Latest Lab Life Podcast Launch with AFRL Rocket Man > Wright-Patterson AFB > Article View


You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to take part in the Air Force Research Laboratory’s “Lab Life” podcast, but it makes for a good conversationalist when you show up.

Especially when the guest is Nils Sedano, a rocket engineer and a go-to type of historian for the Lab who is comfortable jumping from older topics like Apollo and Saturn V to newer and more important ones like SpaceX’s Starship Superheavy.

Sedano is a technical advisor in the liquid engine branch of the laboratory’s rocket propulsion division, part of the AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate at Edwards Air Force Base, California. He’s also a fan of rocket trivia, which the hosts of “Lab Life” quickly put to the test in the latest version of the podcast.

The first stop was the famous F-1 engine that powered the Apollo space program. It is the most powerful single combustion chamber liquid propellant rocket motor ever developed, thanks in large part to AFRL testing.

“You could say the F-1 was developed at Edwards,” Sedano said. “We blew up many, many.”

Years later Sedano followed, it was AFRL testing that showed a new rocket engine design was viable to power NASA’s space shuttle program.

“These motors were an evolution of an AFRL motor,” Sedano said. “NASA wouldn’t have taken the technology back…if the AFRL hadn’t proven it, to say, ‘Hey, it works.'”

Moving quickly to today’s space scene, Sedano again credited AFRL research for pushing boundaries and breaking boundaries for government and private enterprise. The Raptor engine that powers SpaceX’s self-landing rockets, for example, is a direct descendant of AFRL technology.

The lab tested a demo engine that would become the ancestor of Raptor in 2006, when Elon Musk’s SpaceX was in its infancy. Several years after the AFRL shut down the program, Sedano said, SpaceX came knocking.

“We still had the equipment. We still had the drawings. We still had the data,” he said. “We were able to transfer all of that to SpaceX…(They) were able to know the technology would work…and maybe be a few years ahead of their development.”

The resulting return on taxpayers’ investment in AFRL research adopted for Raptor is at least tenfold, Sedano argued. SpaceX is now a key partner of the US Space Force.

“SpaceX being able to do something faster and cheaper means the government is able to get that faster and cheaper,” he said.

For Sedano, the AFRL is where the future is tested. This is where cutting-edge concepts like aerospike engines are approached with a hard-to-find and push-the-envelope attitude. The AFRL at Edwards is where “you work on things that you don’t know where they’re going to end up,” he said. “You don’t know if it will succeed. You don’t know if it will just crash and burn.

This will to fail is what makes AFRL different. It’s what got Apollo off the ground and put space shuttles into orbit, and it’s why Sedano is so optimistic about tomorrow.

“We’re not launching rockets quickly today,” he said. “We want to do that in the future, and I think we’re making great strides and the industry is making great strides in this area, but there’s still a lot of research to find the art of the possible.”

For those who want to listen to the full episode, this “Lab Life” podcast is available on multiple platforms.

Stream or download from the Defense Visual Information Distribution Service website at

Stream via the Air Force Materiel Command mobile app on AF Connect

Lab Life podcasts on Apple are available here:

Listen on Stitcher by visiting:

Be sure to follow AFRL on social media at Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, instagram and Youtube @afresearchlab

About the AFRL

The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is the principal scientific research and development center of the Department of the Air Force. The AFRL plays a critical role in the discovery, development and integration of affordable combat technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. With a staff of over 11,500 people in nine technology areas and 40 other operations around the world, AFRL offers a diverse portfolio of science and technology ranging from basic research to advanced research and technology development. For more information visit:

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