Tagged: Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group
Aims to Make BU the First University to Launch a Rocket into Space
By Mark Dwortzan
Working long hours in the basement of 110 Cummington Mall, the Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group’s (BURPG) 35 undergraduates—33 from the College of Engineering, one from the College of Arts & Sciences and one from the College of Communications—are designing, building, testing and publicizing Starscraper, a 30-foot long, 12-inch-diameter rocket designed to propel a 100-pound payload into space and land it safely back on Earth. Assembly and testing is planned for the spring 2015 semester, with a tentative launch date in July in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
As it works through technical challenges, the group is also seeking to raise funds through its new Kickstarter crowdfunding site. If all goes well, Starscraper would be the first university-based rocket that breaches the 100-kilometer altitude Kármán Line, commonly regarded as the border between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.
If all goes well, Starscraper would be the first university-based rocket that breaches the 100-kilometer altitude Kármán Line, commonly regarded as the border between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.
BURPG would also become the first non-governmental and non-corporate entity to do so using a hybrid propulsion system, in which solid fuel reacts with a liquid oxidizer—a combustive mix that provides sufficient thrust to get the rocket off the ground. The current BU system consists of a six-segment structure made of tire rubber (the solid fuel) and a tank of nitrous oxide (the liquid oxidizer), commonly used to sedate dental patients. Its payload will include a GPS tracking system, but future versions could carry everything from telescopes to drug manufacturing experiments into space.
Founded in 2003, BURPG initially built small solid-fuel rockets, the kind used in missiles and fighter jets, before moving on to lab-bench-scale hybrid rockets, which are safer and simpler to build than liquid propellant rockets. By the spring of 2012, the group had whittled down to five aerospace engineering seniors, who saw in an enterprising freshman named Armor Harris (ME’15) their last best hope of keeping the flame alive. He became the group’s president before the semester was out.
“I saw the work they’d done on hybrid rockets, and wanted to do something that no university-based group had done before—to launch a rocket into space,” said Harris, who made a presentation proposing such a project before 50 fellow students that fall. “All the juniors and seniors thought it was crazy and never came back; all the freshmen and sophomores stuck around, and now they’re the nucleus of the group.”
Even the group’s faculty advisor, Lecturer Caleb Farny (ME), was initially skeptical about the project.
“When Armor presented his vision in 2012 to dramatically scale the team’s goal to the much-larger task of delivering such a rocket to space, I rolled my eyes and told him this goal was likely unattainable, for multiple reasons,” Farny recalls. “Under
Armor’s leadership, the team has worked tirelessly ever since to achieve numerous successive goals and solve technical challenges.”
An amateur rocket enthusiast who had launched several small-scale rockets before he arrived at Boston University, Harris wowed judges at the College of Engineering’s first Imagineering Contest with a sounding rocket designed to reach a 100,000 feet altitude that he had partially built in the Imagineering Lab (he launched it a few months later from a field in his home state of Oregon). Starscraper is in many ways a follow-on to this achievement, and the capstone of three years at the helm of the BURPG.
During Harris’s first two years with the group, he guided the development of a six-inch-diameter hybrid rocket, followed by an 8-inch one. The larger rocket was successfully test-fired at a rocket range in Sudbury, Massachusetts, achieving 99 percent of the level of performance it was designed for on its second firing.
“At 80 per cent, you’re really doing well; 99 percent on the second firing is really outstanding,” said Harris, noting that hybrid rockets have historically not performed nearly as well as specified. “That proved to all of us that we could actually do this mission.”
And to its corporate sponsors—GE, Raytheon, FloDesign and SpaceX—which, along with donations through the ENG Annual Fund, are footing part of the bill. The BURPG rocket is about 10 times cheaper to develop than a comparable NASA hybrid rocket, but still costly enough to require substantial funding.
Several BURPG members have netted internships or job offers from the three corporate sponsors and other companies in the spaceflight industry, including Harris, who is on his second internship as a propulsion development engineer with SpaceX, where he plans to work upon graduation. More importantly, participants are gaining invaluable experience in hands-on engineering, building a solid foundation for their entire careers.
