GU Rocketry played a large part in why I chose to pursue my aeronautics degree at Glasgow University. Having always had a keen interest in aerospace development (particularly astronautics), it was a massive draw for me, and I signed up as soon as I could during freshers' week for the Junior Development Programme (JDP). In principle, this programme was introduced to bring new GUR members up to speed with all aspects of launcher design, manufacture and operation, to set them up appropriately for entry into one of GUR’s sub- teams (Aerostructures, Software, Propulsion, etc.). However, one particularly exciting project came about this year, with entry open exclusively to JDP members. This opportunity was to be on GUR’s maiden team for the Mach-23 Launch Competition and Conference this summer at Machrihanish Airbase, with the chance to launch a rocket and payload to an altitude of 1.5km and bring home a significant achievement not only for GU Rocketry, but also for the wider college of Science and Engineering as a whole.
I must admit, I deliberated at first. This was a challenging undertaking, albeit a fantastic one. After some encouragement from my would-be teammates, however, I put my name down and was placed into one of the three teams who would battle it out for the opportunity. With myself as team lead working alongside our project manager, we split the team up into appropriate sub-sections of structures, aerodynamics and electronics. The team that would go to Mach-23 was to be decided by an internal Preliminary Design Review (PDR) contest, showcasing the overall designs of our respective launchers and payloads, with appropriate concepts of operations, risk assessments, and project management structures. This was to be largely completed over the Christmas break, which ultimately did not happen. As festivities began to play out, the communication within the team understandably wasn’t the best. This is only natural within student projects and isn’t uncommon. However, with the right work ethic and dedication, it certainly improves over time, especially as deadlines crawl ever closer. Looking back, when I was deliberating over what shape our launcher’s fins should be over the New Year, I realised that without the knowledge of the others, I was completely out of my depth, and I had no idea how far we would get (we went for trapezoidal fins).
Thankfully once the second semester came around, communication was kickstarted again, and the team worked twice as hard to iron out our internal PDR. The name of our launcher, “Eligius”, was actually one of the last things we worked on. Given that our payload will measure emissions from livestock, we thought the patron saint of cattle to be appropriate. After working on just our conceptual designs for such a period, it was nice to put a name to a face, so to speak. I still remember the look on one of our Electronics’ Leads faces when we were announced as the winners within the JDP. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure how it would play out for us – some fantastic ideas had been brought forward by every team, with unique challenges and aims all across the board. However, despite the other teams still getting to develop their designs in some capacity, we are the ones who will ultimately get to travel to the competition this summer (and get all the documentation deadlines to go along with it!).
Firstly, we took our internal PDR and developed it further up to competition standard, keeping much of our original content. Upon submission, we received a very good mark, with only a few pointers on how to improve our work for the next stage, which was the Critical Design Review (CDR). This is the main bulk of the design process, involving advanced structural analysis of our airframe, recovery subsystem design, circuitry planning, and ground control system (GCS) design, amongst many other areas. For this, we were given less than a month, which wasn’t ideal but was still doable. After a few late nights and a lot of planning, the team completed our CDR to a high standard, which is certainly a testament to the work ethic and time management skills of all involved.
So, where does that leave us now? Currently, all the components required for our launcher are on order, being approved for order, or being sourced. Once the upcoming exam diet has passed, the plan is to set aside roughly a week’s worth of time to fully integrate and construct our launch vehicle and payload, giving us plenty of time before the competition itself to account for any issues that crop up regarding our designs, systems, testing, or part procurement. Completing this, our final step will be to write up our Flight Readiness Review (FRR), so that we can prove to Mach-23 that our launcher is ready and will be safe to fly on the day. Following that... well... it’ll be off to Machrihanish!
I’m sure I speak for everyone on the team when I say that there are many valuable things to learn from extra-curricular experiences such as these. Firstly, it’s perfectly fine to not have all the knowledge you need readily available at hand. Every member of the team will bring their unique skillsets and knowledge, and if anything, it’s the perfect opportunity for you to expand your own. Secondly, setbacks are inevitable, and particularly within engineering, can even be argued as being essential. It is from these that we improve our knowledge, further our designs, and ensure that these same issues do not occur again in such a capacity. Would the Apollo spacecraft have been made to such a standard if the Apollo 1 fire did not happen? This is perhaps an over-exaggeration, but it brings an important thought to mind – setbacks can often reveal issues to us that we did not even occur to think of in the first place. Furthermore, as long as you don’t allow it, a series of setbacks should never be paramount to failure. Problems can always be worked through.