NZ startup creates 3D-printed, battery-powered rocket engine

Rocket Lab, the Auckland-based aerospace company, unveiled its latest innovation at the US Space Symposium this week: a 3D-printed, battery-powered rocket engine.

The Rutherford engine. Source: Rocket Lab
The Rutherford engine. Source: Rocket Lab

Rocket Lab founder and chief executive Peter Beck says that the Rutherford engine – named after New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford – is the world’s first battery-powered rocket engine and the first new rocket propulsion system created in 50 years, according to

Traditional rocket engines, such as jet engines, use an expensive and complex gas turbine to help pump the fuel. Rocket Lab has replaced that with electric motors, software and batteries, resulting in a Coke can-sized canister with a super high-speed electric motor that helps pump liquid oxygen fuel into the ignition chamber.

The fact that parts of the engine are 3D-printed also makes it much cheaper and quicker to build.

Rutherford will power Rocket Lab’s carbon-composite rocket, the Electron. Unveiled in 2014 but yet to be launched, the 18-metre-long rocket has been designed to reduce the total time it takes to launch a satellite into orbit from years to just weeks. The rocket is expected to cost less than US$5 million (NZ$6.7m), making space more accessible.

The new engine design has been widely covered in national and global media. Examples include:

NZ Newswire: Rocket Lab reveals powerful new engine
New Zealand Herald: Rocket Lab unveils world’s first battery rocket engine
ONE News: Kiwi rocket getting closer to lift off – with electric motor the size of a Coke can Rocket Lab unveils electric rocket engine
3 News: Rocket Lab’s pocket sized engine packs power
Hawkes Bay Today: Rocket launch could boost local economy
International Business Times UK: World first battery-powered rocket unveiled that is built from mostly 3D printed parts
Mashable: The next space race will be 3D printed
The Daily Mail: The battery powered rocket powerful enough to blast satellites into orbit
Forbes:Rocket Lab Unveils A 3D-Printed, Battery-Powered Rocket Engine
Engadget:Startup launches first 3D-printed battery-powered rocket
Popular Science: A 3D-Printed, Battery-Powered Rocket Engine
New York Daily News:Startup creates 3-D-printed, battery-powered rocket engine
Fast Company: Meet The New Zealand Company That’s 3-D Printing Rocket Engines… And They Work
GOOD Magazine (US): Rocket Lab Is Using 3D Printing to Cut Costs on Satellite Launch