Wonderful Engineering

Student-Built Rocket Makes Its Way To Space

A team of students from the University of Southern California (USC) Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RPL) managed to launched the very first student-designed and subsequently built rocket, Traveler IV, into space. The team was also able to recover the space vehicle 12 miles downrange from where it was launched. The space vehicle is 13 feet tall and has a diameter of 8 inches.

The internal analysis of the flight data of Traveler IV has confirmed that it was able to breach the Kármán line. Neil Tewskbury, the lead operations officer at RPL, said, ‘We can say with 90 percent certainty that RPL’s latest space shot, Traveler IV, passed the Kármán line, the recognized boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and space.’

It has been reported that the Traveler IV was able to attain an altitude of 340,000 feet. The statement released says, ‘Traveler IV rapidly accelerated at over 17g’s to its top speed of 4970 ft/s, or Mach 5.1, over the course of its 11.5-second motor burn, then cruised the remaining 140 seconds, until reaching its maximum altitude of 340,000 feet or 103.6 kilometers.’

The avionics system of RPL recorded the flight by making use of its onboard sensors. It also deployed the parachutes of the vehicle at the apogee, thus making sure that the rocket was able to make its journey back to earth safely. The flight of Traveler IV lasted for a total of eleven minutes. The lead engineer Dennis Smalling said, ‘After nearly 15 years and probably over a million hours of work, RPL has finally achieved its goal of being the first student group to launch the first student-designed and built rocket past the Karman line.’

The event was the fourth attempt by the university to breach the boundary of space. A total of 80 undergraduate students took part in it. RPL was founded in 2004 by Ian Whittinghill, a student. This group serves as a great opportunity for students to not only learn about building rockets but also about collaboration.

David Barnhart, USC Viterbi research professor in astronautics and director of the Space Engineering Research Center, said, ‘People often ask why USC encourages students to participate in building amateur rockets. Besides the incredible hands-on experience that translates what they learn in the classroom to a functioning rocket, this is typically the first time many have built and created something this large as a team. The fact they do it themselves and benefit from a unique introduction to astronautics provides incredible motivation and excitement that lasts throughout their careers.’

What do you think about the Traveler IV? Do let us know!