USLI is an educational outreach program backed by NASA to engage university students in the design and construction of real, reusable flight vehicles designed around specific payload and performance goals. Purdue’s nascent USLI team needed to fly their sub-scale test vehicle before their design review, and Tripoli Indiana was happy to provide launch support duties for the weekend.
TIR Prefect Vic Barlow is the team’s advisor, and acts to guide them along the path from engineering theory to real-world practice. Though most of the students on the team are aeronautical engineers, not many had experience with flying high-power rockets, and so Vic’s guidance proved instrumental to the team’s results. Led by senior David Fox (right), the team designed and built a 3″ all-fiberglass airframe from Hawk Mountain components. The design carried their payload in the forward section and a Raven 2 flight computer to control deployment. An Aerotech I284W provided the power plant.
While the USLI team prepped, TIR vice president (and Purdue A&AE graduate student) David Reese brought out his Competitor 4 for a demonstration flight; the M1400 motor provided a beautifully clean boost to 14,864 feet, and the two-stage recovery control and onboard transmitting GPS system provided a unique demonstration of the technological capabilities of high power rockets for the onlookers. The flight came to rest gently about nine-tenths of a mile away, easily recovered by a quick drive.
Prep on the USLI rocket progressed under the watchful eyes of Vic and TIR member-at-large Brian Perry. Eventually, the rocket was deemed flight-worthy, and loaded onto the pad. Team leader David Fox performed final avionics arming duty and the team’s payload engineer armed the on-board recording devices. After installing the igniter and the obligatory dumb rocket pictures, all cleared back to a safe distance. David counted down and pressed the button; a pregnant pause passed as the bridgewire igniter exploded into flame, followed by pressurization and movement.
The rocket climbed straight off the pad and arced over at apogee just past 1000 feet; at ejection, however, the booster section separated from the rest of the vehicle, and was left to its own devices to tumble back to earth. The payload section continued down under drogue to the main deployment altitude of 700′; the Raven did its job again and deployed the main chute, but a faulty bulkhead on the payload section caused the avionics to depart from the rest of the vehicle and make their return trip without the benefit of a parachute. The rest of the airframe drifted lazily down on the drogue and main parachutes.
Overall, the flight seemed to be a very eye-opening learning experience for the Purdue crew; through the act of prepping and flying a rocket, they finally got to apply the theoretical knowledge that they had been accumulating for so long. The fact that the rocket left the ground is a testament to their fortitude and determination to complete the project; we look forward to their return to the field with an upgraded vehicle as they continue to test their designs.
Photos by Allen Yan and David Reese.