Monday, October 13, 2014

Canadian Entrepreneur Returning Rocketry to its Roots

          by Brian Orlotti

Building rockets is an activity that many in the public consider out of reach of individuals; the exclusive domain of governments and multi-billion dollar corporations, but a Toronto-based aerospace engineer is seeking to change that perception by taking rocketry back to its small-scale, craft-based roots.

Testing a small liquid fueled rocket at a Kitchener, Ontario test site. In the background on the left is a trailer containing the testing equipment and storage facilities for the fuel. Photo c/o Michael Viechweg.

Adam Trumpour obtained his undergraduate degree in Engineering Science at the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Aerospace Engineering from Ryerson University. Prior to his formal rocketry education, he, like many others bitten by the space bug, built model rockets.

Dissatisfied with off-the-shelf model rocket parts, Trumpour moved into amateur rocketry, building his own test stand and small liquid-fueled rockets.

Trailer and test stand. Photo c/o A Trumpour.
During his undergrad years, Trumpour worked as a volunteer with the Da Vinci Project, a Toronto-based team working to build a balloon-launched suborbital passenger rocket (dubbed "Wild Fire") in a bid to win the Ansari X-Prize. During his time with the Da Vinci Project, Trumpour helped design and build a 1000-lb nitrous oxide-parrafin hybrid rocket engine demonstrator.

In the wake of The Da Vinci Project's 2004 X-Prize loss to Scaled Composites (its hardware having never flown), many of the teams' engineers chose to band together to form Continuum Aerospace, a space systems research and consulting firm. The Toronto-based Continuum Aerospace would continue development of the technology initially created for the Da Vinci Project. Adam Trumpour was one of its founders,

After completing his Master's degree, Trumpour obtained a position as a Concept Designer at Pratt & Whitney Canada, where he works today. Trumpour is also a consultant to Open Space Orbital (OSO), a group of entrepeneurs working to build an indigenous orbital launch vehicle for Canada and even authored a submission to the 2012 Federal Review of Aerospace and Space Programs and Policies (or "Emerson Report") under the title "Fostering Innovation, Creating New Markets: Novel Approaches to Space Policy and Programs," which discussed government procurement methodologies used in the space industry.

While working for a large aerospace firm by day, Trumpour has found a way to pursue his passion during off-hours, as well. In his garage, Trumpour has built his own machine shop/rocket lab, where he designs and builds liquid and hybrid rocket engines.

This home lab, financed out of his own pocket (and to which the author was kindly given an invitation to see), includes machine tools purchased second-hand or surplus from eBay and various other sources, including a massive 1980's vintage Bridgeport milling machine, a metalworking lathe, and a custom-designed cleanroom-type glovebox for cleaning rocket engine parts.

Most impressive of all is a trailer that Trumpour has customized to act a a mobile fuel depot/service hangar for his home-built liquid-fuelled rocket engine.

With his home-based machine shop, Trumpour seeks to drive home the point that the political, legal and financial constraints that hamper large space companies have left a considerable space open to the do-it-yourself crowd.

Brian Orlotti.
The field of rocketry was born in garage-based workshops, where brilliant tinkerers like Robert Goddard and Hermann Oberth, along with Canadians like Lawrence Manning and Kurt Stehling, laid the foundations of the space age. By reviving the craft aspect of rocketry, Trumpour seeks to revive its creativity as well.

Brian Orlotti is a Toronto-based IT professional and a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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