High Tension and High Fives

Classes are out but design team work goes on. Steel Bridge is in Provo, Utah, and June has Robotics in Michigan, FSAE to Toronto and Lincoln, Nebraska, Formula Electric also at Lincoln, and AAVG Rocket and Mars Rover events just an hour away from each other in the Eastern Utah desert. Each of those events validate a year of design, build, test, and repeat.
The AAVG HPER rocket team has one of the more interesting challenges; they manufacture their own motor casings and solid propellant, so if things go wrong they really go wrong, just as they did in the early years of NASA’s existence.
Chief rocket scientist Jill Davis’ team has done things right. They learned just how many threads to cut in aluminum so that tube holds together under propellant pressure. They also learned that if your propellant isn’t cured properly the motor casing can vaporize in an instant, spewing aluminum shrapnel in all directions.
Sunday they fired their smaller Helios to nearly 10,000 feet in a complete systems test powered by a commercial ($$) motor. All that was left was to validate the home-built propulsion system. With the IREC competition less than three weeks away yesterday’s rocket motor test was critical.
SUN_8332They’d bolted a heavy test stand to the ground in a distant corner of S&T’s experimental mine, just yards from where they mixed the fast-burning chemical components. Safety is paramount; nothing happens until blasting gurus DeWayne Phelps or Jimmie Taylor give the all clear.
Planning is essential. NASA often refers to a “launch window” when launch parameters are met for a successful launch. In the case of Josh and Terry the test “window” was a gap in a series of thunderstorms sweeping across central Missouri. The ignition wire, along with the steel barriers behind which they hide during the test, could be the perfect place for a lighting strike. And that would skew the test data beyond use. And melt your boots.
DSC_8715 “Fire In The Hole!” x 3, then ”3…2…1…GO!” Terry pushed the launch button and was rewardedwith a tiny puff of smoke from the rocket’s tail. And nuttin’; no fire, noise or anything. Crap, a misfire! Safety protocol says don’t approach the device for 30 minutes, and then with the SUN_8411utmost care. Half an hour of sitting in the rain, listening to thunder before Josh Lewis and Terry McGarvey carefully removed the burnt igniter that failed to start the reaction. They changed their system by doubling the electrical triggers and wrapped them in pieces of leftover fuel (the aerospace equivalent of a bigger hammer) and got the results they wanted.
DSC_8741 (1)A puff, a small flame, then a long hissing roar that seemed to go on for minutes. Burn time was probably just 10-15 seconds but for these rocket scientists it was an eternity, since a fatal (to the motor) aberration might occur in the next ¼ second.
SUN_8459And then silence.

For a moment Josh and Terry looked at each other then started screaming “YES!” and dancing through the mud and rock. That meant they could go ahead and build the actual competition motor for the Utah launch. These S&T rocket scientists could now add “chemist” to their resumes.

Epilogue: Rocket motors burn fast and hot, and remain too hot to touch for some time. During the cool-down wait we noticed Matt Fogle’s name written on the cylinder. Explained Terry “Matt is definitely the “Godfather” of this project. He was the one who first started researching all about making solid rocket fuel, and the motor designs are his designs. So Josh Lewis and I signed the case and did it for Matt, since he is one of our best friends and without him none of this would be possible.”

Now that’s classy.

Racing In A Winter Wonderland


The Michigan Formula SAE Collegiate Design competition is always a weather crapshoot. It’s early spring in the northern tier states and blasts of cold air are not uncommon so event veterans come prepared for anything. Students new to the event? … [Continue reading]

To The People Who Got Us Here


S&T's Formula SAE team is at the Michigan International Raceway for the annual SAE contest. There's lots of stories to tell and pictures to show, but first, please join Miner Racing to thank Joe Boze, who passed away last year. For years Joe … [Continue reading]

Down to the Sea in Ships. And Rovers, Cars And Bridges.


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Redbuds and Rocket Fuel


Springtime in the Ozarks, when it seems all operations move outdoors. When you have important business to conduct the ideal setting might be a remote woodland glade, well away from civilization. Better yet, by the side of a small, pristine … [Continue reading]

Steel Driving Women


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Celebrating St. Pat’s

DSC_5210 - Version 2

Yeah, there’s a parade, green-painted streets, couches on lawns complete with loud music and miscellaneous empty glass and aluminum containers scattered about, and two days of “independent study” in lieu of classes. So what? On St Patrick’s … [Continue reading]

SAE Aero Wrap Up.


Thanks to the change to Daylight Savings Time the Miners could do a little star gazing when they got to the airfield early this morning. The few exhausted students on hand staggered zombie-like through the dark, lit only by the headlights of what … [Continue reading]

Mud, Sweat, and Fear


Four days of Texas rain turned today’s flight workshop tents into bogs, swamps, lakes even. Folding chairs were just swallowed by the mud. Some teams simply moved out of the unlit tents just to be able to see what they were doing. Round #1 of … [Continue reading]

Engineering Idol


A panel of Lockheed Martin judges. A stage. And you. Now please explain in 10 minutes the intricacies of your design and answer pointed questions about your design approach. That’s your introduction to SAE Aero East Design. And how it will be in … [Continue reading]