EcoRocket using steam propulsion, during Mission 10D test launch.

Can Mankind Reach Space Using Steam Power? We’ll Find Out Soon

Dumitru Popescu


On November 17, 2020, during the Future of Rockets keynote, ARCA announced the EcoRocket, a two-stage orbital vehicle, with the first stage powered by 100% clean, water-based propellant.

The uprated current EcoRocket involves a three-stage design with the first two stages using the above-mentioned steam propulsion.

The first two stages are designed to reach space on steam-power only, while the third stage that ignites at space altitudes is using conventional “hot” polluting propulsion, similar to what everyone use.

But, while everyone is using hundreds and thousands of tons of polluting propellants like kerosene and methane, or even solid propellant which is toxic and carcinogenic, in the case of the EcoRocket, 90% of its propellant is clean, while only 10% is polluting and this 10% is used exclusively starting with space altitudes.

Beside providing a huge step forward in terms of environment protection, the EcoRocket design also promises a launch cost reduction between 10–20 times compared to the most cost effective current launchers.

The steam propulsion is not as efficient as the polluting and toxic propulsion methods, but we chose to give-up performance in exchange of extreme cost effectiveness and sustainability.

The steam is produced in the rocket engine by either electrically heating the water stored in the tank while the rocket is preparing for launch, or by an exothermal chemical reaction through the use of an ecological compound, or by a combination of the two. We validated all these three methods during the ground and flight tests.

EcoRocket was supposed to perform its first suborbital space flight in 2021 and then its first orbital flight in 2022, during Mission 10A and 10B respectively.

In a shocking turn of events however, in spite of the vast majority of the launch clearances being obtained, some Romanian officials put a lot of effort to prevent the launch of this ecological extremely cost effective rocket through administrative blocking measures. These measures were doubled by a media campaign supported by those officials themselves, and through various proxies.

They aggressively promoted the idea that the ecological steam propulsion isn’t efficient enough for space launchers. And all of these came while here, in Europe, the European Space Agency was testing a toxic propulsion rocket, Ariane 6, that is currently about to see the start of the operational service. Just saying.

Unfortunately, all of these roadblocks led to huge financial loses for ARCA.

EcoRocket during sea training for launch, in 2021.

Without entering into details about who was behind this campaign against the ecological propulsion and against ARCA overall, and what were their reasons, topics that were extensively discussed in the media back in 2021 and 2022, we are now at the end of 2023, performing the final preparations for a new EcoRocket space-launch attempt.

But what is different now compared with the previous launch attempts? What will stop those bad-intentioned people to repeat the same actions?

Well, we worked extremely hard and we spent significant amount of resources in the past 18 month by changing the launch jurisdiction, thus completely avoiding any involvement of those people.

So, after this short clarification about the context, let’s talk about what we plan to achieve during the upcoming Mission 15.

But what is Mission 15?

In short, we will launch EcoRocket in an attempt to reach space using steam propulsion only.

Mission 15 will be a suborbital flight, while a later mission will attempt the orbital flight involving the use of the same steam propulsion for the first two stages and the hot propulsion for the third stage.

Why is Mission 15 important?

Because it will be for the first time when a rocket powered by steam, 100% ecological, and involving a technology that is 10–20 times less expensive than anything else will reach space.

Can we achieve this during Mission 15?

We are confident in the steam propulsion capability, and that we are well prepared. If not however, we will continue with the next launch and so on, until we will reach space using steam-powered propulsion. This is very important for us, and for the future of space industry that can grow on sustainable technologies.

EcoRocket during Mission 10D test flight

The space launch industry is very conservative, and we realise that the acceptance of new ecological propulsion methods is going to be a long process even if this new approach also involves unprecedented cost effectiveness. I mean, look at everyone. No one changed anything in terms of rocket propulsion for almost 90 years and the space launch prices remained insanely high to this day.

At the end of the day, the space industry is in its vast majority fuelled by substantial amounts of tax payers’ money, and an extremely cost-effective launch method might not be so welcomed by those who manage those money.

But, going back to the upcoming Mission 15 and the question that arise from this: Can mankind reach space using the ecological steam power? Some rocket scientists and space enthusiasts aren’t happy with the prospect, and are enthusiastically saying: No way! I beg to differ. But I guess we’ll find out soon.