Starting a business can be a bit like rocket science. For one Brigham Young University student, it actually is.
Riley Meik, a junior studying mechanical engineering, is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Sugarhouse Aerospace, a company that aims to get more student projects into space by drastically lowering the cost of shipping items into space and back.
Meik has been launching rockets since he was 5 years old, when he attended an elementary school in Miami named after an astronaut, with a space shuttle as its mascot. His father bought him a hobby rocket kit, which they assembled and launched.
“I thought that was the loudest sound I’d heard in my life,” Meik said. “It was tiny. I launch one of those now and realize it was nothing. But I got rocket fever and I’ve been itching ever since.”
He made a homemade rocket motor for a junior high science fair project, participated in high school competitions with rocketry and snagged BYU’s 2019 Student Innovator of the Year award with Sugarhouse Aerospace.
“If I wasn’t working on something at school, I was building some type of rocket project,” Meik said.
He co-founded Sugarhouse Aerospace with Steve Heller, the company’s CEO. To test their idea out, they spent two weeks in August and $500 to launch a rocket halfway to space. While before the cheapest it cost to launch an item into space was $30,000, Meik said Sugarhouse Aerospace can do it starting at $1,000.
“Instead of inventing new technologies and all of the infrastructure that comes into that, we are taking older technologies which have been used forever and commoditizing them,” Meik said.
The concept uses a high-volume rideshare to fill a rocket with small payloads to launch items into suborbital space. Items will launch up about 125 kilometers in altitude and spend five minutes experiencing zero gravity before returning.
The Sugarhouse 1 rocket is 20 feet tall, a foot in diameter, weights 1,000 lbs and can carry 60 lbs of payload. Sugarhouse Aerospace launched a smaller rocket as a test Friday out of Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The company has another launch planned for Dec. 14 and plans to launch off the coast of Ecuador next year.
Within a few years the company plans to create a kit that schools or individuals can purchase that allows students to create their own experiment and launch it into space. Meik said the company also has its eyes on launching 100 rockets a year into space within five years.
Sugarhouse Aerospace isn’t looking to compete with aerospace giants like SpaceX or Virgin Galactic. Instead, it wants to make it easier and less expensive for students to get projects into space before they enter the college or the space industry.
But despite all the planning that goes into a launch, Meik said they never know if a rocket is going to work until it does.
“There is this feeling when you are sitting there, you have the controller in your hand and you’re looking at the rocket and it’s like, whatever happens, happens,” Meik said.