Aiming for Space with a Fully Reusable Rocket

Hi, I’m Cooper Eastwood, a rising Sophomore Aerospace Engineer focusing in Astronautics. Throughout my first year at Embry-Riddle I was given the opportunity to construct a suborbital launch vehicle alongside Gaurav Nene. My story, as well as many other Embry-Riddle students, begins long before attending college. I have been on the journey to reach space since my early days of high school and my passion has brought me very close to my goal. Through the Undergraduate Research Institute’s backing and Dr. Michael Fabian’s support we are swiftly approaching a final launch date. Our project, the Embry-Riddle Suborbital Reusable Vehicle (ERAU-SRV) is centralized around the ideas of having as little oversight as possible, a small integrated team, and to radically change the way students pursue rocketry research.

Cooper (left) and Gaurav (right) working inside of the AXFAB machine shop.

The purpose of this research is to demonstrate the use of commercial propulsion and flight systems in a fully reusable launch vehicle for reliable low-cost access to space. The rocket, standing at 11ft tall, will be a testament to a cheaper and more frequent launch strategy than comparable commercial and university developed SRVs in its altitude range. Furthermore, the gross lift off weight of the rocket is projected to be only 50 lbs. and will reach apogee at 440,000 ft and reach a maximum velocity of Mach 5, pushing the limits for university level rocketry speed, altitude, and launch rate.

Here we are undertaking a new experience machining the very tip of the rocket out of titanium, the only part to be made of this rare material.

Nearing the end of the first semester the team invested weeks of testing for our onboard recovery and deployment system. This was pursued with the intention of establishing set up and take down procedures as well as a familiarity with the operations. These systems utilize barometric sensors, or atmospheric pressure sensors, to dictate velocity and ultimately deploy a parachute when the acceleration reaches zero. To test these systems in a controlled pressure environment we utilized the state-of-the-art technology in the Aerospace Experimentation and Fabrication Building (AXFAB) and the new Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) building. After talking with professors and the EagleSat club, we operated the vacuum chambers located in both buildings to simulate high altitude atmospheric conditions. While referencing testing safety standards, we placed the battery and telemetric flight computer into the vacuum chambers and conducted more than thirteen tests over three weeks.

This is the inside of the AXFAB vacuum chamber with the electronics system on an improvised tray. This is where a majority of tests took place, assisted by the sensors inside which gave us pressure readings.

The data we gathered included: voltage outputs of two black powder ignition wires, barometric accuracy, programming and data quirks or anomalies, GPS signal lock strength and tracking, and gyroscopic orientation sensitivity. Both excited and confident with the positive testing results, I compiled our outcomes into an American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) formatted paper which was then published into their most recent journal. After the full paper’s submission, we were accepted to speak at the AIAA Region IV conference at the University of Portland and given thirty-minutes of stage time. We were looking forward to spending two days at this conference in late March and discussing our findings as well as our greater project ideas with our peers. However, this was cancelled due to COVID-19 and will be rescheduled in late 2020.

The purpose of making a procedures checklist is to cut down human error. This is especially useful for the day of launch because of anxiety, or what’s called “go fever”, can lead to detrimental mistakes. Sticking to a script and lots of practice is the best way to mitigate errors. Most corporations have entire teams dedicated to their operations; there they hammer out all the kinks in the road from construction to launch. Launch operations is vital to any rocket’s success, so we have started as early as possible to ensure a smooth launch and to maintain professionalism in the heat of the moment.

Our hands-on work was recognized with a photoshoot for investors. Here we are using a manual machine utilizing the skills learned with our time at AXFAB.

