— Look to nature to find something that works, and works well.

Artists do it. So do engineers, including the newly minted engineers at Additive Rocket Corp.

Additive Rocket is a company in residence at the Qualcomm Institute innovation space at UC San Diego’s Jacobs School of Engineering. Its designers seem to have taken a page from nature’s blueprints when they drew up their new rocket engine.

If their design works, it might offer aerospace engineers a new way to do things.

If not … well, what is innovation if it isn’t about taking risks?

IP Moves

CEO Andy Kieatiwong recently got his undergraduate degree from UC San Diego. He said his business is on the verge of closing a seed round of venture funding.

Additive Rocket Corp. has filed four non-provisional patents and four provisional patents on its designs, Kieatiwong said.

The entrepreneur recently showed off a diagram of his rocket engine during a conference call from Australia. The CEO was across the ocean and in the southern hemisphere, taking part in the Techstars Adelaide program, which concluded with a demo day on Oct. 12.

A rocket component called the injector mixes propellant and oxidizer to create the rocket blast. Additive Rocket’s injector is different from others.

Consider the injector from a Saturn V engine, which took U.S. astronauts to the moon during the Apollo program. At first glance, it looks kind of like a sieve in a stopper from a kitchen sink. (Granted, it’s a lot bigger, and a lot more complicated than that.)

Using Nature’s Examples

Kieatiwong shared diagrams of his company’s injector, which looks kind of like the network of arteries and veins coming together at a human heart. Or an elaborate, albeit stylized, set of tree roots that branch and get progressively smaller.

Nature has been able to optimize the basic structures of the body to move fluid around, the CEO said.

Usually an injector plate is built in two pieces. But an additive manufacturing process can build it as a solid piece. That’s significant, Kieatiwong said, arguing that making parts with mills and lathes can prevent an engineer from creating an optimal shape.

The 3-D printing process eliminates barriers to design, Kieatiwong said from Australia. It can help engineers create geometries they couldn’t create before.

Kieatiwong talks about redesigning rocket engines from the bottom up.

The CEO said that a person designing a rocket engine has to worry about three things: how to dispense fuel, how to move heat so the engine doesn’t melt, and how to make the whole unit lightweight. Often engineers design elaborate piping systems that whirl around the rocket nozzle to cool it.