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Rocket Scientists Needed for Design Contest

DIYROCKETS and Sunglass, a browser-based collaboration platform (as shown here in the image), are teaming up to launch a do-it-yourself rocket engine desing contest at SXSW.

Space, the final frontier, is no longer restricted to NASA and government agencies. It’s now open to private citizens and companies, spurred by incentives like the Google Lunar X Prize. So it wouldn’t be far-fetched to imagine an open-source rocket engine printed in a 3D printer in the near future, right?

Make that future today. At SXSW, the techno-musical Woodstock of the Facebook generation, DIYROCKETS and Sunglass are launching a contest to invite you, me, and everybody to design a rocket engine. In the joint announcement from the two companies, they wrote, “The competition … challenges makers, designers and space entrepreneurs to create open source rocket engines that will serve the growing market for small payload delivery into low earth orbit and ultimately, disrupt the space transportation industry.”

DIYROCKETS said its mission is “to lower the cost of space exploration as much as possible by generating extremely low-cost knowledge and technology through ​open sourcing and crowd-sourcing.”

Sunglass, a cloud-based CAD viewing and collaboration technology developer, is offering up its platform as the hub for competing teams to share ideas and work together in virtual rooms. Sunglass supports common CAD file formats, including SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, Rhino, and CATIA. (For a review and video report of the product, please visit this previous blog post.)

Sunglass is also kicking in $10,000’s worth of prizes for the winning designs, focusing on technical aspects, and collaborative teamwork. So how would you manufacture your invention into something tangible? That’s where Shapeway.com comes in. As a sponsor, the 3D printing service provider is offering $500’s worth of printing services to produce the top two designs.

Among the judges are Dean Kamen, the Segway’s inventor and founder of the FIRST robotic competitions; Taylor Wilson, one of the youngest nuclear scientists (currently age 16); and Angelo Vermeulen, commander of the NASA-funded HI-SEAS mission. (HI-SEAS took place on Earth, but it’s designed to explore food preparation strategies for space travel. Angelo and other crew members learned, for example, how they might whip up a bowl of soup with summer sausage and fresh kale on Mars.) Dean and Angelo will be joined by other judges from NASA, MIT, and TED.

The purpose of the contest, according to the event home page, is “to promote innovation and cost effectiveness in small payload delivery through the development of open source collaboratively designed 3D printed rocket engines.”

To find out more or register, aspiring rocket scientists can visit the contest page here.

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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. Yes you can design a rocket engine. There is also a free engine design program available from Germany. It is the work of Alexander Ponomarenko who got his M.S. in Aero at National Aerospace University of Ukraine. Since 2004 on his own initiative he is developing the software for rocket engines analysis. Interesting.

    Go to http://www.propulsion-analysis.com/downloads.htm
    Home: http://www.propulsion-analysis.com/

    Alexander Ponomarenko papers and publications.

    SpaceX are you paying attention?

    John S Wolter

  2. About 50 years ago I built a plug rocket engine using analine and Red Fuming
    Nitric Acic. on the test stand it ran 45 seconds @ 750 pounds of thust (exausted fuel.) I was in High School and ran out of money.

  3. About fifty years ago (in High School. I built a plug type liquid fuel, Rocket motor.
    It tested at 750 lb of thrust for 45 seconde (out of Fuel.) I discontinued it as I ran out of money.

  4. Richard Williams aka Corporal Willy

    I for one am glad to see “Private Enterprise” go into interstellar space exploration. Since my mother had a part to play with getting our astronauts on the moon and back safely, I have been interested in this subject.

    So here I go again with an idea to open the door for school kids to do research, plan, build, design and do whatever else has to be done in order to build a Martian Colony Base. We might learn from our youngsters with a new (not in the box) approach to solving many of the problems in getting there. I want school kids to work in teams from their own schools and from around the world, collaborate with teleconferencing means when it could be done to talk out the problems. A team of teachers would work with them but not suppress their ingenuity and creativity. An international team of Engineers, Physicists, Educators and other specialists would oversee the planning done by school kids. When approved the future base colony would be built in a sizeable scale so it could be all assembled. There would be lots of interest in this from their parents and teachers and to those that are planning to actually go there, along with all technical specialties. Give our kids a chance. Challenge them with something of real importance and magnitude and they will meet that goal. I work with young people now as a volunteer in my school district and I know they are capable. Kids from every corner of education would be needed. Those that are good at language skills would be needed as interpreters. Artists will do conceptualization drawings. Writers, designers, draftsman, CAD students, all will have a part to play, including agricultural and nursing students. It is there future that we are talking about and it is important to them.

    I’m not an engineer. But I am a dreamer and I can dream up some really crazy things at times. I probably would have gotten along real good with Mr. Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, if he were still alive.

    Anyway, I do not think we can omit the youngsters today from being a part of the immediate future of space exploration. (Mr. Kenneth Wong knows how to get in touch with me if DE wants to pursue it.) I’m pretty sure Engineering.com might want to be considered here as well. Sponsors, planning and organization has to be done before anything else. I have already suggested the idea to NASA and never got a response. Perhaps that is because they knew that private enterprise was coming into the picture. I do not know for sure. I’m sure there will be comments about this comment. Education would be greatly enhanced with such an interesting project. We have a lot of good kids in our schools but we normally only hear about the ones that go astray.

    I for one will bet on our kids. That is all I can say for now.

  5. Corporal Willy, the dreamers are the ones who dare to experiment, risk failure, and put everything on the line for a slime prospect of of a thrill. We need more of them! I think you’re doing a terrific job inspiring the kids to dream–not just to build a CAD model in a 3D software program, but to dream. For that, we owe you.

  6. This is the greatest thing in space flight I’ve seen in a long time. When I was in grade school, I watched every space flight I could and built small model rockets. This sparked my interest in electrial and electronic equipment. I went to technical school and became an Electrical and Instrumentation tech in the paper industry. If this contest gets our young people interested in engineering, we all win. I was always an advocate of the space program because of the great things that came to civilian applications because of it. This will open the door for everyone to participate in the next phase of space exploration.

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