Rockoons Set to Rock Rocket Launching Access
Jeffrey Heimgartner posted on April 12, 2018 | | 833 views

Five members of a Purdue University club are turning 1950s rocket science into an innovative, modern rocket-launching startup. Leo Aerospace LLC has revolutionized rockoons, high-altitude balloons often used for research in zero-gravity or vacuum experiments to launch rockets into suborbital and orbital flights.

Leo Aerospace LLC founders are, from left, Mike Hepfer, head of product development; Drew Sherman, head of vehicle development; Abishek Murali, head of mission engineering; Dane Rudy; chief executive officer; and Bryce Prior, head of operations and strategy. (Image courtesy of Leo Aerospace.)
Leo Aerospace LLC founders are, from left, Mike Hepfer, head of product development; Drew Sherman, head of vehicle development; Abishek Murali, head of mission engineering; Dane Rudy; chief executive officer; and Bryce Prior, head of operations and strategy. (Image courtesy of Leo Aerospace.)

The company plans to change things up by offering priority service to microsatellite developers that usually must bum a ride from big rocket companies, an expensive waiting game for space that limits where and when their satellites go. Leo Aerospace will offer flexibility in meeting each customer’s exact needs.

“We’re targeting the microsatellites by saying, ‘You don’t have to ride share with anyone,’” said Drew Sherman, Leo Aerospace head of vehicle development. “We can guarantee you will be our only payload, and we will be focused on you. We will work with you exclusively to get you into orbit. You won’t have to worry about other payloads or getting dropped off in the wrong spot.”

Current methods of getting a microsatellite into space are pricey, sometimes up to $60,000 a kilogram. Thanks to physics, Leo Aerospace’s rockoons will lower the cost of a microsatellite. The rocket/high-altitude balloon hybrid produces less drag since launch doesn’t take place until the balloon is approximately 11 miles above Earth, where there is 95 percent less atmosphere to cause drag. Using its own (patent-pending) core integration technology, the company can control pitch and angle to ensure a precise launch every time.

Leo Aerospace rockoons launch rockets about 11 miles above Earth, where there is 95 percent less atmosphere to cause drag. (Image courtesy of Leo Aerospace.)
Leo Aerospace rockoons launch rockets about 11 miles above Earth, where there is 95 percent less atmosphere to cause drag. (Image courtesy of Leo Aerospace.)

Thanks to the $15,000 the company received in March through a Burton D. Morgan Business Model Competition and its raising more than $130,000 of a $250,000 goal through the private equity and venture capital firm Netcapital, Leo Aerospace is one step closer to achieving its goal of launching its first suborbital flight by 2020. Continued interest by investors has the company confident to launch its first satellite into orbit in 2022 and eventually increase launch frequency.

“Our goal is to give people access to space,” said Abishek Murali, head of mission engineering. “The only way to do that right now is to help people get their satellite into orbit. That’s where we want to leave our mark.”

For more stories that really do “take a rocket scientist,” check out Launching the Future of Rocketry or Micius Satellite Enables Intercontinental Quantum Communication.


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