The spaceflight is possible using common technology and other lessons from Copenhagen Suborbitals

According to Wikipedia, Copenhagen Suborbitals is the world’s only manned, amateur, crowd-funded space program that has flown 4 home built rockets. Eventually, one of the members will fly into space (above 100 km) in a space capsule on the Spica rocket.

This summer the team of enthusiasts performed a launch of their 5th rocket. “Despite being smaller than the HEAX1X and HEAT2X rockets Nexø I was our most advanced rocket to date”, according to Mads Wilson from Copenhagen Suborbitals. Even though the Danish crowd-funded space rocket crashed into the sea the team has learned a lot from this launch.

“From an engineering point of view, it was a huge success, since the premature engine cutoff was mostly a consequence of operational errors. The liquid oxygen in the tank was overheated while we were debugging launch related problems and this led to a cascade effect causing the engine to shut down during the flight. The launch operation itself is actually much more complicated than building the rocket as so many more people and subsystems need to perform perfectly. The most important lesson learned is that we need to practice launch operations even more in the future. Wich is actually one of the main purposes of the Nexø class rockets”, Mads shares with us.

One of the biggest challenges that space industry is facing right now is the access to test and launch facilities. Mads says that it is a major showstopper for many groups or startups around the world. “As much as 75% of our cost and effort goes into building and maintaining test and launch facilities. If you don’t test you don’t fly!” says Mads.

One of the team mantras is the Copenhagen Suborbitals is not really inventing anything new. They focus on using existing knowledge and “off the shelf components” to build their rockets. “We want to show that this can actually be done, that spaceflight is possible using common technology. We do not focus on effectivity but rather on simplicity and repeatability. Of course, this had led to very elegant simple solutions to complex problems which some might refer to as inventions but I would rather say that we just try to find the simplest possible solution to any problem we encounter”, says Mads.

The team intensively uses platforms like the Arduino, Raspberry Pi and Beaglebone with open source operation systems. They also use a broad range of Linux flavors for their mission control systems. In the process of engineering, they have created their own “Arduino” clone called “CSDuino” that is the base computing board for all subsystems of the rocket itself.

For all of the Copenhagen Suborbitals team members it has been a boyhood dream to build their own rocket and this is basically where the idea came from. “We are all children of the space age who have been watching the Apollo and Space Shuttle launches on TV while dreaming of going ourselves. Our goal is to put a man in space — on a Suborbital mission. Our vision is to use the knowledge we gain on this journey be able to build and launch rockets on suborbital or maybe even orbital missions — at an affordable price” — says Mads Wilson.

The team has grown substantially during the past couple of years. They get lots of applications and interest from “desk” engineers and computer specialists — but the biggest challenge is actually to find skilled craftsmen, especially metalworkers. Since they are operating on a very limited budget they build as much as they can themselves and this requires a lot of ingenuity and old-fashioned craftsmanship. If you live in Denmark and you are interested in participating in this great venture, have a look at the list of open volunteer positions.

“Starting up an endeavor like Copenhagen Suborbitals is a long and hard process — but my best advice to anyone is that you should not limit your dreams just because it’s a common conception that it cannot be done. Yes, it will require skills and hard work — but anything is possible if you just put enough effort into it”, advises Mads. At the same time, the Danish Government has been very supportive and the team is in close contact with them to make sure that they comply to all of the regulations. For those around the world who want to show their support the team, you can do it here

We wish all the best to the team of rocket builders in Denmark and we’ll be keeping our eyes on the Nexo II launch.