Meet the Guys Building Their Own Space Program

The Danish may be famous for their pastries, but this team is cooking something way more impressive.
Launch will take place at sea. © Thomas Pedersen
By Tarquin Cooper

Once the preserve of the world's superpowers, the space race has recently opened up to the people. In fact, industry observers believe that, despite the recent Virgin Galactic tragedy, the next few years and decades will see a new golden age of space exploration as private companies and individuals seek to enter the fray, whether for knowledge, financial gain – or just because they can.

And that's where the team of amateur aerospace engineers, scientists and backyard mechanics of Copenhagen Suborbitals come in. They are hoping to send the first independent and privately funded manned rocket into space. Why? For the hell of it, says board member and electonics man Mads Wilson.

The astronaut will sit in the cannonball position. © Thomas Pedersen So, you want to put a man into space?
Mads Wilson:
It sounds corny but to quote Star Trek, space is the final frontier. There are not that many places left to go on earth. It's the big dream of all of us to build something that can go into space.

Mission control...
We want to put a man in space above the Karman line in a rocket (the accepted boundary between earth's atmosphere and space, 100km above earth), which we have built ourselves using commonly available components. We're 100% crowd funded.

I know my keys are in here somewhere. © Copenhagen Suborbitals

Sounds like a blast...
Building rockets is like burning money in your backyard! We're using technology developed by NASA in the 1950s. We don't need cutting edge materials. For example, valves that once had to be specially built can now be bought in any normal hardware store. Our philosophy is: if it's good enough, it's good enough.

Are you good enough?
We are at a point where we know which way to go; we know what's feasible and what's not. We're confident it can be built and will work – it's safe and do-able.

Mads Wilson posing for a portrait next to the rocket.
Board member and electronics man Mads Wilson © Copenhagen Suborbitals

Give us the countdown to liftoff.
This is not going to be a pleasant ride. First of all you're sitting in the cannonball position atop a rocket with three to four tonnes of fuel. We launch off a platform at sea. Obviously it's not too bad when stable but 14m above sea level there's a lot of movement and you're in a confined space.

When the rockets ignite, within 90 seconds you accelerate to three times the speed of sound. The main engine cuts off at 50km but the rocket has so much speed it will continue for the last 50-70km before it stops, then the capsule separates and starts tumbling around – so you will tumble around...

Blast off: a successful rocket test flight © Thomas Pedersen

Beam me up Scotty...
When you re-enter the earth's atmosphere the heat shield will be glowing red hot. It will be pretty hot in there and you'll see flames licking up the sides of the capsule. It will be pretty crazy. At 4km the parachute is released and after a couple of minutes you'll hit the water and will be floating around. In all it will last about 20 minutes.

Who will be the lucky pilot?
We get requests every week but we're not looking. We have three candidates and we'll probably go with the smallest. He's 165cm (5'5").

You can support Copenhagen Suborbitals via their webpage.

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