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Innospace launches world’s 1st hybrid rocket with electric pump

S. Korean startup’s liftoff marks first space vehicle launch by country’s private sector

March 20, 2023 - 15:29 By Kan Hyeong-woo
Innospace's Hanbit-TLV is launched into space from the Alcantara Space Center, Brazil on Sunday. (Brazilian Air Forces)

Innospace, a South Korean startup specializing in developing hybrid space rockets, said it has launched the Hanbit-TLV -- an 8.4-ton single-stage thrust hybrid rocket standing at 16.3 meters tall -- from the Alcantara Space Center in Brazil at 2:52 p.m. on Sunday local time.

“We will announce the results of the engine’s flight performance and whether the payload’s mission ends up in a success after a comprehensive analysis of the flight data,” said Innospace in a text to reporters.

The company gave no exact timeline on when the final results will be released. The suborbital launch vehicle was loaded with the Brazilian military’s inertial navigation system -- called SISNAV -- which weighs 20 kilograms.

A video that was uploaded to the YouTube account of a user named John Cutrim on Sunday, showed the blastoff of the Hanbit-TLV from the Brazilian Air Force’s launchpad. The description of the video read, “The Alcantara launch center today launched a vehicle from the South Korean company Innospace. The South Korean Hanbit-TLV rocket was successfully launched.”

The Korean startup had initially aimed for a launch on March 8, but it did not happen due to a problem with a frozen battery just 10 seconds before launch. The company then fixed the issue and waited until good weather on Sunday for the launch.

“Developing a space launch vehicle is a process of constantly overcoming variables. The valuable experience and know-how earned during the test launch will become our core technology and a stepping stone for us to become a professional space company with independent technology and launch management capabilities,” said Kim Soo-jong, CEO of Innospace.

Sunday’s liftoff came about three months after the Korean startup's project had to be put on hold at the same site due to a weather issue, problems with a cooling valve and connection errors between systems.

Innospace’s launch was the first rocket blastoff by Korea’s private sector. According to the company, the Hanbit-TLV was also the world’s first launch of a hybrid rocket using an electric pump.

The launch is a test project to assess the performance of the hybrid rocket engine, which is planned to be used as the first stage engine of the Hanbit-Nano rocket later. Innospace is developing the Hanbit-Nano, which is expected to have a 50-kilogram payload, to enter the market for launching commercial small satellites in 2024.

According to Innospace, its hybrid rocket technology of using solid fuel and liquid oxidizer has major advantages in costing less and needing less time to build an engine while guaranteeing safety, as the technology prevents the rocket engine from exploding in urgent cases.

The company plans to develop two additional launch vehicles capable of having a 150-kilogram and 500-kilogram payload, respectively.

Innospace was established by the current CEO in 2017. Since then, the startup has raised 55.2 billion won ($42 million) in investment funding. The rocket developer plans to go public on Korea’s secondary tech-heavy Kosdaq in 2024 through the technology special listing track.