Rocket startup Gilmour Space gets a $3M grant to develop lighter fuel tanks

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Mass is money when it comes to the rocket launch business, and any small savings you can eke out can add up to big savings. That’s been the driving force behind the growing commercialization of space and the rapid rise of the small satellite industry. Now Australian rocket startup Gilmour Space has received a $3 million grant from the Australian government to help improve rockets in a way that could add significant savings to the launch process.

Gilmour has spent the past seven years launching a hybrid rocket powered by 3D-printed fuel in 2016, working with NASA and developing a commercial use mobile launch platform for flexible, fast launch capabilities last year. This new award will be used to fund the development of lightweight rocket fuel tanks that are flight-ready and could save as much as 30 percent of the weight of current designs, while saving up to 25 percent off the cost of launch.

The project is a collaboration between Gilmour, the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) and Teakle Composites. It is supported by $12.5 million in total investment. The “cryotanks” (so-called because they store super-cold fuel) that result will be constructed of carbon fibre, which is set to be wound using a robot designed for the purpose, using “exotic” filament materials that can stand up to extreme temperatures, radiation and other stresses of space.

Gilmour Space and USQ entered into a strategic partnership last year to work together on research and development of fundamental new rocket technologies, and this project, along with its work on hybrid fuels and other areas of investigation, will culminate in a plan to launch Gilmour’s first commercial rocket into orbit sometime in 2022. The goal of the company is to reduce the cost of access to space, and changing the cost dynamics of fundamental components of the rocket system is likely the best way to do that, even if it requires a significant amount of research and funding up front to make that happen.