Stoke Space stakes its claim for rocket reusability

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.

“It was barren desert as recently as April,” co-founder and CEO Andy Lapsa told GeekWire, “and we were able to get all of the facilities up and running in order to run long-duration, liquid-hydrogen, liquid-oxygen rocket engine testing out there.”

The 2.3-acre test facility at Moses Lake’s airport already has seen action: Last month, Stoke Space completed a manufacturing demonstration of a full-scale second stage for its yet-to-be-named rocket. The two-year-old startup has also done full-power test firings of components for its second-stage rocket engine, a triplet of thrust chambers that Lapsa calls 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 that too much in our industry.”

Like Bezos and his billionaire rival at SpaceX, Elon Musk, Lapsa and his teammates at Stoke Space are chasing the dream of full rocket reusability. Their aim is to bring down the cost of access to orbit and open up a new wave of space applications.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets have shown the way with first-stage reusability, but even those launch systems throw away the second stage after one use. Reducing that cost is what SpaceX’s Starship development program is all about. Blue Origin is also pursuing second-stage reusability as it works on its orbital-class New Glenn rocket, with a program code-named Project Jarvis.

Lapsa lauds the commitment that those bigger launch companies have made to full reusability, but says his venture is taking a different approach. “The first place to start is with the second stage,” he said. “The full system is designed to be 100% reusable at a high cadence, and I think the industry is still searching for that solution.”

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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