Projects: Chasing the stars: a progress update from pioneering rocket company Starchaser
The UK’s pioneering rocket company Starchaser has been working since 1992 to put the man in the street into low earth orbit. We asked Starchaser’s founder Steve Bennett for an update on progress.
“We know that 7 out of 10 people when asked say that they would love to take a trip into space,” said Starchaser’s CEO, Steve Bennett. “However, they also want it to be affordable and safe. That is what we have been working towards since 1992 and with our latest rocket we’re getting close.”
Steve realised a long time ago that there was an almost unlimited supply of ‘bucket listers’ who would jump at the chance to gaze down on Earth from over 100km up. To meet this demand, his team has been working with the University of Chester to develop a reusable rocket and detachable capsule to allow ordinary people to make this extraordinary trip. Evolving technology has helped, with new materials and systems arriving on the market all the time.
“We’re using WEST SYSTEM products to build parts of the new 12m (39 feet) rocket, which will be called Nova 2,” Steve said. “The WSI team has been really helpful and given us a lot of product and technical advice. Nova 2 will be able to carry one person but the final commercial design will be a rocket ship with room for three – one pilot and two paying passengers. It will be called the Thunderstar and we’ve most recently been working on the systems to bring its crew safely back to earth.”
Re-entry involves the capsule deploying a large parasail, similar to the one used by parascenders to allow them to fly over long distances. “The parasail is five times the size of an ordinary parachute and will allow the capsule to come down really gently,” Steve explained. “We’ve done a manned test already, with the designer of the parasail actually inside the capsule, so he clearly had faith in his product.”
The test drop was highly successful and you can see a video of it from several camera angles (including from the capsule itself) on the Starchaser website.
The Nova 2 rocket is being made from a combination of epoxy resin, carbon fibre and specialist composites, including a honeycomb aluminium core for the fins. The rocket engines have been developed from many successful launches of earlier designs, including the most recent Skybolt 2. This 8.3m (27 feet) rocket was launched from a mobile platform in Northumberland on September 11th 2017 and made it safely back to earth after a textbook flight.
The Starchaser team is now busily assembling the Nova 2, which should become operational early next year. “The process is a constant evolution of problem solving,” Steve said. “We’ve raised millions and spent millions but that is always the way with research and development. We’re learning as we go but with a very limited budget compared to other players. Even so, we are making great progress. Once we have a dependable and reusable rocket, then we can move forward with a business plan and make visiting space available to all.”
Starchaser is an active participant in education and offers a SPACE4SCHOOLS initiative to bring the excitement and scientific challenges of space travel to pupils of all ages. If you would like to get your school involved, then Starchaser will be happy to offer a visit that will meet the needs of the National Curriculum.
More information can be found at: https://www.starchaser.co.uk