An Introduction to GU RocketryFollow article
Who are we?
It’s not rocket science… well actually, it is!
GU Rocketry is a student-led rocket development programme based out of the engineering department at the University of Glasgow. We design, build, and launch high-powered rockets and develop experimental propulsion systems, as well as organising a variety of outreach events. Now with over 60 members in a variety of technical and non-technical roles, GU Rocketry gives students hands-on practical experience that is not taught in the classroom. With members ranging from first year undergraduates to PhD candidates, students develop skills through mentoring and working closely with the other members of their respective teams.
In this project we aim to prepare students for a successful career in the Space industry, a sector that is currently expanding rapidly within the U.K., while also giving them memories that will last a lifetime.
One of the ways in which we do this is through our many industry connections and sponsorships. GU Rocketry is almost entirely funded externally and it is thanks to our generous sponsors, such as RS Components, that allow the team to continue to develop new technology and tackle new missions.
GU Rocketry is comprised of seven different teams. There are the four technical teams: Propulsion, Aerodynamics, Flight Systems, and Ground Infrastructure - these teams are focused on developing the new technology that goes into our vehicles. On the non-technical side of the project, there are three teams: Partnerships, Project Development, and Branding and Web. At GU Rocketry, we are proud of have a team that is not just focused on the engineering aspect of rocket development. There are many roles that are taken on by students that are not engineers, but still have a keen interest in the development of Space studies within the United Kingdom.
Below is a brief summary of what each team does within the project:
The Propulsion team are responsible for the design, manufacture, and verification of the rocket’s propulsion system. The team is currently developing a 500N hybrid engine (more info later in this article) and has developed every component from the ground up. Designing a rocket engine is no easy feat and the students working on it are pushing the bounds of what can be achieved at a university level.
The Aerodynamics team focuses on all of the aerostructures of the rocket - from nose cone to fins. Using tools such as Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) and Finite Element Analysis (FEA), the team solves a variety of problems encountered during the design process. As well as solving these issues like aerodynamic performance and structural integrity, the team must also accommodate the other subsystems of the rocket; many of which can change dynamically throughout the design process. Finally, the Aerodynamics team also cover the simulations required for a launch, including the flight profile.
The Flight Systems team is tasked with everything related to avionics and recovery systems onboard our rockets. This includes the design and manufacture of the hardware and software of our custom-made avionics, parachutes, and their respective ejection systems. All tracking and the transmission of in-flight data is also covered by this team.
The Ground Infrastructure team design, refine and manufacture all supporting launch systems. This includes a launch box featuring the ‘big red button’ which is pressed to ignite the rocket’s motor, sending it soaring! The team works closely with many of the other technical teams to ensure that their launch-day needs are met, designs interface properly, and the take-off is as smooth as possible.
The Project Development team’s main focus is to provide relevant communications, marketing, and event support at GU Rocketry. The team manages all social media content with the help of eye-catching graphics from Branding and Web, creating a solid platform to showcase our exciting milestones. They also plan outreach events and online talks to help students and young adults outside of the project realise that a career in the Space industry is waiting for them in the U.K.
Branding and Web
The Branding and Web team are responsible for the appearance of everything the public sees in relation to our project. From social media posts and updating our website to the appearance of the rockets we launch; this team maintains a consistent brand throughout everything that we do. They employ graphic design and coding skills to give the project a cohesive aesthetic and set an appropriate tone for sponsors.
The Partnerships team focuses on reaching out to create links with industry and to foster relationships with potential sponsors. The team works closely with the individual sub teams to ensure that all of GU Rocketry’s activities are supported. Securing critical components and applying for funding grants is all in a day’s work for this branch of GU Rocketry.
Saltire-1 was GU Rocketry's first launch vehicle. Constructed with off-the-shelf components and following a relatively simple design, this rocket was used to give the team hands-on practical experience. This allowed us to lay the technical foundations for a range of subsystems, such as our flight computer and aerodynamics package, while also developing our launch day procedures. This is all part of GU Rocketry's de-risking approach to launch activities, a key part of keeping our members safe.
This rocket was scheduled for a launch in Q4 of 2020 but was postponed due to a technical fault discovered by the team on launch day. Although this fault was quickly addressed and fixed in the following weeks after this, increased Covid-19 restrictions meant we had to stand down from all launch activities. Now that restrictions are beginning to ease in Scotland, Saltire-1 is scheduled for a launch in the coming months and will take-off from a site just west of Glasgow.
Saltire-2 is GU Rocketry’s second high-powered rocket programme, set to launch from SpacePort One, a new launch facility on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. It will reach an altitude of around 18,000ft and will also be the first marine recovery of a rocket for a student team in Scotland. Unlike Saltire-1 however, this rocket has been designed from the ground-up by the team. This involves a fully custom body and structure, aiming to improve on the aerodynamic performance of the ‘off-the-shelf’ body used in Saltire-1. The rocket also includes an in-house flight computer, allowing for full control over the recovery systems and providing information such as velocity and altitude data to the team on the ground. As well as improving performance, Saltire-2 has also provided our team with experience of the full design process of an engineering project.
The team started with just a set of goals for the mission, and from these developed engineering requirements. These requirements laid out the foundations for the design of the rocket, and over the past year the design has been developed and refined. The design process also involved several design reviews, which have provided an opportunity for the team to receive constructive critique from external reviewers. These reviewers have included university academia and staff from NASA and Boeing. This process has proved to be invaluable to the team, as it has allowed the team to ensure we are working to industry standards. Saltire-2 has been an ambitious leap from the previous Saltire-1, but the team has worked effectively to meet this challenge. The standards have been set even higher for future launches, and we plan to see the use of multi-staging and our own in-house motors in successive programmes.
Chimera-1 is GU Rocketry’s first rocket engine development programme and is the biggest technological step forward for the team so far. Chimera-1 is a hybrid rocket engine, which means it uses a solid fuel and liquid oxidiser; or vice-versa. In this case, the team has opted initially to use a combination of liquid Nitrous Oxide as the oxidiser, and solid Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) as the fuel. The development of this engine has required the full design of all key components found in a hybrid rocket engine, including an injector, combustion chamber, nozzle, igniter, and a fully custom feed system to manage the flow of oxidiser to the engine. This engine has been designed with testing in mind, and our partners at Thysenkrupp have provided the highest quality materials and machining to ensure Chimera can meet the programme’s goals.
Chimera-1 will serve as a platform to experiment different fuel and oxidiser combinations in the future, and will also allow for the testing of individual components thanks to its fully modular design. The end goal of Chimera-1 is to result in a hot-fire, however, the wealth of experience obtained by the team through the development of this engine will allow the team to develop its own ‘flight-weight’ models and implement them into future rocket programmes.
We hope that this article has given you a good overview of GU Rocketry and how our members are helping to pave the way for student rocketry in Scotland. Be sure to follow us on social media to stay up to date with the work we do:
If you have any questions about GU Rocketry or would like to know how you could get involved, do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
Team email: team@gurocketry
Parts in this series:
- An Introduction to GU Rocketry
- The History of Rocketry - Sutton Program Article 1
- Rocket Dynamics - Sutton Program Article 2
- The Rocket Equation - Sutton Program Article 3
- Rocket Propulsion - Sutton Program Article 4
- Rocket Aerodynamics - Sutton Program Article 5
- Rocket Avionics - Sutton Program Article 6
- Rocket Recovery - Sutton Program Article 7