By Fred Grier
Meet Andy Kieatiwong, UC San Diego alumni and CEO of Additive Rocket Corporation (ARC), which plans to reinvent the modern-day rocket engine utilizing 3D metal printing. ARC aims to produce low-cost rocket engines, creating more accessible space exploration for both the public and industries.
Kieatiwong, an aerospace engineering graduate, co-founded ARC with Kyle Adriany after spotting a gap in the space and defense industry, specifically in rocket design optimization. ARC’s mission is to leverage innovative 3D metal printing technology to revolutionize space propulsion and create accessible space exploration.
3D printing has evolved an ever-growing range of new printing techniques which is quickly being adopted by mainstream industries, space industry being no exception. ARC plans to capitalize on this growing marketing opportunity. Aerospace companies — which need a small number of highly customized parts to be manufactured — are embracing this technology in innovative ways to gain a competitive advantage.For example, a variety of launch vehicle components have been created by 3D printing tech, ranging from combustion chambers, turbo-pumps and much more. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center has even used this technology in a number of projects with industry partners, including developing a 3D printed copper combustion chamber liner using a nickel-alloy.
We chatted with Kieatiwong and his team about their journey to launch ARC, potential market opportunities, and their experience being a university-based startup.
Year founded: 2015
Technology: Utilizes innovative advance simulation and 3D metal printing to create highly optimized propulsion systems for space and defense industries.
Headcount: 7 employees
Headquartered: Qualcomm Institute (QI) Innovation Space, UC San Diego, La Jolla
Arc Logo: ARC’s logo inspiration comes from the supersonic flow phenomenon that occurs within a rocket engine.
“When our customers look at our logo we want them to associate our brand with premier standards – trusted, reliable, and high performing rocket engines,” Kieatiwong explained.
Risk Takers: Before pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams, many of the ARC team members worked in leading space companies, including SpaceX, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and Northrop Grumman Corporation.
When asked what sparked the initial idea of ARC, Kieatiwong answered, “We realized a disconnect in the aerospace industry in regards to the design of 3D printed propulsion systems; they weren’t fully leveraging the design freedom that 3D printing allows. The aerospace industry is very risk-averse, using mostly tried and true technologies. This is what led us to create ARC.”
Determined to shift the traditional, age-old operations, Kieatiwong and Adriany started ARC, reinventing rocket engines to focus on its core functionality.
Rocket Features: The rocket engine produces 450 pounds of thrust, operating on traditional rocket fuel, liquid oxygen, and kerosene.
“What’s novel about our engine is it is the first functioning single piece rocket engine. We’ve managed to combine the combustion chamber nozzle, and objective plate altogether,” Adriany said.
ARC’s innovative design rapidly accelerates manufacturing which reduces inspection time, saving money on both ends of production. “With our additive manufacturing, you can create the unimaginable. We can create shapes that mimic blood vessels, which is an ideal feature for things like fluid flow – heat transfer – in hardware systems,” Kieatiwong said.
“We have a couple advisors in San Diego who both give us very sound business advice and have connected us to a lot of customers in the aerospace industry,” Kieatiwong said. “Luckily for us, our story resonates with a lot of people who are always willing to provide their two cents.”
Funding: As of 2019, ARC has raised approximately over $600,000 from participating in various accelerators, winning pitch competitions, and securing angel investments. Initially bootstrapping their company, ARC got its first big break participating in Techstars Adelaide Accelerator, receiving $120,000 in startup funding. Currently, ARC is actively raising capital, looking to close out the last half of its $2 million seed round goal.
Recent Deals: Preparing for take-off! ARC recently closed its first purchase order of the year and plans to have many more in the pipeline as the startup continues to grow.
Projected Growth: It is undeniable that space is the next frontier; with the help of titan industry leaders Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, space exploration will only become more accessible.
When asked what lies ahead for future plans of ARC, Kieatiwong answered, “Outside the field of space, we’ve received a lot of inquiry from major automobile and transportation manufacturing, even injection molding and energy generation. There are a ton of other terrestrial applications that our technology can be used for.”
Milestones: ARC’s goal is to bring on five launch vehicle manufacturing customers before the end of this year. “We would like to close an agreement with one of the larger aerospace prime companies this year,” Kieatiwong said.
Words of Wisdom: Leaving a fulfilling job to create something of your own involves a huge level of risk. Being on both sides, Kieatiwong offers keen insight into all university-level entrepreneurs. “Leverage your inexperience. As students, many people viewed us as learning; if you’re candid, honest, and humble, people will tend to extend a helping hand.”
He added, “Let it be known you don’t have it all figured out; if you can demonstrate your passion and vision you will receive all the help you need.”
San Diego Scene: The ARC team members are strong advocates of the San Diego ecosystem, which they say is a great place to start a company.
“I think if you are a passionate entrepreneur who looks for resources and takes advantage of them, San Diego has everything you need to start a successful deep tech company,”Kieatiwong said. “There are a ton of makerspaces, the weather is beautiful for attracting talent, and we don’t have LA traffic but we have a lot of LA perks.”
Editor’s Note: TritonTech is an original Fresh Brewed Tech series on UC San Diego students (current and alumni) who are blazing a trail in technology and entrepreneurship. These innovative ideas born in the halls of academia are making a great impact on our ecosystem and beyond. Don’t miss these compelling stories of passion, hard work, and problem-solving by the next generation of entrepreneurs.