Introducing UC Aerospace

I recently sat down with Jack Davies and Matthew Furkert, whom along with Robbie Grove and James Krippner are the founding members of UC Aerospace, a student-run club at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand. The guys let me in on what they are up to, and their plans ahead.

Into the Blue Test Launch (Credit: UC Aerospace)

What is UC Aerospace?
Matthew: UC Aerospace is a student-led and run club based at the University of Canterbury mechanical engineering department. We have been working on a couple of projects over the last year, one of them is a rocket for the Australian Universities Rocket Competition (AURC) where we must send a scientific payload of 4 kg to exactly 30,000 ft. For that rocket, Into the Blue, we’ve developed a unique technology to reach the exact altitude which is a goal of the competition.

What is the goal of the AURC competition?
Jack: The goal is to send a 4kg payload of our own design to a target altitude, for this competition, there are two categories, 10,000 ft and 30,000 ft. We are entered in the 30,000 ft category and as Matthew said we have developed a unique technology, active airbrakes, so we can precisely target 30,000 ft every time. So far, we have carried out two test flights, one of which got to within 20 m of our target altitude with the airbrake system.

So, 20 m, that is epic, was the airbrake system hard to implement?
Jack: It was a few months of solid effort trying to get it to work. When we passed the idea to our supervisor for the competition, we suggested we could build a basic rocket that would hit the altitude goal, using our past experience and a lot of simulations.
He convinced us though we should be doing airbrakes, which we were like, how hard can it be? It is just a bit of code to work with sensor input data…
Three months later and we are still battling with it! We did get success early on though where as mentioned on our second test flight we did get to within 20 m of our target altitude.
The most difficult part of the system has been implementing the simulation program and making all the subsystems talk to each other. Each component on its own was straight forward but implementing it all together and to also collect and log data was the hardest bit. Robbie has been working on this and has now got it sorted.

So, it works now?
Jack: Yep

Is there anyone else in the 30,000 ft category doing airbrakes that you know of?
Jack: Not that we are aware of.
Matthew: On the other hand, there are a couple of teams’ in Australia that have been making good progress, carrying out lots of certification flights. It will be good to see the competition when we arrive in April so it will be a surprise for us to see what everyone else brings, hopefully, some other teams’ bring up the competition.

This is the first year the competition is running, there are bragging rights for coming first and beating Australia which is always good! but is there prize money to make it worth your while?
Matthew: That is still to be announced, originally this was to be announced back in August/September 2018, but nothing has been heard of yet. But we are not just doing it for the prize money, we want to learn and improve our knowledge.

You have built bigger and more powerful rockets than Into the Blue, will the Australian competition will be a walk in the park!?
Matthew: The airbrakes are almost at a similar level to our high altitude rockets in difficulty. There may be one other team, but I think we may be the first university team in the world to have an active air braking system through supersonic. Plenty of teams’ have done it to 10,000 ft, below supersonic speeds but all the simulation and programming change as you go from supersonic to subsonic.
Jack: I think that the Swiss team may have done supersonic but I was not sure and could not find any concrete information on it.

Where does the future of UC Aerospace lie? Where is the club heading?Matthew: All the key members and all the executive members are just going into their third year, so we have plenty more time at university to develop further rocket projects. I think what we will do next will be to start looking into liquid-fuelled rockets and work our way down that route and maybe look at another space shot within the next couple of years with this type of rocket.

[Editors note, at the 2019 UC clubs day the club had 200 people sign up, which bodes well for the future of the club and projects ahead]

You guys have some ambitious plans that are pretty cool. I wish you luck with the club and all the best for the future!

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