Startup unveils ‘new generation’ rocket engines with ‘PowerGel’ fuel

Rockets can be switched on or off at will, fuel is storable and nontoxic, NewRocket says; engines are suited for space and defense, ‘anywhere you have a rocket’

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

NewRocket says it is developing a new generation of space engines (Courtesy)
NewRocket says it is developing a new generation of space engines (Courtesy)

Israeli startup NewRocket has unveiled what it says is a “new generation” of rocket engines that are gel-fueled, low-cost and environmentally friendly.

The company’s engines are suited for space and defense purposes – in crafts of all sizes, “anywhere you have a rocket,” CEO Ilan Harel said.

The PowerGel fuel the company uses is based on technology developed by Prof. Benny Natan of the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, which was licensed exclusively to the company.

“The fuel is made of commonly used kerosene to which we added materials to transform it into a gel. And then other substances are added, that transforms this gel into a high performing, energetic and hypergolic propellant,” said Harel, declining to reveal the identity of the substances. A hypergolic propellant is a substance that can spontaneously ignite when it comes into contact with an oxidizer, he explained.

NewRocket’s PowerGel for rocket engines (Courtesy)

The firm is still developing the rockets with the fuel, and is running development projects with “leading aerospace corporations,” the Israel Innovation Authority, and the Israel Space Agency for a total of some $6 million, Harel said.

The firm is now seeking to raise several million dollars to expand development and reach the market with its product “very soon,” said Harel. It has already secured $1 million in investment from UK based Consensus Business Group (CBG), led by investor Vincent Tchenguiz. CBG has an investment portfolio of $600 million.

As conquering space moves from the government sphere to private initiatives, more and more satellites, moon landers and space labs are being launched, and firms in the sector are looking for technologies that are both greener and more cost effective.

Traditional fuels used today for satellite propulsion are highly toxic, based on hydrazine, which is expected to be banned in Europe, the company said in the statement.

Ilan Harel, NewRocket’s CEO (Courtesy)

The rockets developed by the startup are “fully controllable,” said Harel, meaning the rocket can be switched off or on at will,  so once the spacecraft reaches its orbit the rocket can be switched off.

“Rockets that don’t use controllable engines run their engines until they exhaust the fuel,” Harel explained. “Those that are using controllable engines either use highly toxic fuels, which can be stored for long time, storable fuels, or they use cryogenic fuels which are considered nontoxic but are used only for short duration, non-storable.”

Rockets currently in the market are either highly energetic, controllable or environmentally friendly, he said. NewRocket is the only firm that combines all of these traits, he said. “To the best of my knowledge we are the only ones with this kind of solution.”

“Our fuel is both controllable, storable and nontoxic thus allowing long term operation with safe and nontoxic technology,” he said.

NewRocket was founded by Zohar Schlagman and Moti Elyashiv at Incubit Ventures, an incubator owned and backed by Elbit Systems and supported by the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA). Incubit Ventures, which invested $700,000 in the firm, targets early-stage, deep-tech startups with disruptive technologies.

“The space industry is going through a massive transformation. For decades it has been a government-controlled sector. Still, in recent years, with the emergence of private initiatives by entrepreneurs like Elon Musk’s SpaceX, the civilian space market started to rapidly develop,” said Netta Cohen, Incubit Ventures CEO. “For this market to accelerate and scale, there is real need to reduce costs while maintaining high performance. NewRocket’s solution disrupts the market with an innovative approach” that meets the market needs of the new space initiatives.

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