UTD launches its first rocket - Mercury

UTD launches its first rocket – Mercury

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics at UTD made history on November 19 when it became the first organization on campus to launch a high-powered rocket.

AIAA launched the rocket in Gunter, Texas at the Dallas Area Rocket Association, an organization dedicated to giving students a chance to explore their interests in aeronautics. Groups from different high schools and colleges got together to launch rockets built from scratch. The organization also hosts monthly launches with three types of rockets: model rockets that are generally smaller in size, medium-powered rockets that are more powerful and run on ammonium perchlorate, and high-powered rockets that require certification.

AIAA is a nationally recognized organization with many chapters, one of which is at UTD. Students interested in aeronautics can explore their interests and be part of a community that supports their passion. The club replaces UTD after the removal of the space program many years ago. Since this is the first rocket launch, the team had to research all the background information and build from the ground up.

The missile was named the T3R1 – or Terry – with a diameter of 3.125 inches and a length of 57 inches. Many of the components were made using a laser cutter and 3D printer. The process began during the spring semester of 2022 and because AIAA had never launched a rocket before, the team learned everything from scratch from the resources at SPN’s Makerspace. Junior Computer Science major Alejandro García was the structural lead for this project and Senior Mechanical Engineering Major Mohamed Shoaib Musa was the lead engineer, overseeing the development of the manufacturing plan and design.

“Actually, in addition to the engine, all of our components are manufactured in-house,” Musa said. “I determined the dimensions of the rocket by doing a preliminary design on an open rocket and settled on what worked best for us.”

Inside the missile was an avionics system, which monitored the missile’s altitude during flight and compared the missile’s true peak—the maximum altitude—with the projection from previous simulations. The data is then used to improve future launches. Computer engineering major, electronics pioneer Emmanuel Lannes explained how the Arduino Nano drove the L1 rocket’s avionics system. The Arduino Nano, which is a multi-controller, uses software to interact with the pressure sensor and SD card module with the data for analysis.

“During the rocket’s flight, the pressure sensor is constantly collecting atmospheric pressure and using that data to calculate the rocket’s altitude over time,” Yannis said. “The Arduino extracts this elevation data and saves it to the SD card which is then mounted to the SD card module.”

Only one concern caught the team’s attention during launch—the timing of parachute deployment. The parachute was expected to deploy at its height, but instead it deployed a few seconds later. They had previously run simulations to test various aspects of launch, one of which being deployment, which is why this delay was such a surprise.

“We realized that the weight of the missile was less than the weight of the missile on the software we ran the simulation on, which may have caused the missile to reach apogee faster than we expected,” Moussa said. “The ejection charge was set at the 10-second mark, and the missile was in the process of descending when the ejection charge occurred.”


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The launch sets a course for more launches in the coming months, with high regard for UTD’s growing aviation community. NASA has a student launch initiative where college teams are, which the AIAA hopes to participate in.

“Future plans include launching an l2 rocket as a team and then participating in some competitions like the NASA Student Launch and the Spaceport America Cup,” said Kahler. “We will have a second and third release for teams that do not receive a certification on December 17th and January 23rd.”

George Sprague, president of the Dallas Area Rocket Association, played a vital role in both the rocket building process and the launch itself. Sprague was interested in rockets from a young age.

Sprague said, “I saw a sign that said High Power Missiles, Dallas Area Rocket Society, … and I thought High Power – what in the world is this? Now I have to go investigate this, and I went and saw my first launch like this with high power rockets. And it wasn’t my credit card.” It has been since then.”

UTD AIAA includes subgroups working on various projects. TEKCOR is a group engaged in rocketry, other groups focus on UAVs or professional and technical enrichment. TEKCOR is made up of different teams that each build their own missile and obtain missile certifications. Each group has people coding the payload and actually building the rocket. Senior Electrical Engineering, AIAA President, Rachel Kaller, talks about how the club provides a community for students with an interest in space.

“It’s kind of like being on the fly at UTD because we don’t really have a program for it… It’s funny because there are so many people who are interested in it,” said Kahler. “I wish we had a program for that because a lot of people are mechanical engineers, but we don’t really have a space route for them.”

With no real space studies at UTD, AIAA hopes to expand its community on campus and show interest in obtaining a formal program at the school.


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