Copenhagen Suborbitals

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Copenhagen Suborbital Logo.png
Industry Astronautics
Founded May 1, 2008; 7 years ago (2008-05-01)
Headquarters Refshaleøen, Copenhagen, Denmark Coordinates: 55°41′29.1″N 12°37′1.21″E / 55.691417°N 12.6170028°E / 55.691417; 12.6170028
Key people
Peter Madsen (founder, resigned June 2014)
Kristian von Bengtson (founder, advisor since June 2014)
Products Sub-orbital spaceflight
Rocket launch
Number of employees
42[1] (all volunteering[2])

Copenhagen Suborbitals is a Danish non-profit aerospace organization that has constructed and launched several privately built rockets. The organization's main goal is to develop relatively inexpensive forms of suborbital manned spaceflight outside government programs and the influence of large, for-profit corporations. Founded in 2008 by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen, the project has accomplished a successful sea launch of an experimental hybrid rocket dubbed HEAT-1X carrying a full-scale human model. The test was performed in June 2011 from a seagoing mobile launch platform in the Baltic Sea, but had to be aborted after 21 seconds at an altitude of 2.8 km when the rocket began to veer off course. On June 23, 2013, the team successfully launched the actively guided SAPPHIRE-1 rocket to an altitude of 8.5 kilometers.[3]

In addition to their main stated goal to achieve suborbital manned spaceflight, Copenhagen Suborbitals has also focused on fundraising solely through donations and sponsorships.[4] Their use of relatively simple solutions for complex problems has also helped set Copenhagen Suborbitals apart; examples of this approach can be seen in their preference for simple mechanical solutions over more complex electronic ones, and their avoidance of potentially restrictive red tape by the use of lightly regulated technology in their projects.

Peter Madsen left the project in June 2014.


Bengtson and Madsen during the second launch attempt of HEAT-1X

Copenhagen Suborbitals was founded in 2008 by Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen, as a non-profit project where important aspects of the operation are described in detail on blogs[5][6] and lectures[7] and funding is obtained through donations and sponsorships.[8]

On 23 February 2014 the board of Copenhagen Suborbitals announced that Kristian von Bengtson had left the project.[9] However over the next couple of months the project continued to have internal struggles which culminated on 10 July 2014 with Peter Madsen leaving the project. This meant that several former members returned to the project including Kristian von Bengtson as an advisor as he is busy with Mars One.[10] After his exit, Peter Madsen immediately began to prepare another project with the same goal: to send a man into space.

Within the project's organization, von Bengtson was responsible for the design and construction of Copenhagen Suborbital's space capsule. He has an education in architecture and has participated in various space projects, including the design of new moon rovers, and is a co-author of NASA's Human Integration Design Handbook.[11][12][13][14]

Peter Madsen was responsible for Copenhagen Suborbital's rocket engines. He is an inventor, artist and entrepreneur. Before forming Copenhagen Suborbitals, he led the design and construction of 3 privately built submarines; Freya (2002), Kraka (2005) and UC3 Nautilus (2008).[15]

The crew gathered in front of the static rocket test setup in November 2011

Besides the two founders, several specialists work on the project:

  • Thomas Scherrer, spacecraft electronics, comm-link.
  • Claus Nørregaard, certified pyrotechnician.
  • Christian Ravn, physicist
  • Niels Foldager, space medicine, dept. flight director.
  • Kristian Elof Sørensen, captain of MLP-Sputnik.
  • André Christensen, recovery lead and area control.
  • Jev Olsen. Photo.

The group has grown from 22 people with various skills in August 2011,[16] to 42 as of January 2013.[17]

Suborbital space flight[edit]

Drawing of the flight path

From the launch site a rocket engine module, will carry a manned module called MicroSpaceCraft (MSC) near the 100 km boundary and into space. The two modules will detach and the MSC will follow a trajectory affected solely by gravity, within which the occupant will feel weightlessness. Gravity will then pull the MSC back into the atmosphere, where the it will be decelerated by parachutes and land on water.[18] If successful, Denmark will be the fourth nation to launch humans above the Kármán line which is the boundary to outer space, after Russia, USA and China.[19] Peter Madsen is scheduled for the first flight, then Kristian von Bengtson will attempt a low Earth orbit mission.


