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Space

Queensland University engineers are entering the space race with clean, green 3D-printed rocket engines

- March 31, 2023 2 MIN READ
Herik Labs rocket
Herik Labs cofounders Toby van den Herik, Simone Wilson and Isaiah Stook in the hypersonics laboratory.. Photo: Supplied
A team of University of Queensland (UQ) engineers who designed a sustainable and affordable 3D-printed rocket engine has won two awards for their invention

Herik Labs won the Entrepreneur of the Year and People’s Choice awards at the UQ’s Ventures ilab Accelerator Pitch Night for their oxygen and hydrogen-powered engine.

Made in a fraction of the time, cost, and environmental footprint of traditional engines, renewables power the Herik Labs rocket engine and emit only water vapour.

Cofounders Simone Wilson, Isaiah Stook, and Toby van den Herik say the 3D-printed rocket engine design could be used for anything from landing lunar rovers to launching hundreds of satellites at once. 

“From improved weather predictions all the way to space-based solar power, the potential is limitless, but to unlock the limitless potential of space, we need endlessly sustainable spaceflight,” Stook said.

Space technology helps connect rural communities, predict natural disasters, and provide emergency services with real-time decision support. 

Despite Australia’s reliance on space and geographical advantage, it contributes less than 0.5% to the global launch market. 

Wilson said that with Australia developing a national hydrogen strategy and green hydrogen network alongside ramping up its space tech capabilities, Herik Labs is in the right place at the right time for “a future in space that protects our future on earth.”

Wilson said 95% of current rocket launches use polluting engines.  

“They can emit more CO2 in a couple of minutes than a car in a couple of centuries,” she said.

“Our design is fuelled by oxygen and green hydrogen, emits a clean exhaust, and uses 85% fewer parts, making it both affordable and rapidly manufacturable.”

The team has also signed on their first customer – Aquila, a renewable energy startup planning to launch satellites.

“Their vision is global renewable energy, and it completely aligns with us making our nonpolluting engines,” Wilson said. 

Stook said they will be looking to raise capital in the coming months, secure more partnerships and further establish themselves in the Australian space market. 

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