“In the classroom, students can learn how to derive Bernoulli’s equation (which governs fluid flow in pipes), but down here they can build a high-pressure fluid system,” said Harris. “The real value of this mission is that it can serve as a model for engineering education in which students apply theoretical concepts as they learn how to design, build, test, and integrate components of a working system.”
Kelley found his passion while working with the BU Satellite Program & Rocket Group
By Gabriella McNevin
Andrew Kelley (ENG ’14) won The Center for Space Physics Undergraduate Research Award for his contribution to the BU Satellite Program and the Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group. The award recipient was decided by the Director of the BU Center of Space Physics, Professor John Clarke (AS); and Associate Director of the BU Center for Space Physics, Professor Joshua Semeter (ECE).
Kelley’s success was achieved in a relatively short period of time. Kelley entered BU excited to gain a versatile education in computer engineering in an accelerated 3-year program. For his first two years, like many, Kelley was unsure of his passion and did not know what career would best unite his academic skills and interests. He explored the possibilities by researching extracurricular activities that involved computer engineering. Ultimately, Kelley joined his first space program venture after his freshman year, and realized his passion in the field after his second year. It was not until his third and final year at Boston University, that Kelley dove, head-first, into space programs.
A future that blended computer engineering and space programs was first proposed to Kelley at Splash Day his freshmen year. Splash Day is an annual fair that features student organizations. Kelley recalls noticing a ten-foot model rocket hoisted on the shoulders of two students laughing and jogging to the opposite side of the field. He thought to himself, “follow those footsteps!” The name of the student organization in charge of that rocket, now known as the BU Rocket Propulsion Group, was painted on the side.
Before joining a team, Kelley weighed his enthusiasm about the BU Rocket Propulsion Group with his interest in other groups, and his collegiate goals. He spent the remaining year developing relationships with organization members, contemplating rocketry, and discovering how to best manage his time.
At the end of the academic year, Kelley and a member of the Rocket Propulsion Group were chatting about the organization. Kelley’s friend expressed some concern about the group’s leadership. The group insider mentioned that the vice president was expected to graduate with no prospect of a predecessor. Instinctively Kelley responded, “I will do it.”
Two years later, Kelley recalls those four words as the best he ever said. Joining the group helped Kelley to realize his passion for space programs, and introduced him to a network of some of his most trusted advisors, including Professor Semeter and Principal Fellow at Raytheon Missile Systems Joe Sebeny.
Towards the end of his second year at BU, Kelley was at a crossroad. He needed a summer job, and had been denied internships at Google and Microsoft. Uninterested in returning to his home in Texas, Kelley took the advice of Professor Semeter and applied to work at Boston University Student Satellite for Applications and Training program, specifically ANDESITE. It was a pivotal time for the satellite program, as it had recently been awarded an Air Force Research Laboratory grant and joined a national competition to win the opportunity to launch a satellite to orbit. As one of the newest members to the satellite program, the Texan embraced the organization’s mission to design, fabricate, and operate a low-earth-orbiting satellite.
In September 2013, the beginning of Kelley’s final year at BU, his extracurricular and academic interests melted into one. Kelley opted to complete his academic capstone requirements by completing an honors thesis, rather than a senior design project. His theses work, entitled “Design and Implementation of a 3-DOF Rocket Autopilot,” advanced both the BU Student Satellite and supported the BU Rocket Propulsion Group.
“Design and Implementation of a 3-DOF Rocket Autopilot” provided an analysis and design investigation of rocket trajectory systems to develop a functioning autopilot. Without trajectory control, a rocket would run the risk of becoming a missile.
After graduation, Kelley will spend a week with his family in Fort Worth, Texas before jet-setting to Los Angles, California to be a Space X intern. Kelley will be involved in vehicle and systems integration for the Dragon capsule.
Boston University Rocket Propulsion Group Watch the group’s second hot fire test: