Electron’s propulsion workhorse is the Rutherford rocket engine. Rutherford is the embodiment of power and efficiency; it is the key driver behind Rocket Lab’s ability to provide high-frequency, low-cost launches.
The Rutherford Engine is an electric turbo-pumped LOX/RP-1 engine specifically designed for the Electron launch vehicle, capable of 5,000 lbf thrust and with an ISP of 327 s.
Rutherford adopts an entirely new propulsion cycle, making use of brushless DC motors and high performance Lithium Polymer batteries to drive its turbo-pumps.
Rutherford is also the first oxygen/hydrocarbon engine to use additive manufacturing for all primary components, including the regeneratively cooled thrust chamber, injector, pumps, and main propellant valves.
Electron uses two variants of the Rutherford engine, a sea level and a vacuum engine. The vacuum variant differs only in nozzle shape, which is tailored to suit the vacuum conditions outside Earth’s atmosphere. The duplicate engine design for both stages makes Electron highly optimized for fast production.
The engine is named after the famous New Zealand born physicist Ernest Rutherford.