Toshiba Corp., the world’s biggest maker of vacuum engines, is turning to the space industry for an answer to a challenge that’s been brewing in the U.S. since the late 1970s: turning vacuum into a revenue stream for the satellite-manufacturing company.
In a deal announced Friday, Toshiba’s Bosch E24 vacuum engine will compete with the Buran-based V-22 Osprey and the Burman-based SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which is also building its own vacuum engines.
Toshiba said the two vacuum engines will compete for revenue against a Bosch vacuum engine that uses a new, cheaper material called Bost-Kludge that it says will save money.
Tosomata is one of the biggest players in the global vacuum-engine market, with orders for its Bosch-made vacuum engines growing each year.
The company makes more than 1,000 vacuum engines in its worldwide headquarters in Tokyo.
Tobias Ziemba, Tosatom’s vice president for sales and marketing, said the Bosch engine was developed in a vacuum and is the first of its kind in the world.
He said Toshiba plans to sell the Boschi-designed vacuum engine to other companies in the space and vacuum industry.
Toby Bost, the Bosche founder who also founded Burman Aerospace, said he was excited about the collaboration.
He sees a future for Bosch as a leader in the aerospace industry and said the new Bosch product will help make the company a better leader for the future.
Bost-kludge is made from carbon fiber that is recycled from other parts of the spacecraft manufacturing industry, and Bost said Bosch has built the engine in a way that is similar to how the vacuum engines are manufactured today.
The new Boschi engine will cost about $100 million, he said.
Talks with Bosch, Tosomata and SpaceX are expected to continue this year.
The space industry has been struggling for decades to find a reliable source of vacuum energy, said David Fong, a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder.
The U.K. Space Agency has used Bosch’s E24 engine for some of its rockets and other satellites, but the vacuum engine has a long history of reliability problems.
Bost also recently announced that he will no longer be involved in the company’s rocket business.
“The vacuum industry is one where there’s been no real innovation in decades,” Fong said.
“If there’s one thing I know, it’s that we’ve got to make sure that we have a reliable engine that can provide reliable thrust to a spacecraft in orbit.”
Bost and Fong agreed that the space vacuum engine is crucial for space exploration.
SpaceX has plans to build a $2.4 billion vacuum engine at its Hawthorne, California, factory that will power the Falcon 9 and Dragon capsules that will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station.
But Bost noted that the Falcon Heavy rocket that SpaceX has been developing has been a slow burner, with several delays in the last two years.
“What you’re seeing is that SpaceX is not really having a success story, which has not been a sustainable business,” he said, noting that the company needs to build its Falcon Heavy engine quickly.
Toward that end, Bost and SpaceX have agreed to work together on a partnership that will bring more affordable, reusable spaceflight vehicles to market.
The Space Act Agreement between Boeing Co. and SpaceX is expected to go into effect this month.
The new Bosche engine will provide Bosch with more reliable propulsion for the Burkinabe rocket that will lift NASA astronauts to and from the space station, said Bosche Vice President Paul Ziembalski.
Bosch hopes the new engine will also help make Burkinbe’s Burman spacecraft cheaper, Fong noted.