Our design had been completed in October of 2019 and we sent our manufacturing requests to AXFAB. This is where our aluminum components can be machined to AS9100 standards. Starting the beginning the second semester, we dedicated hours a day to work in AXFAB’s machine shop to help speed things along and adjust designs where necessary. Being a two-person team, we both had the knowledge and authority to request parts to be manufactured. Both us and Dr. Fabian believe in a small team approach to this work so we can easily streamline part alterations where necessary, without having to meet up and approve of every detail. With hours a day for a few months being dedicated to machine shop time we found ourselves learning tricks of the machining trade from Jared Vanetta, the machinist, in AXFAB. He has been integral in our manufacturing process as well as a mentor in our designs. The hands-on experience we got were unparalleled in any other classroom study and I found myself sitting in on a ME300 machine shop lab.

After discussions with Dr. Sensmeier and Dr. Fabian we incorporated our URI project into an official class: AE 399, a 3-credit course. It gives us an opportunity to finish the project on campus over summer while earning credit that counts toward our degrees. This was a great moment for us as our extracurricular time and effort spent was recognized by our professors and department.

The hands-on approach by professors certainly accelerated this project’s success. I find myself getting more interested in engineering every day and I hope to pursue this as a lifelong career. A note to incoming students; if you have a great idea and a goal, you can really go far with the College of Engineering’s dedication to their students and with the backing of URI.

Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference – First Impressions and Lessons

by student and guest blogger Sophia Schwalbe, Space Physics

It’s day two of the Girls in Tech conference in Phoenix, AZ, an all – or mostly all – female conference for women in the technology field. It is heavily populated by women from Silicon Valley and low-down start-ups trying to make it big. It’s awesome to see so many women in the workforce that are trying to start a business or become a part of a business that is mostly dominated by men. But as I say that, it is interesting to note how the emphasis at the beginning of the conference was on standing up for oneself and on gender bias. I say interesting because I know I have encountered it, but I have never been outright hindered by it like many of our speakers have. GIT SophiaThat being said, that is not the only topic; there are a lot of talks that are trying to give inspiration to women. One that particularly spoke to me was by one of the top lawyers in the U.S. who is actually the President of one of the largest law firms in San Francisco. She began by talking about being the good girl, always striving to reach those “As” until she made partner, and then she hit a wall, because she had gotten that last “A” as a lawyer and now she did not know what to do. So she had to ask herself what she wanted in life. And that really spoke to me: anyone that knows me knows I am a good girl, doing what I am supposed to, not pushing boundaries or standing up for my own wants and desires. It was a relief to know that I am not alone, and that it is possible – nigh, encouraged – for me to ask for what I want in life and not have to settle or strive for what is expected of me. This also ties in to a talk given this morning by a VP at Intel: finding the sweet spot.  The sweet spot is where your skills, interests, and organization’s needs all overlap. The speaker said that everyone should find their sweet spot, or where they are to find that sweet spot. Thus, we need to analyze where our skill set is and how our interests correspond, and then find where in the world they fit. I always instinctively knew this, knew both of these things, but I had never heard them articulated. And suddenly it clicked — what I wanted was to find that sweet spot and enjoy my work, wherever I am and whatever I am doing.

Campus is Growing!

campus-resources

Our Beautiful Campus

I am sure our prospective students are wondering what we are doing to prepare for their eventual arrival so today I am going to introduce you to our growing campus!

We are currently building new dorms on our campus that when completed will be super modern and filled with all the best stuff for students to use! It has been really exciting to watch them go up on the far side of campus. They are going to be amazing!!

In addition to the new dorms we are gearing up to build Academic Complex 2 which will be an amazing new facility for the STEM degree programs at our University. The building will include physics laboratories, Biology classrooms, multiple computer laboratories, and work rooms for student innovation. It will also include a planetarium! Although, this building may not be finished by the time I graduate it will be an awesome resource for incoming students. I can only hope to visit and tour it some day!

In other news the remodel to our small gym was also a success and the athletics facilities for student athletes has tripled in size. So if you are a student athlete interested in Embry-Riddle that’s a benefit that you can enjoy right now!

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One of our coaches in the newly Remodeled Gym

Stop on by for a tour sometime or feel free to comment below and I will do my best to answer your questions! Thanks for reading everyone 🙂