People of SFU

Having a blast this spring with the SFU Rocketry Club

April 06, 2023

A rocket engine screeched and ignited four-metre-long flames on Saturday March 18th at SFU’s Burnaby Mountain campus.

The liquid rocket engine hot fire test was conducted by members of the SFU Rocketry Club in accordance with all safety protocols. The test had been delayed from last summer, as conditions were too dry at the time, and the team was excited to finally move ahead with the project.

“We calculated that the engine generated 2,400 Newtons of force - roughly equal to the force it would take to lift a grizzly bear, which is kind of a fun fact,” says Elias Bircher, a fifth-year engineering physics student and the former SFU Rocketry President.

The club is working on the engine in conjunction with a variety of smaller projects in the hopes of pushing rocketry forward within SFU and the community. With the firing of their first rocket engine, they hope to use the momentum to create more complex rocket engines that can be implemented in a rocket ready for launch.

Liquid rocket engines are similar to those engines used by NASA and SpaceX rockets. Elias explains that their liquid rocket engine works by combining liquid oxygen with ethanol, which are fed into the engine from two separate tanks and sprayed into a mist that gets ignited. This system provides great control as the force of the engine can be controlled by varying the flow of the liquids.

The test itself lasted 3.5 seconds, but the club has been working towards this moment since the start of the pandemic in 2020.

Launching forward through COVID & other challenges

Elias has been with the SFU Rocketry Club since its inception in 2018, working on their initial project, a sounding rocket, which are rockets that do not orbit but rather reach a certain altitude before returning close by to the launch site.

“That’s how we started off. We were working on a 10,000 ft altitude rocket with a motor that contained a solid mixture of fuel and oxygen. That’s a pretty common rocket design choice for beginner teams due to the simplicity,” he explains.

COVID restrictions forced the cancellation of student rocket launch competitions and prompted the team to pause the sounding rocket project and pivot to working on a liquid rocket engine test. The team intends to return to the sounding rocket launch project and participate in more competitions now that many COVID restrictions have lifted.

The club has grown from about five to roughly 80 members from various disciplines including engineering science, mechatronics, general science, computer science and business students, who focus on the administrative side of the project. New members are always welcome – contact the club for more information.

“For me, what is most interesting about these projects are the different challenges that we face and how we as a team navigate them," says Elias. “Whether it’s coding the controls system, getting supplies for cryogenics, financing the project or dealing with the safety and security aspect – working through those challenges as a team and seeing our efforts payoff is just amazing.”

If you have any questions or want to learn more, feel free to reach out to SFU Rocketry at their website and or by emailing