From Hobbies to Entrepreneurship
From Hobbies to Entrepreneurship
  • Lee Jeong-rak (ME 15)
  • 승인 2022.02.26 20:41
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Researching Rockets at POSTECH

I am Lee Jeong-rak, a cofounder of RC423, a rocket research group, and Perigee Aerospace, a projectile start-up. I currently research aerospace optimization and production processes at the Extreme Mechanics Laboratory (XML). The beginning of Perigee was a joint club created by students who were interested in rockets at various universities in South Korea. At Perigee, we are currently building a “satellite taxi” service that launches small satellites into the fixed orbit quickly. Perigee was recently selected as a preliminary unicorn company.
Immediately after entering university, I wanted to study the aviation field. However, there were no rocket-related laboratories or professors at POSTECH. Not only my friends but also professors were worried that South Korea lacked infrastructure on rocket research. Nevertheless, I tried to conduct a study under the theme of an “Effective and Reusable Rocket Engine” by participating in the POSTECH Undergraduate Research Program (URP), which offers subsidies of two million KRW and helps undergraduate students conduct research for five months. However, the machine parts used in the rocket engines were not ready-made, they had to be designed, selected, and processed directly, so the subsidies were too little. There was even no place nor equipment on campus to test the engine, so I simply measured the thrust of an engine by reading the scale on a butcher’s scale with the engine placed upside down on it. Due to the lack of funds, technology, and equipment, I had to spend my own money for developing the engine. However, the engine did not meet my expectations. Fortunately, the professor who was in charge of my URP regarded my passion highly and recommended his entrepreneurship class to me.
Meanwhile, I recognized that I could receive funding and mentoring from a course called Business Model Studio. I applied for various programs because I desperately needed a mentor to advise my start-up item. By submitting reports based on what I learned in the Business Model Studio class, I received various funding through Techstar, organized by the APGC-LAB,  BRIDGE+ and I-corps organized by the NRF. In particular, the development of liquid fuel engines was essential to increase the efficiency and reusability of rockets, so we met experts in the related field first. While working in a start-up program, I discovered a KAIST rocket research group, Perigee. They were also an organization composed of undergraduate students, so they showed a lot of interest in our team and passed on their technological know-how in rocket development. Thanks to them, our research group not only developed the liquid fuel rocket engines, but also built a low-cost weather observation rocket system under the theme of research on high-efficiency solid ram jets and rocket engine development using low-end 3D printers.
There were difficulties in conducting the study. Dangerous experiments on campus in particular are only approved if there is a supervisor. In the case of the rocket experiment, it was a dangerous experiment using high-temperature and high-pressure gas, but there was no supervisor, so when I asked for the construction of a laboratory, the related department strongly opposed it. The department even said that the desired construction site is next to the Pohang Accelerator Laboratory (PAL), so there is only a 20 to 30% chance of construction. I argued that safety accidents can be prevented through existing solid fuel rocket experiment cases, but the answer we received was that we will never get permission unless safety was perfectly secured.
We investigated various material safety data and papers such as MSDS and NFPA of materials used in the rocket experiments, calculated the possibility of fire and quarantine distance by material, and designed protection and fire-fighting facilities to prevent all safety accidents. In addition, I visited the aviation university four times during the semester to investigate prior cases, and participated in research during the semester at KAIST to benchmark technology and safety facilities. Through a report that included both this experience and the process for laboratory construction, we finally obtained construction permits after a year of persuasion. At first, faculty members vaguely felt burdened and concerned about the rocket experiment, but through my efforts, I changed their perception, and eventually established the test site at about 200 million KRW in early 2018.
Assuming that there is some skill in place, I think people are most important in technology start-ups. When collecting opinions from investors in the early stages of a start-up, it is said that higher distribution is given in the team composition than other factors. Factors such as start-up items may also be important, but if you have a good founder and colleagues, it is possible to read the market and build a business model. No matter how good an item or technology you have, in order to change the direction quickly, excellent talents and colleagues who fit well with you are essential.
If you are thinking of a technology start-up, I recommend you experience a lot from your undergraduate days. From mentoring related to start-ups to research funding and investment, many opportunities are open to undergraduate students. In addition to classes, you have opportunities to build the competencies you need for start-ups. Recently, support for prospective and early founders is increasing, so if you seize opportunities, you will naturally develop your capabilities. Also, even if the fields are different, whether it is start-up or research, I think it is good to start with one or two friends who you get along well. There were many ups-and-downs when starting a business, and it seems that colleagues were the biggest help in such curves. I recommend that you find colleagues with who you can get along by participating in clubs or various projects.


Lee Jeong-rak (ME 15)Cofounder of Perigee Aerospace
Lee Jeong-rak (ME 15)
Cofounder of Perigee Aerospace