Rocket science is hard. Aerodynamics, conservation of momentum, propellant flow – it's all pretty hardcore physics, which explains why rocket launches are so expensive and time-consuming. But if you’ve made it that far, the likelihood is you already know the one golden rule of rocket launches: don’t stand next to the raging column of fire as it takes off.
Not, it seems, these Pythom Space engineers, who recently released a video showing a rocket launch of theirs. The short clip shows the engineers sprinting for their lives away from the rocket post-ignition, and experts across the internet have had some strong words about rocket safety.
Pythom are a small space company aiming to be mighty in the aerospace world, with grand ambitions of sending craft to the Moon and Mars while operating a small team to keep costs low. Boasting their Eiger rocket, which can supposedly take off from anywhere, and their Olympus lander, which could take humans onto celestial bodies, the team are no doubt talented.
Their latest update shows a micro-jump of their Eiger stage one rocket. Micro-jumps are a huge step in rocket construction, as they demonstrate the rocket can take off stably and the components won’t all fall to bits when put under immense strain. According to their blog post, the micro-jump was a success, with the stage moving “maybe a foot or two” off the ground.
However, Ars Technica writer Eric Berger picked up on a portion of the video in which the engineers are remarkably close to the ignited rocket, running away from the cloud of red dust kicked up by the burning fuel. Berger also noted that multiple instances of the video show the engineers handling components with “less than industry-standard care”. The video can be watched below, which is a reupload of the original video after Pythom removed the section of them running away.
From there, criticism began rolling in. One commenter, aerospace engineer Jordan Noone, stated they “knew better as college students”. Others poked fun claiming it was akin to the Gary Larson cartoon rocket, and more were concerned about the orange cloud that the engineers got so close to, stating it was likely toxic.
Pythom have since responded, in both private messages and a public blog post to their site, and they are not taking kindly to the internet mockery. They claimed that the company was simply showing the other side of aerospace engineering, that competing companies such as SpaceX wouldn’t dare.
“In true Pythom spirit of showing things like they are, we had posted a video of the jump, including the "scary" parts, normally swept under the rug in the aerospace industry,” the company writes.
They go on to explain their safety plans, which they state no one ever actually asked them for, as well as explaining that the rocket runs off "green" fuel that does not create the toxic clouds other rockets create. Just three people were spotted running from the cloud, and Pythom states these are key members that are highly trained and have achieved expeditions to Everest and beyond, though we aren’t sure this makes you immune to fire.
The consensus appears clear: what Pythom is doing is undoubtedly impressive, but such achievements should not come at the detriment of staff safety. Multiple examples of safety breaches can be found and this is certainly something that the company should consider amending, although it is unclear if they have any indication of doing so. Until the Zoom Q&A being held by the company on April 21, critics will have to wait to see what Pythom truly have to say.