Interior of the HAB building

CS started on a barge called M/S Half Machine in Port of Copenhagen. On 1 August 2009 they relocated to its base and office on Refshaleøen, the old Burmeister & Wain shipyard, in Copenhagen. Their main workshop was in the HAB (Horizontal Assembly Building). In November 2013 they expanded to a bigger workshop in the same street, but kept the old HAB. For the sea launches the group has built a mobile launch platform called Sputnik.

Rocket engines[edit]

Drawing of the stacked rocket, with HEAT at the bottom. Compared with the final rocket


The group had decided to use a hybrid rocket, using liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidizer and originally HEAT was to have been fuelled with paraffin wax, but a ground test 28 February 2010 revealed that some of the paraffin wax had only partially melted, instead of evaporating. The result was that HEAT-1X had less power than expected. A ground test firing of HEAT-1X-P (P for polyurethane) was conducted 16 May 2010. It was positive, the polyurethane had the right power but showed heavy oscillation. As of 2011 the group has performed more than 30 tests of various engine types at their rocket engine test facility at Refshaleøen. In fall of 2012 a concept engine using White fuming nitric acid and Furfuryl alcohol was tried using a static test setup.[20]


Static test of the HATV at Refshaleøen 2011

The HATV (Hybrid Atmospheric Test Vehicle) is a 220 mm diameter hybrid booster, used for testing purposes, it is 1/3 the size of the HEAT rocket. It produces approximately 12 kN thrust within a combustion time of 20 seconds.[citation needed]

HEAT 1X[edit]

Main article: HEAT 1X Tycho Brahe

HEAT 1X (Hybrid Exo Atmospheric Transporter)[21] is the rocket booster module, intended to launch the MSC Tycho Brahe into space, the combination being known as HEAT-1X TYCHO BRAHE. The rocket design is the result of numerous static booster tests of the solid fuel epoxy and the liquid oxidizer nitrous oxide. A combination which was also used in the scale-down test rocket HATV (Hybrid Atmospheric Test Vehicle) which is only 1/3 size of the HEAT. Stabilization of the rocket is by rollerons, a mechanism also used to stabilize missiles. The rocket was successfully launched 3 June 2011 but the test was aborted at an altitude of 2.8 km.

TM65 and TM65 IIA and TM65 IIB[edit]

Main article: TM65

TM65 and TM65 IIA/B are liquid propellant engines using 75% Ethanol and liquid oxygen (LOX) as oxidizer. These engines produce about 65 kN thrust.[22] First static tests were conducted in May 2012. One TM65 II engine is for HEAT 2X and one is for HEAT 1600 LE. The TM65 engine passed the test undamaged, and was fired at up to 50% of its rated thrust. The group plans to repeat the test with higher thrust levels.[23][dated info]


The TM260 is a CS concept for the HEAT 1600. The CS might use also a cluster of 4 TM65 engines.

HEAT 2X[edit]

As of 2013, HEAT is not a hybrid rocket but a device creating heat. The HEAT 2X is a testbed for the flight test of the TM65 and the first fully guided rocket of the CS. It even has a roll control. Its purpose is similar to the German Aggregat-5 built before the first flight of the Aggregat-4 (V-2 rocket). It should fly an 80 kg payload into the stratosphere. It has no turbo pumps. Its purpose is also to fly an 80 kg space capsule test bed TDS80 into the statosphere.

The rocket was not flown as it suffered an engine fire during a static test in the summer of 2014. The rocket nozzle imploded and a welding seam opened resulting in the expulsion of all the ethanol fuel (some 500 L) in just 3 seconds resulting in a large fire which damaged the part of the rocket. The engine failure and subsequent fire was filmed[24] up close with a high speed camera, which although burned on the outside, survived the inferno enough for the film to be recovered.

