Students to launch first “university” rocket into space
Final countdown set for 2022, if they break though the atmosphere´s Karman barrier, it would be the first university rocket built from scratch to reach such heights
A team of about twenty engineering students are working on a rocket to be launched into the great unknown that is the immense expanse of space beyond our fragile world, hoping to reach an altitude of 100 kilometres above sea level. This would make them the first university students to achieve such heady heights.
The students, from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), have been working on the project for around two years, and plan to complete it in 2022. The group, named Cosmic Research, have already been running tests with smaller rockets, named after notable female astronauts.
In honour of female asronauts
One such prototype is named in the memory of the NASA astronaut Judith Resnik, the second American woman in space, who sadly died during a launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. It had been NASA’s most-flown orbiter in the space agency’s fleet, but one fateful January day in 1986, it broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, killing all members on board.
The student’s Resnik rocket has been a relative success so far, after three launches reaching altitudes of up to two kilometres within the earth’s troposphere. They’ve still got a long way to go before they reach their intended destination, the Karman barrier, found at 100 kilometres above sea level, just beyond the mesosphere where most meteors tend to burn up as they leave frictionless vacuum of humanity’s final frontier.
In 2018, they intend to launch the rocket Bondar, named after Canada’s first female astronaut Roberta Bondar who took part in 1992’s, hoping to reach fifteen kilometres in altitude.
Breaking barriers, the final frontier
The earth’s gravitational pull is not the only barrier their ballistic project hopes to break through. One of Cosmic Research’s members. Manel Cabellero, recalled how space “is a place where only some governments and private companies have reached, and we want to break this barrier.”
There are a few other various university groups who share a similar goal, but so far none have managed to blast through to the other side of the sky. If PUC’s Cosmic Research group is successful, it will make them the first to send a “university” rocket into space, designed and built completely “from scratch.”
The students also want to make their particular contribution to the world of engineering and research, beyond the reaching space. "We want (the project) to have a social impact. Everything we develop is what we want to disclose at an educational level so that people get interested in space again," explains Caballero.
In the event that the students’ are successful, and manage to cross the Karman barrier into the thermosphere, where shuttles generally orbit, it could open doors within the university world to more experimentation in meterology, electronics, and micro-gravity.
"Space is a place where only some governments and private companies have reached, and we want to break this barrier"
Manel Cabellero · Student member of 'Cosmic Research'
Will there cosmic dreams become reality?
In 2022, the final countdown is set to begin. The rocket will be six metres long, twenty centimetres in diameter, and more than 200 kilograms in weight. Equipped with electronic telemetry technology, with a supersonic engine capable of breaking the sound barrier, the rocket will brave the hostile environment beyond the third rock from the sun.
The mesosphere, Cosmic Research’s ideal destination, lies above and beyond aircraft altitude records, with only the lowest few kilometres accessible with modern balloons where the record is 53 kilometres, a long way off from the Karman barrier. Due to high atmospheric drag within the mesosphere, and gravitational waves, it is also below the minimal altitude for orbiting spacecraft.
The path to the stars is long and winding. Many tests must be carried out before the big launch, in order to minimize the margin for error and maximize the rocket´s technological potential.
Since 2016, three launches of the Resna rocket have been performed in the Spanish region of Huesca. The 2.5 metre device reached two kilometres in altitude, with a top speed of 1000 kilometres per hour.
"There will be many differences with the final rocket, but this was the first step to show that we can do it and that it works," explains Caballero
Now the group is working on the development of the second prototype Bondar, also in tribute to another astronaut woman, Roberta Bondar, who participated in the Discovery mission in 1992. Bondar will be three metres in length, and a scale version of the final project. it will launch next fall and will be already a scale version of the final rocket that will reach the space. It's launch date is expected to be next Autumn.