Rose Swears - Propellant Chemist at Rocket Lab’s Propulsion Test Complex

University of Waikato graduate Rose Swears is the Propellant Chemist at Rocket Lab’s Propulsion Test Complex in North Waikato.

Te Aka Mātuatua School of Science

Image not foundRose develops new ‘green’ (relatively eco-friendly and low-toxicity) hypergolic (those which ignite spontaneously upon mixing with another substance) rocket propellants. She develops and validates tests to confirm that the propellants are up to standard, that the propellants are compatible with their hardware, and that people, hardware, and the environment have been decontaminated from the propellants after use. She is also responsible for propellant manufacturing and safe storage and handling, all the way from raw ingredients to loading onto the spacecraft. A special achievement of Rose was the use of one of her propellant formulations to lift NASA’s CAPSTONE spacecraft from Mahia Peninsula to a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon, a key stepping stone for the Artemis program to return humans to the Moon.

At the University of Waikato, Rose did a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, and then a MSc (Research) in Chemistry with Prof. Manley-Harris, where she determined the composition and prebiotic potential of some New Zealand honeydew honeys. She published the first known carbohydrate profile of Giant Willow Aphid honeydew honey. Her analytical chemistry background provided an amazing foundation for her work at Rocket Lab, and a solid grounding in analytical principles and understanding of chemical reactivity.

Her first propellant development experience was working with Dr. Fow in the School of Engineering; developing, making, and testing non-toxic solid rocket propellants. That made her realise that “making things burn really fast in a controlled manner is incredibly fun, and incredibly hard!”.