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University of Canterbury to improve rocket-launching technology

University of Canterbury to improve rocket-launching technology

The potential to make launching a rocket
easier, faster and cheaper has been made possible because of the new research
being done by the University of Canterbury (UC),
New Zealand. The research will also have wide-ranging benefits for other
technology.

According to the University’s researchers,
a new flight strategy has the potential to launch rockets into orbit in a
cheaper and more efficient manner, which will also improve everyday technology
like mobile phones and Global Positioning System (GPS).

According to the report
made by the University, a major challenge faced by launching rockets is fuel
movement within the tanks that affect the trajectory of rockets through
resonance.

Baffles, the heavy mechanical rings inside
fuel tanks, are the favoured solution to dampen the slosh of fuel and its
effects on flight trajectory.

Mr Philipp Sueltrop, a PhD student from the
University’s College of Engineering, is working to prevent the effects of fuel
slosh in rockets by using mathematical algorithms.

An Electrical and Computer Engineering
student, Mr Sueltrop is predicting and adjusting the flight movement before
fuel slosh becomes a problem. He explained that it is about performing the
right movement at the right time.

He has observed slosh and rocket motion
behaviours using a vertical wind tunnel on campus and real-life launches
conducted in partnership with Rocket Lab.

After collecting enough data to accurately
predict fuel slosh under different movements, Mr Sueltrop will install the
algorithm ‘on board’ the flight control computer.

During that stage, real-life launches will
be used to gather data and record how the algorithm could influence the flight
strategy and compare these findings to what was observed during testing in the
wind tunnel to prove the effectiveness of the algorithm.

If successful, this could either reduce or
completely remove the need for baffles in fuel tanks. He recommended slowly
introducing the algorithm into real flight to reduce risk.

He explained that making the move into real
flight means fully converting the algorithm into a flight version that takes
into account elements, including acceleration, that are not present in the wind
tunnel. The algorithm is very flexible and easily scalable.

The foundation for the algorithm was
originally designed for the medical field by his supervisor, Dr Chris Hann, a
UC Engineering academic.

Dr Hann discussed that the underlying
mathematics was first developed for glucose control and cardiovascular
management in the Christchurch Intensive Care Unit.

From there, it was transferred to the field
of rocketry. The analogy is that insulin is used to control glucose where in a
rocket you have canards which control the direction of the rocket.

Mr Sueltrop is enthusiastic about the future
prospects of the algorithm. He added that it is a long-term solution to make it
easier, faster and cheaper to launch a rocket as well as making technology that
relies on this more accessible to everyday users.

Dr Hann added that the research has far
reaching applications. He described Philipp’s research as having direct
application to providing better control of liquid fuel orbital rockets
including removing the need for heavy baffles and allowing launches in a
greater range of weather conditions.

It also has application for ship-to-ship
docking in the ocean and potentially developing better control systems that
handle sea-ice interactions for ships in the polar regions.

Mr Philipp Sueltrop won the UC Thesis in
Three 2017 and represented the University at the Asia-Pacific competition in
Brisbane, Australia, in late 2017, where he placed in the top ten.

His presentation made a comparison of his
research into the effects of rocket fuel movement with walking with a cup of
coffee.

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