While perusing web pages, I came across this interesting PDF about the Scorpius space transportation system a component of which can be seen above, right. To the left is a Saturn J-2 engine: it’s successor, the RL-10 produces about the same thrust as the Scorpius for about 100 times the cost. The RL-10, like almost every rocket engine in existence today, uses the turbopump design first created by Dr. Werner von Braun at Peenemunde, during WWII.
Dr. von Braun created the turbopump because the steel tanks he had to work with in the 1940s were too heavy to lift off the ground by any other means. His legacy has cast a long shadow over rocketry – the Space Shuttle main engines – the most powerful machines ever built – are based on his more-than-60-year-old design.
Scorpius started from scratch with composite cryogenic tanks that are so strong they can be pressurized to levels that don’t require turbopumps. So the Scorpius engine (right) can be made for about $4000 – about 1% of the cost of a turbopump design. A Scorpius rocket costs a small fraction of what a similar NASA rocket does and may be more reliable. You can see how simple the engine is compared to the J-2, which has on the order of 10,000 precision parts.
The picture pretty much sums up what VCs are looking for: re-thinking and re-engineering of industrial processes where there is at least a factor of 10 decrease in cost and/or increase in performance. It really helps when the new technology is ‘Green‘ as well..