Stoke Space successfully runs its test rocket in central Washington state

By | September 18, 2023

Stoke Space's Hopper2 rocket test vehicle sits on a stand ahead of its

Stoke Space’s Hopper2 rocket test vehicle sits on a stand before its ‘jump’. (Photo by Stoke Space)

A four-year-old Seattle-area startup called Stoke Space today performed a successful up-and-down test of its “Hopper” development rocket vehicle, marking a major milestone in its effort to create a fully reusable.

Hopper2’s 15-second flight took place at the Stoke test facility at Grant County International Airport in Moses Lake, Wash., at 11:24 a.m. PT. A hydrogen-fueled rocket engine sent the test vehicle to a height of 30 feet, with a landing 15 feet away from the launch pad, Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa told GeekWire.

“It is the final test of our development program for Hopper and, by all accounts, it has been very successful,” Lapsa said.

Today’s test follows work done this spring with an earlier prototype, Hopper1, and a static motor for Hopper2 conducted this month.

In a September 12th post on X/TwitterStoke Space said: “we have now learned everything we were looking for from this test vehicle to finalize the orbital design… but HELL YES, we will do that as icing on the cake.”

“This Hopper program was really designed to develop the reusable second stage system and, in particular, to demonstrate many of the new and novel technological elements that comprise it,” Lapsa explained today. “There is the actively and regeneratively cooled heat shield. We have a very unique rocket engine… with a single set of turbos powering a series of thrusters. Both, the heat shield and the engine, are coupled.”

Lapsa said Stoke Space’s rocket could mark the first use of differential thrust vector control for attitude control since 1972, when that approach was used for the last Soviet N1 moon rocket.

In addition to testing technical innovations, the Stoke team also faced a steep learning curve on launch logistics. “We are a young company, so the development of operating procedures, ground support equipment, guidance, navigation and control, flight software, flight computers, communications – all these things are new,” Lapsa said. “We have a very experienced team but this is the first time we have done all these things as a Stoke team.”

Stoke Space was founded in 2019 by Lapsa, a veteran of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture; and Tom Feldman, who worked at Blue Origin after interning at SpaceX. In addition to testing grounds at the Moses Lake Airport, the company has a 21,000-square-foot engineering and manufacturing facility in Kent, Wash., not far from Blue Origin headquarters.

In 2021, the company raised $65 million in a funding round led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Ventures. And earlier this year, Stoke got the green light to take over Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, the site of John Glenn’s historic Mercury launch in 1962.

Going forward, the Stoke team will focus more on developing the first stage of its rocket and scaling up operations in Florida, Lapsa said.

“The focus is now on reaching orbit, and the first phase is the most critical part,” he said. “We will focus on engine development in the first phase. I would say it’s a custom-designed engine, but in terms of newness and world-first, it’s not intended to be one of those.”

Ultimately, Stoke plans to offer a fully reusable launch system, including a second stage that can be returned to Earth without having to rely on exotic shielding.

The concept behind the Stoke Space launch system has been compared to the much larger two-stage Starship system developed by SpaceX for travel beyond Earth orbit. You can extend this comparison to characterize today’s Hopper flight as a parallel to SpaceX’s Grasshopper test flights in 2012 and 2013, or the Starhopper tests in 2019.

Lapsa said he was “incredibly proud” of his team.

“The team is incredible and, you know, we developed everything. Two and a half years ago, this spot in Moses Lake was an empty desert. Today we launched a brand new hydrogen-oxygen engine – and it’s a very unique engine – on a vehicle that took off and landed vertically,” she said. “I think everyone is over the moon.”

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