Aerospace engineering undergraduate students at UT Austin are offered a wide variety of hands-on projects to choose from in addition to their required coursework. These projects allow students to gain real-world experience and technical knowledge while building up their resumes. 

This year one of these student teams, the Longhorn Rocketry Association (LRA), is working on a stabilization system that will keep a multistage rocket straight on its path as it launches thousands of feet into the air. 

Two high-powered teams are working on a canards flight control system that will help guide the ascent of a 54-millimeter staging rocket. The system will minimize the derailment of the rocket, with the ultimate a goal of launching a rocket to 100,000 feet. LRA plans to test the staging portion of the rocket in late fall, with plans to launch their first prototype, Nether, by early next semester. 

Kaelin Hooper, avionics team lead, Jesse Quattrociocchi, co-lead of rocket fabrication and simulation team, and George Sparks, stage group team lead, discussed the goals, challenges, and the benefits of the project.

How is this project unique to LRA?

Hooper: When a multistage rocket reaches 10,000 - 20,000 feet it might start going off in one direction. We want to avoid launching at 45 degrees and having the rocket end up five miles east or west of where we launched.

The rocket we are going to build will incorporate a new technology that LRA has never used before. The stabilization canards system will be placed toward the nose of the rocket. Then we will place four small fins that will rotate and keep the rocket straight. Those will be driven by servos, which are motors that will be driven by a small computer on board. That will allow us to stabilize the rocket on its ascent.

What are the goals for this project?

Quattrociocchi: The long-term goal is to launch a staged rocket to 100,000 feet. We are gaining a lot of new information from this project that had nothing to do with our initial goal. We want to test, record, and document this information so that future LRA members can take our data and work to do bigger and better things.

What are some challenges that the group is facing?

Quattrociocchi: We haven’t been very successful in staging, which involves connecting two rockets perpendicularly, resulting in one rocket. The job of the bottom rocket is to blast off and launch the entire rocket into the air. At a certain altitude it disconnects. After separating, the top rocket launches to x-amount of feet. The biggest problem is the disconnection. We are developing and researching a way to put two rockets together, disconnect the rockets, and get them up to a very high altitude using canards.

Sparks: The hardest part right now is making sure the electronics work safely. We mitigate all of the possible risks. We have ground support so that we don’t have to be next to the rocket when we turn on the electronics.

What steps are you taking to prepare for the testing and prototype launch?

Quattrociocchi: We are going to use various computer programs to simulate the flight conditions and compare the accuracy of the software. Our data is going to tell us whether the programs are reliable when we launch.

How has working on this project influenced your educational experience?

Sparks: I have learned how to lead a large team and organize a project with long-term goals. When you get to the top, everyone has egos but you have to reconcile all that and figure out a way to work well together. I’ve met a lot of good people during this process.

What will you gain out of being a part of this interdisciplinary project? 

Quattrociocchi: We want to prove not only to ourselves, but also to the department and other undergrad students, that you don’t have to be working for a rocket company to make cool rockets. It’s amazing and it’s going take a long time, but this department’s rocket team is going to be stellar by the time we’re done with it.