Head in the stars, feet on the ground
Many rocketry organizations make it their goal to develop the next generation of rocket technologies. Lightweight aerospike engines, ion drives, VASIMR thrusters, RCS engines that can reliably fire for 1/100th of a second, etc. That's not our goal at Space Enterprise at Berkeley.
Instead, our goal is to vastly reduce cost and complexity, increase safety, and open up access to space in ways never before thought possible. This radical new access to space doesn't come from a revolutionary new technology, a breakthrough in rocket science, or a business plan with divine inspiration.
Instead, we looked at the components of a typical rocket: tungsten-carbide nozzle inserts, titanium struts, ablative nose cones, finely machined cooling channels, and a laundry list of elegant, efficient, and needlessly expensive engineering choices.
We spent 6 months researching, designing, simulating, and designing again. At the end, we found that vintage technology and designs held the key to affordable spaceflight. Instead of using exotic super-alloys, we used stainless steel and aluminum. Where others designed beautiful, intricate turbopumps that provide phenomenal injection pressure and efficiency, we use a helium gas canister.
Here's the kicker though: our comparably "inefficient" engine is $40,000 cheaper to make, 10% lighter, and avoids the humanitarian and environmental nightmare of rare earth mining. By accepting a 30% loss in nominal performance, we gain tremendous ground in cost, safety, and fault tolerance while refusing to support exploitative and environmentally disastrous mining practices.
That's the mindset that drives us at SEB: how can we bring the unattainable within reach without sacrificing the values that hold us to who we are?
ERIC T. Pillai