Tests of a combustion-free thruster have boosted a startup’s hopes of using microwave beaming from the ground to power a small single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) reusable launch vehicle—something that has yet to prove possible with chemical rocket propulsion. In laboratory tests, says Escape Dynamics, the thermal thruster demonstrated a specific impulse (Isp)—a measure of rocket engine efficiency—greater than 500 sec. using helium as the propellant. Had hydrogen been used ...

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