A second stage motor injector burns in the Stoke component test facility. (Photo by Stoke Space Technologies)
Stoke Space Technologies, the Renton, Washington-based company founded by Jeff Bezos’ veterans of space company Blue Origin, has invested $ 9.1 million in seeds to push rocket reusability to new frontiers .
The first goal will be to develop a new breed of reusable upper school, said Andy Lapsa, co-founder and CEO of Stoke. “This is the last domino in the industry before reusability becomes the order of the day,” Lapsa told GeekWire. “Even now, I think that space launch is in a production-constrained paradigm.”
Rocket reusability is of course the buzzword – not just at Blue Origin, where Lapsa was an award-winning rocket engineer, but also at SpaceX and other leading launch companies.
Both Bezos and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk have stated that full reusability is key to lowering the cost of accessing space and opening up new frontiers, including regular runs to Mars and back. However, until recently the focus was on reusing the first stage booster of a rocket. The upper stage, which kicks in after the first stage is exhausted to carry the payloads into orbit the rest of the way, normally burns up during atmospheric re-entry at the end of their flight.
SpaceX aims to change that paradigm with its Starship super rocket. The massive prototypes currently being tested at the company’s launch facility in South Texas are part of the development effort for reusable second stages that sit on an even more massive super heavy booster and fly back to a landing pad after takeoff. did their job.
Lapsa said what SpaceX is doing to Starship is “incredible”.
“But I think that kind of mentality needs to be applied to the commercial satellite market in order to really give them what they are looking for,” he added. “So let’s start there.”
While at Blue Origin, Andrew Lapsa won the AIAA Liquid Propulsion Young Professional Award in 2017. Now he’s the CEO of his own startup called Stoke Space. (Blue Origin photo via Twitter)
The newly announced seed funding round follows a series of grants from NASA and the National Science Foundation for technology development.
The round co-leaders are NFX and MaC Ventures. Other investors include Y Combinator, Alexis Ohanian’s Venture Venture Seven Seven Six and the great soccer player Joe Montana Liquid2 Ventures as well as Y Combinator co-founder Trevor Blackwell, Cruise co-founder Kyle Vogt and Katana Capital founder Charlie Songhurst.
Lapsa declined to discuss the technology Stoke would like to use for reusability in the upper stage or to establish a development schedule. With nine employees (plus additional vacancies), however, the company is way beyond the drawing board.
Last month, Stoke signed a five-year contract on 2.3 acres in the port of Moses Lake, Central Washington for an engineering and test facility. The investment from the funding round will be used to develop hardware, including an injector for Stokes’ upper stage rocket engine.
“Unless you have a good, powerful and stable injector in a rocket engine, it’s very difficult to build the rest of the system around it,” Lapsa explained. “So this is the first place to start.”
38-year-old Lapsa isn’t the only one at Stoke with experience in engine development. The company’s other co-founder and chief technology officer, Thomas Feldman, designed components for Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine. Other employees build on previous work at Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Spaceflight in Seattle.
Retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Steve Kwast, an adviser to Stoke, goes so far as to say the team reminds him of the Wright brothers. “Stoke has the right notion of extremely affordable access to space and, much like the first manned flight, will change the world of transportation and national security forever,” he said.
Stoke has no plans to stop redesigning the upper tiers. According to Lapsa, establishing an efficient cadence for starts is just as important as making reusable upper levels. “We take a holistic view of the entire startup process,” he said.
Lapsa acknowledged that Stoke faces numerous competitors in the rocket business, from United Launch Alliance to SpaceX and Blue Origin to Rocket Lab, Relativity Space, Firefly Aerospace, Astra and many more.
“There are a lot of players in this field, but I think there is a limit to that [number of] Groups that have very deep experience, ”he said. “I think there are still a lot of important problems to be solved and that is what we are striving for.”
The way Lapsa sees it being in the Seattle area is a huge plus, thanks to an aerospace culture that started with Boeing.
“An amazing space community is forming in Seattle,” he said. “They have all kinds of businesses from satellites to ridesharing aggregators to rocket manufacturers and everything in between. … It’s a great place to start a business. “