fashion, as to allow itself to fly again on more and more missions.

At the core of Nova's stage 1 booster is a new kind of engine Stoke is currently developing. It's a piece of hardware of the full-flow, staged-combustion (FFSC) variety, a design that can deliver "unmatched efficiency and performance."

It's the same kind of mode of operation SpaceX is using for its Raptor engines. In a nutshell, such engines have propellant going through several combustion chambers, and this in turn results in a higher fuel efficiency compared to other designs, and a high specific impulse.

Stoke made it into the news this week after it announced the completion of the first hot fire test of the Nova stage 1 engine. The procedure was conducted last week at the company's facility in Moses Lake, Washington.

The test had the powerplant ramping up to its starting power level, moving from a rest state to one where it generated the equivalent of 350,000 horsepower in less than a second. For comparison sake, the five engines of the first stage of the Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo Moon exploration program pushed out the equivalent of 160 million horsepower.

Stoke Space FFSC rocket engine firing
Photo: Stoke Space
Once it reached that point, the engine maintained the power levels for an undisclosed period of time, and the shut down, as per the test procedures.

The impressive thing about all of this is not necessarily the hot fire test or the power generated, but the fact that the engine was put together by Stoke engineers in just one year and a half.

The successful tests puts the company "on track to deliver the most robust, fully, and rapidly reusable medium-lift rocket in the world." It's unclear when we'll get to see the rocket in action, because Stoke never said that publicly.

As for the second stage of the Nova rocket, its capability to take off and land vertically was put to the test in September last year, and not much (that we know of) happened on that front since.

Stoke will continue to put the FFSC engine through various procedures for the remainder of the year, while at the same time scaling operations for the first orbital launch.

When fully operational, the Nova should be able to fulfill missions to a variety of orbits on behalf of both civil and defense customers. We have no word yet on how much Stoke will ask, on average, per launch.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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