Paraffin-Nitrous Oxide Hybrid Sounding Rocket
Reflection by third year (1T7) students, Thomas Leung and Jeremy Wang
We recently authored a paper with Eric Yang (EngSci ECE), and a few other U of T students, which has been accepted to this year’s International Astronautical Congress (IAC). The paper, titled “The Design and Organizational Approach to a Student-Built Paraffin-Nitrous Oxide Hybrid Sounding Rocket” details the design, simulation, and testing for the rocket we worked on when we were in second year, as part of the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT) Rocketry Division. The 15-minute presentation will focus on the propulsion, avionics, and payload.
Thomas’ refection Post Presentation
“Joining us online today is Thomas from Canada, presenting the Eos III hybrid rocket. The stage is yours, Thomas…” The digitalized voice echoes between my ears, while I still have trouble grappling with the fact that I am sitting here in Toronto, half-way across the globe from home, presenting the design of a rocket in another continent.
Upon hearing that the students at U of T actually design and build rockets, I excitedly joined the University of Toronto Aerospace Team Rocketry Division (UTAT Rocketry). This marked the beginning of my most unforgettable and eventful chapter at U of T.
While space technologies used to be a topic of science fiction, they have quickly been realized and integrated into our daily lives. As such, the trend of conducting experiments and demonstrations in space has been popularized in the past decade, where the delivery of small satellites into orbit is required. Until today, there are only a handful of organizations internationally who are capable of doing so, with a forbiddingly high launch cost.
In light of the increased demand, UTAT Rocketry developed the Eos III rocket which took part in the 2015 Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition last July which opened up the conversation of using smaller rockets as a cheaper alternative to deliver satellites to space. Our solution was to design a hybrid rocket, which uses propellants much cheaper than conventional rocket propellants. As the propulsion specialist of the team, I created a customized hybrid rocket engine performance code which predicts the behaviour of a rocket engine with a given set of design parameters.
Despite our meticulous preparations, unexpected technical difficulties at the competition led us to abort the launch which devastated our team. However, our concept still caught the attention of the international aerospace community. Our design report was published at the 66th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), where key players of the aerospace sector convene to share their latest developments and set up potential partnerships. During the Q&A, I was surprised by the audience’s interest in our team’s work and was amazed at how a group of passionate students could be the topic of discussion in the international aerospace community.
Words cannot describe how much I have developed through the guidance of UTAT Rocketry and the EngSci community. The challenges I encounter on the daily basis continue to excite me. As an EngSci major in Aerospace Engineering, I am confident to say that in this program, you will always be surrounded by brilliant people from different backgrounds who inspire you to push the envelope in the pursuit of creating a global impact in the world.
Jeremy’s Post Presentation Reflection:
Since joining the University of Toronto Aerospace Team (UTAT) as a first-year EngSci, I’ve learned two important things about the space industry. The first is that activities up there are ultimately about life down here. The second is that getting to space is as important as space itself.
Today, small satellites face prohibitive launch costs in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and there still exists no dedicated launch platform despite global trends toward miniaturized space equipment. This is precisely the problem that the “Eos III” sounding rocket sought to address. Eos III was UTAT Rocketry Division’s third-generation launch vehicle, designed to deploy a 10cm x 10cm x 10 cm ‘CubeSat’ to 10 000 feet at the 2015 Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) in July. Although only a suborbital launcher, Eos III was an initial step towards rapid and low-cost payload deployment concepts in the future. My role, then, was to lead a team of ten highly motivated students in designing, building, testing, and iterating on “Bia III”, the hybrid rocket engine that would power the final laucnh vehicle.
Hybrid engines, which combine a liquid oxidizer and solid fuel, offer certain advantages in safety and performance compared to traditional solid or liquid propellant engines, but come with operational challenges that have made them historically unattractive. This lack of attention in a highly niche area made hybrid propulsion the perfect topic for me to indulge in outside of classes. After a year of intense self-learning, teamwork and applying the fundamental research and engineering design skills developed in EngSci’s foundational years, the Bia III proved to be UTAT’s most powerful engine yet, peaking at 300 pounds of thrust by the end of testing in May 2015. Moreover, total costs for rocket itself summed to just under $10 000 – a far cry from the usual price tag on aerospace projects. On the day of IREC 2015 however, we hadn’t yet eliminated all the bugs that emerged after integrating the whole rocket, and this prevented the launch of Eos III as originally planned.
Despite this setback, the overall concept won the attention of the international space community, and Eos III was papered at the 2015 International Astronautical Congress (IAC), the world’s largest and foremost space research conference. In front of representatives from NASA and other research institutions around the world, we presented key test results and details of our design process. This included our custom MATLAB engine simulation software that could predict critical performance variables to within 10% error, taking a page from EngSci’s from-first-principles approach to engineering. The structural design also featured a number of inexpensive weight-saving solutions, as well as an oxidizer valve that could – in the future – be modified to enable engine throttling. Although ineligible for any awards because we had to present remotely, the presentation was an unprecedented opportunity to share ideas in a global setting. Moving forward, the team now has the support of technical advisors within the international community, and will be simplifying the design for another launch attempt at IREC 2016.
As a third-year EngSci specializing in the Aerospace Option, I can safely say that both UTAT and EngSci have played an important role in shaping my skills, identity, and confidence as an aspiring aerospace engineer. What started out as a mild curiosity in first year has enabled so many rewarding challenges and opportunities, including spending my past summer designing rocket nozzles at the German space agency and now co-spearheading a new joint initiative between UTAT, the Faculty of Dentistry, and Department of Chemistry to implement the world’s first digital microfluidics and live imaging nanosatellite for microgravity medicine. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being part of a student-led effort to impact the aerospace sector, it’s that I thrive in challenging environments that push me to my limits, and there’s no place I’d rather be than EngSci and UTAT.