They say if you stay the course and persevere, you will succeed. This is what a bunch of students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign discovered.
The pupils had set a very lofty goal for themselves: to build a hybrid rocket engine that uses paraffin and a novel nitrous oxide-oxygen mixture called Nytrox. But their path was not an easy one. It was filled with obstacles and setbacks.
First, they lacked a safe testing area. "We planned to conduct the test at the U of I's Willard airport retired jet engine testing facility. But the Department of Aerospace Engineering halted all testing until safety requirements could be met," said the team leader Vignesh Sella.
An obstacle for each step
The team cooperated with another student rocket group to create a safety review gathering to overcome this challenge. "As a result of that meeting, we came up with a plan to move the project forward," added Sella.
After reaching out to a few more colleagues, the team was then invited to execute their hydrostatic and cold-flow testing at Purdue's Zucrow Laboratories, a facility exclusively dedicated to testing rocket propulsion. However, that wasn't the end of their troubles.
Just when things were taking shape, COVID-19 struck. Still, not one to be defeated, the team adapted.
"As the disruptions caused by COVID-19 required us to work remotely, we pivoted the paper by focusing on documenting the design processes and decisions we made for the engine. This allowed us to work remotely and complete a paper that wasn't too far from the original abstract," added Sella.
He further noted that the members met on Zoom to work on the paper virtually over five time zones. In the end, the subscale hybrid rocket engine was successfully built and hot fired in the summer of 2018.
This provided the positive test results that would serve as the foundation for designing and manufacturing a full-scale engine. "After the engine completes its testing, the next task will be integrating the engine into the rocket vehicle," said Sella.
Finally, in June of 2021, the rocket will be sent to Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences for its first launch. We wish this bold group of students the best of luck!