Stoke Space asserts its claims in the rush of launch industry. Fully reusable rockets

Stoke Space puts its “three-pack” of thrust chambers through a hot-fire test. (Stoke Space Photo)

In just six months, Kent, Wash.-based Stoke Space Technologies has turned a blank stretch of ground in Moses Lake, Wash., into a bridgehead for building a fully reusable rocket optimized for satellite launches.

Andy Lapsa, cofounder and CEO, said that the area was “barren desert” as recently April. “We were able get all facilities operational in order to conduct long-duration liquid-hydrogen and liquid-oxygen rocket engine tests out there.”

Already, the Moses Lake airport’s 2.3-acre test site has been used. Last month Stoke Space demonstrated a fully-scaled second stage to its still-unnamed rocket. Two-year-old startup also performed full-power firings of parts for its second stage rocket engine. This triplet of thrust chambers Lapsa refers to as the “three-pack”.

“We did them on time and under budget actually, which I’m very proud of,” said Lapsa, a veteran of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture. You don’t hear it too often in the industry.

Lapsa, along with his colleagues at Stoke Space, are striving to realize full rocket reuseability, just like Elon Musk and Bezos. They aim to lower the cost of orbit access and to open new space applications.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets and Falcon Heavy rockets are leading the charge in first-stage reuseability. However, even these launch systems can throw out the second stage once they have been used. Reducing that cost is what SpaceX’s Starship development program is all about. Blue Origin, which is working on the orbital-class New Glenn rocket with codenamed Project Jarvis, also seeks second-stage reuse.

Lapsa is proud of the dedication that larger launch companies made to full reuseability. However, his venture takes a completely different approach.

He said, “The second stage is the best place to begin.” The entire system was designed to be 100% reuseable at high speed, which I believe is what the industry still needs.

Lapsa refers to high cadence as being able launch the same low cost rocket every day without needing to undergo detailed inspections and component replacements. He also means that it is possible to just fill the tank with fuel, then lift off following the commercial aviation model.

Lapsa stated that the firings of full-power thrust chambers so far have been brief at 10 seconds. He isn’t willing to give details on the thrust levels.

He said, “We are starting with these thrust chambers.” We have turbo machinery that will be tested soon. It will be incredible to go into engine testing. To be able for that to happen, we need to build more facilities. Parallel to that, we will be working on the entire stage.”

Lapsa said Stoke Space’s workforce has grown to 18 employees, with more hires ahead. This team includes people with Spaceflight Inc., Blue Origin and SpaceX experience. They will need to work hard to adhere to the timeframe.

Lapsa stated, “We are going to fly that thing by the middle of next year.”

Lapsa has not yet revealed the location of the flight trials, although he gave some clues about the profile. They will be similar to Starship’s vertical-takeoff and vertical landing trials. The descents will not require any belly flips or other unusual maneuvers, unlike Starship. Lapsa stated that the acceleration vector will be along our entire profile.

Stoke Space is developing a second-stage heat shield technology. Instead of using ceramic tiles, they plan to use everyday materials to create a metallic ductile heat shield.

Stoke Space built a manufacturing demonstrator for its second-stage booster. (Stoke Space Photo)

Stoke Space hopes to eventually have a fully-reusable rocket that can be quickly assembled and ready for use in satellite launches.

Lapsa stated that the Starship-class vehicle was good for “certain things”, such as colonizing Mars. But if you only look at satellite markets, I believe there are few people who would like to fly so many different things at once. There are also very few people who would like to ride along with this. This is a major headwind for the industry.

Stoke Space will be able to achieve its mission of rocket reuseability 100%. SpaceX has been reported to have spent billions on Starship while Jeff Bezos stated that he uses a quarter of a million dollars of Amazon stock each year to finance Blue Origin. In contrast, Stoke Space has brought in $9.1 million in seed funding so far, plus development grants from NASA, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Space Force.

Lapsa stated that Stoke Space is exploring other ways to raise capital. However, for the moment, the priority is to get to the second stage of development.

He stated that grants are a way for us to pursue opportunities to attack existing problems. We are keeping our heads down and moving as quickly as we can, but otherwise.

Publited Fri, 3 Sep 2021 at 20:25:47 +0000

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