HEAT-1600 LE and HEAT 1600[edit]

The rocket engines called HEAT 1600 LE and HEAT 1600 after the width of the rocket, are the biggest rocket concept by the group, and the one that is being worked on as of November 2013. The HEAT 1600 LE is now in production in November 2013. It is a full size version of the HEAT 1600 with only one motor TM 65. For lift off the mass of the filled fuel is limited to about a quarter of the HEAT 1600. It will not reach space, but the stratosphere. The HEAT 1600 either uses a big motor with 269 kN or a cluster of 4 x TM65 engines fed by turbo pumps on a single stage.[25]

BPM-2 and BPM-5[edit]

Since the failure of the TM65 engine (part of HEAT-2X) the group has build and tested a series of smaller engines with a nominal thrust of 2 and 5 kN. The aim of this series of tests is to better be able to build the engines as well as to be able to test different fuel additives (such as TEOS) as well as different control systems. The BPM engines are bi-liquid rocket engines using LOX and ethanol, They have been tested with passive pressure blow-down, but it is also intended to test them with pressure regulation

The group intends to fly the BPM-5 engines on the NEXOE rocket series being prepared for the 2015 launch season.


Tycho Brahe[edit]

Main article: HEAT 1X Tycho Brahe
Tycho Brahe being stacked.
Sketch of the Tycho interior

The micro space craft (MSC), named Tycho Brahe after the Danish astronomer, has a steel pressure hull, with room for one passenger. The passenger would be able to view the outside through a Perspex dome.[21] The occupant would fly in a half-standing/half-sitting position, in a specially designed seat, and wearing anti-G trousers to avoid blackout. Another compartment contains both the high-speed drogue parachute and the low-speed main parachutes for deceleration. The sheer volume of the MSC will provide the buoyancy in the water upon touchdown.

The first MSC was christened "Tycho Brahe 1" and its first flight was unmanned using a crash test dummy.[26] A new aluminium MSC called MAX-1 named after Maxime Faget is under development.[citation needed] According to the group development on this capsule has been abandoned due to the physiological problems associated with large acceleration of a human in standing position.[27] The craft is now on display in the Tycho Brahe Planetarium in Copenhagen.[28]

Tycho Deep Space[edit]

Tycho Deep Space during testing of the Launch Escape System

Tycho Deep Space is a space capsule developed by von Bengtson. The first version officially named "Beautiful Betty" by Mikael Bertelsen, the capsule's protector.[29] The unmanned capsule was launched on 12 August 2012 from sea by a test Launch Escape System, off the coast of Bornholm. The launch didn't provide enough height for the parachute to deploy and the capsule was partly damaged on impact with the sea. The capsule is 2 meter in diameter, allowing for the passenger to be in a horizontal position relative to the acceleration during launch and landing.

Launch campaigns[edit]

The floating launch platform Sputnik with HEAT 1X Tycho Brahe, photographed June 2011

The group originally focused on launching from a land based spaceport like Andøya, Kiruna or Iceland[30] The focus however turned towards a sea launch, just outside the territorial waters of Denmark. A permission to launch was given by Danish authorities, but the first option, the North Sea, a possibility suggested by Danish Civil Aviation Administration (Statens Luftfartsvæsen), was rejected in 2009 by the Danish Maritime Authority (Søfartsstyrelsen). They preferred another area and then gave a formal and written permission to launch from the military firing range ESD138/ESD139, which is located on the position 55°02′57″N 15°36′11″E / 55.04917°N 15.60306°E / 55.04917; 15.60306 in the Baltic Sea.[citation needed] It is just outside Nexø on the Danish island of Bornholm and is therefore nicknamed Spaceport Nexø. The CS then had to build a floating mobile launcher platform (MLP), called Sputnik after the Russian spacecraft which was the first artificial satellite to be put into orbit. Their launch campaigns includes the following ships:[citation needed]

2010: The first launch attempt[edit]

The first full-scale test-launch aimed at 30 km altitude was planned to be conducted off the coast of Bornholm between 30 August and 13 September 2010.[31] The vehicle carried a crash test dummy "Rescue Randy" instead of a human pilot, with manned flight not planned for some years. The success criteria were the completion of the sea voyage and countdown with launch and recovery planned as a bonus.[32]

