Japanese Space Startup Powers Rockets with Cow Manure

Japanese Space Startup Powers Rockets with Cow Manure

Japanese space infrastructure firm Interstellar Technologies (IST) recently achieved a remarkable engineering feat – successfully testing a rocket engine powered by an unconventional sustainable fuel derived from cow manure.

Interstellar Technologies

Founded in 2005 when private space activity was still nascent in Japan, IST has focused on affordable launch vehicles for small satellites. Their early achievements include the MOMO sounding rockets, Asia’s first private liquid-fuel rockets.

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The company is now aiming high, with an orbital launch vehicle called Zero in the works. Slightly larger than Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket at 25m tall, Zero is designed to lift 1000kg into low Earth orbit. It would launch from Hokkaido Spaceport, putting most of Asia and Oceania within reach.

A key innovation powering Zero is using liquid biomethane (LBM) as rocket fuel, supplied by partner Air Water Group.

This high-performance propellant originates from an ingenious circular supply chain converting livestock manure from local dairy farms into biogas. Further refining and liquefaction result in methane of over 99% purity, comparable to conventional rocket-grade propellants.

Cow Manure Powers Successful Rocket Engine Test

On December 12th, IST conducted a static fire test of a Zero engine prototype running on LBM. The trial generated 10 seconds of stable combustion, providing vital data for future flights.

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IST’s COSMOS engine employs advanced technologies like pintle injectors and a gas generator cycle. With regenerative cooling around its walls, the chamber achieves exceptionally high efficiency. These innovations required extensive R&D, aided by collaborations with Japanese academia and industry partners like JAXA.

The results validate LBM’s potential as a rocket fuel. Performance is comparable to propellants like RP-1 while offering logistical and environmental advantages. As a potent greenhouse gas from cattle, methane gets put to productive use instead of released into the atmosphere.

COSMOS engine – Implications and Launch Plans

By harnessing LBM, IST is pioneering sustainable and economical space access from Asia. The successful static fire brings them closer to orbit in 2025 with the maiden flight of Zero.

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Positioning Zero as an affordable dedicated rideshare to LEO and sun-synchronous orbit will allow IST to service the launch demand across Asia-Pacific. Enabling rapid and convenient access to space will benefit industries aiming to deploy small satellite constellations.

If Zero also proves reusable like SpaceX rockets, costs could lower further. IST also has ambitious plans for a much larger launch vehicle called Deca in the 2030s.

With innovative engineering and testing, IST and its partners have demonstrated cryogenic biomethane’s viability as renewable rocket fuel. By closing the loop from cow to cosmos, Japan’s space startup is determined to make the industry more sustainable one launch at a time.


  • Japanese firm Interstellar Technologies successfully tested a rocket engine using methane from cow manure as fuel.
  • The company has created a supply chain to extract biomethane from manure and refine it into high-purity rocket-grade propellant.
  • Their engine employs advanced pintle injectors and cooling technologies for top-performance
  • This milestone brings them closer to launching the orbital Zero rocket 2025 on renewable methane fuel.
  • Using manure for fuel makes space launches more sustainable and reduces cattle greenhouse gas emissions.
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