Among the thousands of visitors who traveled to Sturgis for the rally this week was one toting purportedly space-age technology.
Using a 3D-printer, Brian Stofiel has fashioned a motorcycle exhaust pipe cover that stays nearly cool to the touch even when the engine is running. It’s made from the same material that he said his St. Louis-based spaceflight start-up company uses in their rockets.
Since he arrived in South Dakota earlier this week, Stofiel has been cruising around Sturgis and asking passers-by to lay their hands on his bike’s exhaust pipe to demonstrate the device’s potential to save boots and skin. Speaking outside of the Rapid City Journal office on Wednesday, he said he saw an opportunity in the motorcycle rally to raise money for his company, Stofiel Aerospace.
"We’re right at the point where we need to bring in the money to build rockets," he said.
As first reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Stofiel and his associates aim to refine a method of launching rockets from high-altitude balloons to propel small satellites that carry payloads for both private and public sector clients. Potential uses include university research or product shipping, he said in 2017.
To reach that goal, Stofiel told the Journal that his company is taking a grassroots approach to finding investors and clients. By networking with bikers and vacationers, the Air Force veteran said he can eschew the aristocratic and academic trappings that insulate the commercial spaceflight industry.
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The way Stofiel sees it, taking spaceflight technology mainstream isn't a new or far-out idea. Consider that memory foam, which today is used to make everything from mattresses to shoe insoles, was originally developed by NASA to improve seat cushioning and crash protection for airline pilots and passengers, according to the agency's website.
"Most of the cars you’re seeing on the street have spaceflight technology in them, and that’s not even the self-driving cars," Stofiel said.
Stofiel himself holds an associate degree in avionics electrics, according to the Post-Dispatch. He said Wednesday that he has previously worked as a field technician in several different industries. The material that he uses to 3D-print the exhaust covers is made from a proprietary blend derived partly from cornstarch.
His company sells them online for about $200 but rally-goers were able to buy them at a discount. They measure about six inches long and are available in several different styles, although Stofiel said custom orders can be made on demand.
Since starting the company four years ago, Stofiel has already test-fired several small rockets and is preparing now to blast one to the Karman line — the point 62 miles above the earth where space begins.