On Tuesday 31 August 2010, the privately built Danish submarine UC3 Nautilus pushed the launch platform Sputnik carrying the rocket and spacecraft from Copenhagen towards the launch area near Nexø, Bornholm.[33]

A launch attempt was made on Sunday 5 September 2010 14:43 CEST,[34] but the motor could not be started due to a failure of the LOX valve which is assumed to be caused by insufficient heating of the valve. The design famously included a consumer hair dryer for defrosting the LOX-valve; in effect it was not the blow-dryer but its power supply that failed.[35]

The group promised to come back the year after to attempt the launch again.[36]

2011: First flight of HEAT 1X Tycho Brahe[edit]

HEAT 1X Tycho Brahe lifting off from MLP-Sputnik

Having done updates on the rocket, and the valve, and with MLP-Sputnik under her own power, and a support vessel. The group sailed again for Spaceport Nexø on May 28 at 4:50 a.m. They again met up with MHV Hjortø, a Naval Home Guard vessel that serves as Mission Control and recovery vessel. The second launch attempt was more successful and the maiden flight took place 3 June 2011, at 16:32 local time (CEST) (14:32 GMT). The Heat-1X rocket lifted off and ascended to an altitude of only 2.8 km,[37] because Mission Control had to shut the engine off after 21 seconds.[38] Although there were problems with the parachutes, the HEAT 1X Tycho Brahe was recovered and the flight produced useful data for subsequent development of the program.

2012: Concept tests[edit]

SMARAGD Test[edit]

The two-stage Smaragd in the HAB, missing only electronics

The SMARAGD rocket ((Danish): Emerald) is a 5.7 meter[39] two-stage rocket weighing 160 kg, intended to reach an altitude of 8 km.,[40] that was used for testing various technological aspects of the operation. On July 27, 2012 the team set out from Nexø towards the launch site, intending to launch the SMARAGD rocket[41] .[42] After some initial problems with the remote launch control[43] the rocket launched successfully just after 1 pm[44][45] and reached the maximum altitude of 8.2 km.[8] It was evident shortly after take off that the nosecone, containing electronics, broke off during launch, possibly due to the large acceleration of estimated 20 g.[46]

Tycho Deep Space with Launch Escape System[edit]

On August 12, 2012 at 9:18 a.m. the space capsule Tycho Deep Space, was launched to test a Launch escape system. However the parachute did not deploy properly and the capsule was damaged on impact.[47] Several media had misunderstood the schedule and proclaimed the launch to have been started prematurely due to an error.[48] The test was considered partly successful by the team, due to the successful rocket launch and the unsuccessful parachute deployment.[49] The launch could be followed live via live streaming from several video cameras, additionally high speed cameras were mounted on the MLP.[50]

2013: Guidance system development[edit]

SAPPHIRE-1 Test[edit]

SAPPHIRE-1, a modification of the HATV, was a 4.5 m rocket whose main purpose was to test the active guidance system developed by Copenhagen Suborbitals.[51] It was successfully launched on June 23, 2013.[52]

Goals and records achieved[edit]

Some of the things Copenhagen Suborbitals have achieved so far are:

  • Most powerful amateur rocket ever flown.
  • First amateur rocket flown with a payload of a full size Crash test dummy.
  • First Main Engine(s) Cut-Off (MECO) command sent to, received and performed by an amateur rocket.
  • Handling and orchestration of a sea launch, by a "small budget"-organization.

On 3 October 2013, Copenhagen Suborbitals was awarded the "Breitling Milestone Trophy" award by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale at a ceremony in Kuala Lumpur.[53][54]

Support group[edit]

CS decided early that relying on many small sponsors, joining out of interest for the project, were better than one main sponsor with potential demands for influence on the project.[55]

On October 5, 2010 an independent group of space enthusiasts founded the Copenhagen Suborbitals Support group (CSS). The main purpose of this group is to "support CS economically, morally and practically in their mission". Within two days after its founding, CSS reached 100 members. November 15, 2011 marked a major milestone for CSS as 500 members was reached. According to Peter Madsens blog on, by December 2013 this had doubled with 1000 members supporting CS.[56]

