LRA test stand facility imageTwo years of hard work has finally paid off for members of the Longhorn Rocketry Association (LRA) student organization who have been designing and building a new hybrid rocket engine test facility at the UT Austin J.J. Pickle Research Campus. The new facility features a horizontal test stand with related fluids and control infrastructure and will allow students to design and test the performance of their own student-built hybrid rocket engines, analyze the results and improve the design. The new, improved rockets will be launched at various competitions and rocketry events throughout the year.

“Our goal with this test site is to develop a facility for students at UT to be able to design and test real rocket engines and then analyze their performance and improve upon it,” said Ruairi O’Connor, an aerospace engineering junior and the LRA president. “Beyond just those working in our propulsion team, the LRA as a whole will be able to develop much more complex rockets with fueling systems, internal fluid and electronic control, and rockets with much more power capable of flying far higher than we’ve ever flown before.”

The test site was designed and constructed from the ground up by students, with the assistance of ASE/EM professors Philip Varghese and Noel Clemens, UT engineering scientist Jeremy Jagodzinski and external amateur and professional rocketry experts. During the design phase, students hosted two design reviews where they presented their design to experts in the areas of rocketry and launch vehicles, which they say helped them to make smarter design choices while maintaining a high level of safety standards. The test site incorporates a large number of safety features such as blast shielding, emergency cutoff procedures and fire suppression systems.

“Safety has always been our main concern, said senior propulsion team lead and aerospace engineering senior Nicolas Diaz. “A blast shield comprised of half-inch steel plates surrounds the engine in case of a failure and a concrete arch and blocks are strategically placed to deal with possible shrapnel deflection. We've also developed a sprinkler system for the test pad that fails to open.”

On Aug. 1, LRA members performed their first validation test at the new facility using a solid propellant commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) motor to test the accuracy of their thrust measurement, where they found a nearly exact match, an important step in moving toward cold flow testing according to LRA members.

“The completion of the test site will mark the beginning of a new era for the LRA and for UT ASE/EM as the opportunities afforded by a dedicated rocket engine testing facility will allow LRA to compete with the best schools, programs and clubs around the U.S. and in the world,” said O’Connor. “From here, hybrid engines can be rapidly tested and improved to give the LRA the firepower necessary to reach the stars, or at least 100 kft!”

This summer the LRA also participated in its second Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico as part of the Spaceport America Cup, where they earned the 5th highest score among all U.S. teams, placed 8th in their category and 9th overall. Over 120 teams signed up to compete this year, with just less than 50 teams in the “10,000 ft. Commercial Off the Shelf”category in which LRA competed.

"The Spaceport America Cup was perhaps the most exciting and inspirational event of my entire academic career. Not only did I get to watch my own team’s rocket fly, I also got to meet students from teams around the world,” said Eric Richter, an aerospace engineering sophomore and the LRA secretary. “We talked about shared experiences and exchanged advice on challenges we faced. I’m incredibly excited to return in 2019 as we face our biggest challenge yet, launching our first-ever hybrid rocket!"

The Longhorn Rocketry Association is a student-run organization at The University of Texas at Austin that designs, builds and tests high-power rockets. Through this, the group aims to provide hands-on experience with industry-standard design processes, fabrication techniques and testing and launch procedures. The team’s current long-term goal is to send a rocket to 100,000 ft. in altitude using only in-house designed components, including ground systems, the propulsion system, airframe, payload and all other electronics. Learn more about the LRA: www.longhornrocketry.org