AE senior design teams find creative solution to test rocket
The weather on campus in December alternated between cold, windy, or both. But aerospace engineering students in the senior design class led by Michael Lembeck at the University of Illinois needed to know if their rocket stage design could land properly before trying it on the final class day. Several of the teams found a creative indoor solution – drop it from a stairwell in Engineering Hall.
“The challenge we were given was to vertically land a rocket stage dropped from a drone,” said Elena Kamis, who was the team leader. “My team decided to design a rocket with a gimbal-based control system and large landing legs to land as required.”
Kamis said the idea for the gimbal came from an updated design by team member Austin Lindell. “We edited the design for our needs and engine size. Basically, it's three pieces of 3D printed plastic, an engine, and two servos,” she said. “The gimbal allows for control in the pitch and yaw axis of the rocket, but not roll—our legs were designed to be able to do that instead. The controller was designed to react to the orientation read by the Inertial Measurement Unit during flight and move the engine appropriately to put the rocket back at vertical for a successful landing.”
In addition to Kamis and Lindell, team members included: Aidan Dreher, Destiny Fawley, Conor Hershey, Damian Markiewicz, Adrian Metcalf, Aldo Montagner, Joshua Super and Jie Yang.
“We actually got the idea for testing the rocket landing in the stairwell from one of the other project teams,” Kamis said. “But other teams also borrowed our ideas to test their landing legs and passive stabilization methods, such as the fins.”
Although a drone would have dropped the rocket stage from a higher altitude, the fourth floor of Engineering Hall did the trick. Watch the video. Note: Safety precautions were taken for this test. It was conducted after normal working hours and two pairs of students were positioned at the top and bottom of the stairwell, preventing others from entering the area.
After the drop tests in Engineering Hall for the landing legs, Kamis said the team increased the size of the legs and finalized the design.
Sadly, none of the five teams launched due to wind and frigid temperatures on the actual day of the final. Lembeck said the date has been rescheduled.