By paying a fixed monthly amount, the members of Copenhagen Suborbitals Support now covers all of the fixed costs for the project in addition to donating various forms of hardware.[57] By 2015, CS was supported with £12,500 per month.[58]


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  2. ^ "FAQ". 
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Mission Statement". 
  5. ^ "ROCKET SHOP". Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  6. ^ "Rumfart på den anden måde". Retrieved 25 November 2011. 
  7. ^ "TEDxCopenhagen - Kristian von Bengtson - Danes in space". TED X. Retrieved 27 November 2011. 
  8. ^ a b Melzer, Jonas. (27 July 2012). "Danes launch homemade rocket". Ny Teknik. Retrieved 7 August 2012. 
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  13. ^ "Bibliography". Space Architect. Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  14. ^ "Spacearchitect:Members". Space Architect. Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
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  16. ^ Personel, Copenhagen Suborbitals
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  24. ^ [1] Gopro Hero 3 camera
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  30. ^ Translated Danish blog
  31. ^ LAUNCH CAMPAIGN SEP 2010, Copenhagen Suborbitals
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  34. ^ Raketten kom ikke i luften "Raketten kom ikke i luften" Check |url= scheme (help). Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  35. ^ Djursing, Thomas. "Powerless hairdryer stopped rocket". Retrieved 5 September 2010. 
  36. ^ Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen (6 September 2010). "Vi er stolte - vi er glade - vi gir aldrig op...(Danish)". Retrieved 1 January 2012. 
  37. ^ "Danish Team's Homemade Space Capsule Blasts Off". foxnews. 3 June 2011. 
  38. ^ Astrup, Søren; Lindqvist, Andreas (3 June 2011). "Flyt jer lige lidt, Nasa: Her kommer Danmark" (in Danish). Politiken. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  39. ^ "Copenhagen suborbitals aktiviteter i 2012". Retrieved September 2, 2012. 
  40. ^ Djursing, Thomas. "Smaragd-raketten gøres klar: Nu skal CS skyde højt…og ligeud". Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  41. ^ Djursing, Thomas. "Alle skibe er på vej mod affyringsområdet". Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  42. ^ Djursing Thomas. "Så står Smaragd skudklar: Se de sidste forberedelser her". Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  43. ^ Djursing ,Thomas. "Skuffelse: Raket affyrede nyt forsøg kl. 12.50". Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  44. ^ Stage, Mie. "Smaragd er i luften". Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  45. ^ "Danske amatør-astronauter har sendt en ny raket af sted fra Nexø". 27 July 2012. Retrieved August 6, 2012. 
  46. ^ Djursing, Thomas. "Næsekegle brød i stykker kort efter raketstart". Retrieved 27 July 2012. 
  47. ^ Djursing, Thomas (August 12, 2012). "Kapsel er hårdt medtaget efter fejlslagen opsendelse". Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  48. ^ KROMANN, HANS CHRISTIAN (August 12, 2012). "Hov, hvad skete der? Dansk rumraket røg pludselig i vejret : Den danske raket blev affyret tre kvarter, før den skulle.". Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  49. ^ Djursing, Thomas (August 12, 2012). "Kapsel hårdt medtaget efter for lav flyvning". Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  50. ^ LES/TDS launch. Copenhagen Suborbitals. 
  51. ^ Djursing, Thomas. "Ejection seat soon to launch". Retrieved 2 August 2012. 
  52. ^
  53. ^
  54. ^ Søren Munch. "Rakettur på 8 km belønnet med fornem pris" Jyllands-Posten, 7 October 2013. Accessed: 7 October 2013.
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  56. ^
  57. ^ "The official Copenhagen Suborbitals support group". Copenhagen Suborbitals Support. Retrieved 5 March 2013. 
  58. ^ Smith, Julian. "How the final frontier just got democratised", page 6. Wired (Magazine), 20 May 2015. Archived on 25 May 2015.

External links[edit]

External media
Picasa Web album (many wikipedia compatible licences)
HEAT1X-Tycho launch highlights on YouTube
Lecture by Kristian von Bengtson on TEDx
Today Show video

Template:Kristian von Bengtson