On a quiet airfield in Eastern Washington, Stoke Space, a small launch company, achieved a significant milestone on Sunday by conducting its maiden flight of the upper stage of its rocket. While the flight was relatively modest, with the second-stage rocket ascending only about 30 feet (9 meters) and traveling a short distance downrange before completing the journey in a mere 15 seconds, it marks a crucial step in the company’s development.

Having successfully met all technical requirements for the upper stage, Stoke Space is now shifting its focus toward the development of a more conventional first stage for its yet-to-be-named rocket. Engineers at Stoke are actively working on a full-flow, staged combustion rocket engine that will power the booster, with component testing already in progress.

The company is aiming for a debut launch of its rocket in 2025, although there are considerations for potential opportunities for earlier flights. Stoke Space has secured the use of Launch Complex 14 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, a historic launch pad where John Glenn took off in 1962 to become the first American to reach orbit. Extensive refurbishment work is required to prepare the site for modern launches, as its most recent mission occurred in 1966.

Stoke Space is an intriguing player in the space industry, given its rapid growth and development. As of the end of 2020, the company was comprised solely of its co-founders, Andy Lapsa and Tom Feldman, both former propulsion engineers at Blue Origin. They believed that Blue Origin’s pace was not aligned with their vision for space exploration, prompting them to strike out on their own. Over the past three years, Stoke Space and its team have made substantial progress, culminating in the operational second stage capable of the recent short flight.

While there is still a considerable journey ahead to transition from this initial hop to achieving orbital flights for a small rocket designed to carry up to 7 metric tons to low-Earth orbit, Stoke Space’s ambitions are clear. If SpaceX can successfully operationalize its Starship vehicle, Stoke Space could become the second company to develop a fully reusable rocket—a noteworthy feat for a company primarily focused on that singular goal with its inaugural rocket.

By Impact Lab