Testing a new European hybrid rocket

In the space industry, there is always a search for cost-reducing measures. At the same time, there is an expected increase in focus on sustainability, and for Europe, it is important to develop technologies that ensure independent access to space. With these three points in mind, the Polish Lukasiewicz – Institute of Aviation – has developed a hybrid research rocket called ILR-33 AMBER 2K, which will now be tested from Andøya Space Sub-Orbital

What is a hybrid rocket?

Research rockets have traditionally used rocket motors where the fuel and oxidizer are cast together into the engine. This provides a simpler and more reliable propulsion system with no moving parts, but the downside is that once the motor has been started, it cannot be stopped until it is completely out of propellant.

– A hybrid rocket engine combines solid fuel with a liquid oxidizer, says Kolbjørn Blix, head of Andøya Space Sub-Orbital. – This allows the engine to be started and stopped, as well as throttled up or down, giving more control over the journey. We have previously tested a Norwegian hybrid rocket, but this time it is a rocket engine developed in Poland.

Lukasiewicz – Institute of Aviation (Lukasiewicz – ILOT)

The Institute of Aviation is a modern research institute with over 1,500 employees, focusing on developing important technologies for aircraft, space, and unmanned drones. Their first space flight hardware was successfully used in orbit in 1973. They have been developing green space propulsion solutions for European industry for the last 15 years. In 2023, they opened their 5th laboratory for developing and testing engines for rockets and satellites – this time it allows for steady-state vacuum firings of green rocket thrusters and propulsion systems – the only large facility in Europe dedicated to green space propulsion vacuum qualification.


ILR-33 AMBER is a hybrid research rocket designed and developed entirely in Poland. The three first launches took place between 2017 and 2019, where ILR-33 AMBER reached altitudes between 10 and 23 kilometers. In 2022 its new version: the ILR-33 AMBER 2K was successfully tested during a similar low-altitude flight.

Now, ILOT is ready with the upgraded ILR-33 AMBER 2K, which will ultimately be able to lift 10 kg payloads up to an altitude of 100 kilometers. In future missions the payload will be able to experience 150 seconds of microgravity. In total, ILR-33 AMBER 2K (“Amber”) measures just under five meters.

Important rocket

– It is not a large rocket, says Blix. – But it is an important rocket because the technologies it uses are developed entirely in Europe. It is important for us in Europe to have access to our own independent technologies for access to space. The technology development being done here can, in the future, be scaled up and used in larger and more affordable rockets.

– Civilian research rockets have traditionally used rocket engines from military surplus, but hybrid rocket engines open new possibilities that traditional engines cannot provide us.

– When you start a traditional research rocket, the rocket engines burn until they are out of fuel. If it is important for an experiment that the rocket reaches exactly 100 or 150 kilometers in altitude, a traditional research rocket might fly higher – because you cannot control the burn time, says Blix.

– Hybrid rocket engines, on the other hand, give us the ability to control this more precisely so that we can better achieve the desired peak altitude (apogee). In addition, they use a greener propellant mixture, says Blix.

The launch

– Amber’s design consists of three motors. Two small ones mounted outside the larger main motor, says Blix. – The two small ones provide the thrust in the first 6 seconds of the launch. This is done to make the configuration less wind sensitive in the early phase of the flight. The two booster motors are jettisoned after six seconds.

– The two booster rockets weigh about twenty kg each when they are empty of fuel, and with declared danger areas over land it is important that the public respects these designated danger areas. All launches are best observed from a distance.

More information

Please contact Kolbjørn Blix, VP Sub-Orbital, Andøya Space