UPC students set for first in university space rocket

UPC students set for first in university space rocket

Almost all members of the Cosmic Research team with two of their rockets


The Cosmic Research team, made up of students from three schools of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) in Terrassa and Barcelona are carrying out a series of trials in order to become the first university students to launch a rocket into space. By 2022 they expect to be able to cross the 100-km barrier.

Dec 04, 2017

Cosmic Research is a team of 20 students from the Terrassa School of Industrial, Aerospace and Audiovisual Engineering (ESEIAAT), the Barcelona School of Telecommunications Engineering (ETSETB) and the Barcelona School of Informatics (FIB) who have set a highly ambitious challenge: to go down in history as the first university students to launch their own space rocket. To achieve this they will build a six-metre-long rocket equipped with electronic telemetry technology and an engine that can break the sound barrier and reach an altitude of 100 km, which is above the Karman line.

Successful trials with the 'Resnik'
For earlier tests of the project, the team built smaller rockets that were given the names of women astronauts. One of these is the 2.4-metre-long [AL1] device named 'Resnik' in memory of Judith Arlene Resnik, the female astronaut who died in the Challenger mission in 1986. Since July 2016, students have made three successful launches of this device from Alcolea de Cinca in Huesca. It rose to an altitude of 2 km in only two minutes at a speed of 0.8 Mach (about 1,000 kph).

These tests were carried out within the limitations of air restrictions, as explained by Alberto Pulido, spokesman for the Cosmic Research team: “At the moment, we cannot fly higher for reasons of airspace security, although the technology we have would allow us to go much further”. This initial rocket, with which the students are conducting the first trials, is made of carbon fibre and carries an aluminium alloy aerospace engine. In addition, the Resnik incorporates an electronic system and dual-band telemetry that allows it to send and receive data and signals to and from a control station. The rocket currently uses solid fuel, but Albert Polido states that one of the most important challenges is to find the resources to obtain the most efficient fuel possible.

Building the 'Bondar', the new prototype
The members of Cosmic Research are already working on the design and construction of the rocket that will perform the last test before the final launch in five years. This rocket will be called 'Bondar', in honour of the first female Canadian astronaut, Roberta Bondar, who participated in the Discovery mission in 1992. The three-metre-long Bondar, to be launched in the autumn of 2018, is a scale version of the final rocket that will reach space. It will therefore incorporate more complex telemetry systems and will be used to test a new, less polluting fuel made by the students from ammonium nitrate.

The estimated cost of the launch, planned for 2022, is €40,000 euros, of which 90% would cover fuel costs. The students are therefore seeking sponsors and have opened a micro-fundraising campaign through their website.

Some of the rocket components are built in the Terrassa Fablab, a place where students of the ESEIAAT can develop prototypes of their own projects. Cosmic Research is part of the ESEIAAT's INSPIRE programme, which promotes student learning through real projects under the concept of learning by doing. Because of these characteristics, the INSPIRE programme has received the Jaume Vicens Vives Award of the Generalitat of Catalonia and the 19th UPC Prize for Quality in University Teaching.

In addition to this support, the Cosmic Research team has so far obtained sponsorship from the companies TeXtreme, Albedo, Freixenet , Irideon and Ansys, and from the Terrassa City Council.

A dual mission: to share knowledge
The UPC students understand that their mission has two objectives: to share the knowledge generated in this space adventure through a wiki available on their website, which they feed with the information generated in each step of the project.

The students also wish to encourage interest in the space race, which, according to the student Albert Pulido, "has declined and public opinion no longer appreciates what the conquest of space means for science and the progress of the humanity”. The second objective of the project is therefore "to revitalise public interest in space and contribute to a better understanding of the universe. [Space exploration] raises extreme technological challenges that catalyse scientific progress like no other human activity. It provides advances that are later translated into social benefits, ranging from satellite communications to cancer screening techniques".

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UPC students set for first in university space rocket

The 2.4-metre-long Resnik and details of its components. It was named after the astronaut Judith Arlene Resnik, who died during the Challenger mission in 1986.