March 7, 2018. St. Louis, Missouri. USA
3D Printing Rocket Science
As part of a drive to lower costs, the aerospace industry is beginning to embrace additive manufacturing to produce inexpensive parts. One company, however, has taken it to a whole new level. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Stofiel Aerospace is using off the shelf printers and standard PLA to revolutionize access to space. CEO, Brian Stofiel, has developed a process using simple tools to develop his small satellite launch vehicle named BOREAS. “We utilize a process called positive structural molding. We combine some unique engineering with a proprietary heat coating that I developed to print a fully functional solid-fueled rocket.” At 35, Brian had left a lucrative career in the medical imaging field to go back to school to pursue the dream of being a rocket scientist. “I have always been obsessed with space. My daughter, Bella, was the catalyst that gave me the courage to pursue this project. Kids aren’t concerned with the opinions of adults and how they do things. I borrowed some of that spirit from Bella and it led me to design a new, unique launch system.”
BOREAS is three-part launch system. Consisting of a balloon, a dropship, and the rocket, the system is capable of carrying payloads of between 15-250kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and beyond.
The rocket engine is named Hermes and boasts capabilities never before seen in a solid rocket. It thrusts, throttles and vectors payloads into orbits unachievable by traditional launch systems. “We are able to offer dedicated launch services that are truly mobile, scalable to payloads between 15-250kg, and on-demand. There are lots of rockets that can out lift us, but no one can out fire us.” Brian says his company is going to be able to handle high volumes of launches. He estimates that Stofiel Aerospace will be able to launch 1000 missions a year. “Our ability to successfully do this volume of launches is directly related to our 3D printing and rapid prototyping process.”
To date, the company has fired 32 rocket thrust systems, flight-tested 5 sub-scale systems, and is developing the 7th generation of its proprietary heat coating. They are one of five small satellite launchers that have flight data on their rocket. Recently, propulsion engineers from different organizations verified their data. After the initial confirmation of their flight data, they brought in some heavy hitters to review their progress. The original engineers on the Mercury and Gemini missions were brought out of their retirements to take a look and offer their advice. “These guys started America’s space race without any road-maps and are a big reason why we are located here in St. Louis. That whole generation of pioneers was professionals at failing fast and failing often. Hey, that method got us to space and then eventually the moon.”
The company is new but growing fast. When you first go to Brian’s house he gives the same lecture to all his visitors. “I tell them that the first time you come, you’re a guest. After that you’re family.” And, this really is a family affair. His daughter, Bella, is the company’s head intern and an integral part of the operation. Five years after inspiring her dad to reach for his dreams, she was voted by New Space People as the 5th most influential leader of the year. Not bad for a 12-year-old. Brian says, “We aren’t like other aerospace companies, and we never want to be. We want to demystify the process and inspire future generations as much as they have inspired us.” The company has a bit of an outlaw/rebel vibe. When Brian was asked how that will play with the rest of the industry he quoted his daughter. “We were at NASA Glenn giving testimony with Ohio Aviation and Bella took the mic and told everyone that ‘We are space cowboys, and we aim to misbehave’. She wasn’t too far off. We don’t worry about what other companies are doing or how they are doing it. We focus on what we’re doing, and that is changing the way people think about how we access space.”