In May 2008, two men climbed into a 40-ton submarine docked at an abandoned Copenhagen shipyard. One of the men had built the 58-foot-long sub in his spare time, and inside they chatted about the future. It involved rockets — big rockets.
Although it was the first meeting between Kristian von Bengtson and Peter Madsen, the submarine‘s creator, the duo emerged with a daring plan: to launch themselves into suborbital space using custom-built contraptions. And with that, Copenhagen Suborbitals was born.
Co-founders von Bengtson, an aerospace scientist and former NASA contractor, and Madsen, an entrepreneur and aerospace engineer, have a lot to be proud of since they founded their non-profit space program four years ago. In June 2011, for example, Copenhagen Suborbital’s army of volunteers successfully built, launched and recovered a 31-foot-tall rocket — the largest “amateur” launcher ever built — with a crash-test dummy tucked inside.
That first prototype ended its flight two miles up, and the organization has yet to check off their ultimate goal: sending a person more than 60 miles above the Earth, a height widely considered the boundary of outer space. But now they are creating a bigger, better and badder space vehicle to get there.
“We have gone from having a crazy idea on a submarine to a smoothly run organization that builds rockets and spacecraft, and has experience with big launches,” said von Bengtson, who also blogs about the project for Wired at Rocket Shop. “It feels like we have become a part of a new era in space. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Not for millions of dollars.”