NI to Support Texas Rocket Engineering Laboratory in Development of Space-capable Rocket

March 15, 2021

photo of students working on a rocket

NI, formerly National Instruments Corporation, is supporting the Texas Rocket Engineering Lab (TREL) in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin with equipment, software and guidance in TREL's mission to launch a 28-foot-liquid bipropellant rocket into space by the end of 2021. TREL is an interdisciplinary research lab in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics that prepares students for a new era of human spaceflight through hands-on projects in rocketry and aerospace. Supported by NI’s testing hardware, simulation systems and guidance rooted in bold, ambitious engineering, TREL is preparing to launch the most powerful collegiate rocket ever built.

Named Halcyon, TREL’s rocket has been entered into the Base11 Space Challenge — an international competition that tasks student-led teams to design, build and launch a liquid-propelled, single-stage rocket to an altitude of 100 kilometers, the official boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space. A successful mission would place Halcyon 30 times farther than the previous collegiate altitude record for a liquid bipropellant rocket and win the TREL team a $1 million grand prize.

As Halcyon’s launch date approaches, the TREL team is shifting its focus from component design and manufacturing to system integration and testing. To support TREL’s testing efforts, NI will provide over $150,000 of modular data-acquisition equipment and software to help the team collect comprehensive data about Halcyon’s systems through a series of tests.

“We are incredibly proud to support TREL and their endeavors,” said Nick Butler, chief marketing lead for the Aerospace, Defense, and Government Business Unit at NI. “These students and researchers epitomize what it means to Engineer AmbitiouslyTM, and their applications represent a great example of the ongoing convergence of design, test and integration where digital technologies are used to accelerate productivity, innovation and discovery.”

TREL’s upcoming hotfire test, the first in a series of tests enabled by NI, is a full-scale burn of the TXE-1 engine that will generate over 2,500 pounds of thrust. This test will collect crucial rocket engine metrics like thrust, efficiency and temperature that will be used to optimize the lighter TXE-2 “Havoc” Engine, which will launch Halcyon into space later this year.

Another vital milestone for the lab is the hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) test, a virtual re-creation and simulation of the entire rocket in flight and a step toward the digital transformation of design and test. NI has created a custom testing rack that will create digital twins of each rocket component, which can be integrated together to create a full-scale simulation of Halcyon in flight.

“Working with NI to test Halcyon has been a privilege. The experience is invaluable, as this level of dynamic testing is generally outside the scope of university classwork but ubiquitous in industry. With our new ability to test Halcyon in a wide range of mission scenarios, come launch day, we’ll be prepared for anything,” said Stefan deBruyn, a computer science senior and the senior avionics software engineer for TREL.