Rocket vs. Drone: FPV Drone races ARCAspace’s EcoRocket [Video]

Drone captures races steam rocket.

On November 12, ARCAspace completed a test of the second stage of its EcoRocket. As the EcoRocket took to the sky, an FPV drone attempted to outpace the water-propelled rocket.


ARCAspace(Romanian Cosmonautics and Aeronautics Association) is a rather controversial aerospace company based in Romania. The company was founded back in 1999 by Dumitru Popescu.

The company has attempted a few different designs, including a suborbital space vehicle for the Ansari X Prize and multiple rockets.

The current rocket under development by ARCA is the EcoRocket. The three-stage EcoRocket (initially planned as a two-stage rocket) uses hydrogen peroxide and kerosene in the third stage, but the first two stages use an even more unique approach to propulsion.

Stage one and stage two of the rocket use water and a stabilizing agent. In addition to the water/steam-based propulsion, the rocket moves away from the traditional nozzle design in favor of a circular aerospike engine.

Normal engines are designed with a nozzle optimized for a specific altitude. Typically, a rocket will use a sea-level optimized engine on the first stage and a vacuum optimized engine on the second stage. Aerospike engines, in theory, are much better at producing thrust at a wide variety of altitudes – so one engine is optimized for any pressure, from sea level to vacuum. Despite the theoretical advantages, aerospike engines have not seen wide success. They typically run into issues as a result of the high pressure all along the surface of the engine, resulting in difficulty cooling them, leading to overheating.

EcoRocket planned flight sequence. Credit: ARCAspace

Perhaps the lower overall temperature of steam, compared to kerosene or hydrogen in other rockets, will make an aerospike more practical in this case. ARCA is set to use a typical nozzle in the third stage that uses a more traditional hot propellant.

This is certainly an interesting concept, and the idea of a reusable rocket (yes, the first two stages of the rocket are set to be reusable) that works primarily off of a clean propellant is intriguing, but whether this rocket will ever manage to reach orbit remains in question – due to both technological and bureaucratic reasons.

The first orbital test of the EcoRocket was supposed to take place in early October out of the Black Sea, but the company said:

The Romanian Civil Aviation Authority wrongfully declined ARCA the launch clearance, ridiculously claiming their lack of authority in the Romanian-managed airspace and now the EcoRocket’s first flight is rescheduled for January 2022.

While the company may not be launching its full rocket yet, it conducted a test flight of the second stage earlier this month.

Drone vs. EcoRocket

On November 12, the company conducted a tethered test flight of the EcoRocket second stage in order to gather more data on the vehicle’s flight characteristics and increase confidence in January’s flight.

ARCA had many cameras around the launch site, but perhaps the most interesting of them was a view from an FPV drone. The drone was flown by livyu_fpv.

Ultimately, the rocket was able to out-pace the drone, but this mobile camera view from up-close to the rocket is something we don’t get with more typical and established rockets.

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