Interview: Petr VáÑa, Space Programme Manager, Sobriety s.r.o.

Petr VáňaSpace Tech Expo Europe spoke to Petr Váňa, Space Program Manager at Sobriety s.r.o., about the company’s electrically actuated valves for liquid rocket engines, the key challenges facing future launches to space and Sobriety’s hopes for Space Tech Expo Europe 2019.

After graduating from the European SpaceMaster programme, Petr joined a small company in Brno developing space electronics for various ESA missions. He held several roles there, from detailed design, trough reliability and PA aspects to system-level development, manufacturing, verification, testing and finally technical management. When he joined Sobriety he initially took part in the development of high-speed machines, eventually leading the development effort while also broadening it to space applications.

Please tell us about your current role. What are your key focus areas and responsibilities?

I am a Space Programme Manager at Sobriety, responsible also for technical and management oversight for our current development projects for rocket engine valves and electric pumps.


What inspired you to join this company?

It was and still is the friendly, goal-driven atmosphere in the company and the will and resources of the management to invest in early technology development and in the space domain.


What do you think sets your company apart from your competitors?

We are a small company, yet we manage to keep a very diverse skillset and experience distributed among ourselves. This allows us to tackle complex problems and successfully solve them for our customers. Also we manage to develop complex systems while keeping all the specific know-how in-house, despite our size. We have a fairly young average age of employees, but we benefit from the knowledge of a few particularly experienced, seasoned engineers.


What are the key opportunities and challenges your company faces at present?

The key challenge is proving ourselves to the heritage- and reliability-based community as a relative newcomer. The opportunities we see are in the growing space business locally in the Brno area, and globally the potential of the technologies and the engineering experience we are now striving to mature.


Are there any new technology developments that you are working on at the moment? Can you tell us about them?

One of the new developments is the electrically actuated valves for liquid rocket engines. The design to cost approach is a major driver and we strive to be competitive with our product for launcher applications.

Another very exciting product we are working on is the electrically driven, very high-speed pump, utilising hydrodynamic bearings based on the heritage and experience of our company. We are developing the whole system, including the power inverter. Such an electrically driven and controlled pump can be a key enabler for deep throttling engines, for example for landers or asteroid mining probes.

In a different field, we are also working on a concept for a large-scale, zero-g platform to be used for testing large spacecraft surface interactions in low-gravity conditions.


What would you say most excites you about your role?

Two things excite me the most. I lead a relatively young group of enthusiastic engineers, while we are being backed up by support, advice and sobriety from the seasoned engineering gurus. And we are pursuing the opportunity to become a respected partner to the international space community and industry.


How do you think the industry will develop within the next five years? Can you tell us about the key trends emerging?

What we can see most from our little bubble is the increasing trend of lowering the recurring cost, with some space applications reaching almost serial production volumes. Still, the space environment is as harsh as it ever was and the requirements for quality and reliability can hardly be lowered for serious applications. There is the increasing risk of space debris, yet several large-volume satellite constellations are being considered. Commercial endeavours may be met with more stringent regulations. And on top of that, asteroid mining is now being seriously pursued even by governments.

From our small company perspective, we think that (among others) precision orbit insertion, precision manoeuvring, precision rendezvous or landing, even green propellant usage are aspects worth the focus.


What do you hope to achieve at the show next year, and what connections do you hope to make?

We would like to present up-to-date results of our product development and get some relevant feedback from the very broad space community at Space Tech Expo. We hope to attract partners and potential customers, and broaden the development possibilities for our products with potential new suppliers.

Sobriety s.r.o. will be exhibiting at Space Tech Expo Europe 2019 on Stand C93.