Stoke Space aims to build a rapidly reusable rocket with a completely new design

Enlarge / Stoke Space is testing 15 boosters that will fly on the upper stage of a fully reusable rocket.

Space Stoke

Andy Lapsa attended top aerospace engineering schools. He then worked very hard to help advance the development of some of the world’s most advanced rocket engines at Blue Origin. But in 2019, after a decade in the industry, he felt like the future of spaceflight he was striving for — rapidly reusable rockets — hadn’t come much closer.

“It’s the inevitable end state,” he said of low-cost rockets that can launch, land and fly again the next day. “It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of who does it and when they do it.”

His vision for the future is not unique. It happens to be shared by two of the richest people in the world, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. Lapsa worked for one of them, first helping Bezos develop the powerful BE-4 engine, then as Blue Origin’s BE-3 program manager.

“I love Jeff’s vision for space,” Lapsa said in an interview with Ars. “I’ve worked closely with him for a while on different projects, and I’m basically 100% on board with the vision. Beyond that, I think I’d just say I’ll let their story go. execution speak for itself, and I thought we could go faster.

It’s a polite way of saying that more than two decades after Bezos founded Blue Origin, the company has yet to reach orbit. So three years ago, Lapsa, who is in his late thirties, and Tom Feldman, another rocket scientist there who had just turned 30, started looking for a place to make a difference faster. . They weren’t so much driven by a midlife crisis as by a desire to advance the era of low-cost, regular access to space and the future that might unlock for humanity.

looking around

The pair of propulsion engineers surveyed the American industry, which consisted of dozens of rocket companies. A friend of theirs, a former Blue Origin engineer named Tim Ellis, co-founded a Los Angeles-based company called Relativity Space in 2016. They took a close look at Relativity, but at the time the company hadn’t not fully committed to the Terran-Rocket R, a fully reusable medium-lift rocket. Lapsa and Feldman were also not so optimistic about additive manufacturing or pushing the boundaries of 3D printing an entire rocket.

“I think additive manufacturing of a complete rocket is new, but you want to choose the production tools that make sense, and you want to let the best answer win,” Lapsa said. “And I think their approach was a bit too stubborn.”

Andy Lapsa.

Space Stoke

Finally, they thought of SpaceX. Lapsa said he and Feldman were looking for three key ingredients in a business: fast, reusable rockets; the right engineering team; and a story of “habitual execution”. SpaceX had just about everything, as the company’s main focus was the revolutionary, reusable Starship rocket. He had arguably the largest and most talented team of rocket engineers in the world, and no one flew more often or more dazzlingly.

And yet it was not for them.

“They definitely have an amazing history of executing, awesome stuff that completely transformed our industry,” Lapsa said. “But I think there’s room for a different style of business. We talk a lot with people who come out of SpaceX after three, five, 10 or 15 years, and they’re shells of themselves. . They’re burned out.”

At the end of 2019, Lapsa and Feldman therefore decided to found their own company, Stoke Space. Neither had experience raising funds or running a business. They had no plan and no specific design for their rocket in mind. Rather, they had a firm belief that the future they wanted was not just happening, but was there for the taking.

“We took a leap of faith and jumped off a cliff,” Lapsa said.

Comments are closed.