DTU students’ rocket reaches the stars above Europe

Thursday 05 Nov 20

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The student project Danstar successfully launched the first student-built bi-liquid propulsion rocket on the European continent.

It was dead calm, overcast and everyone was holding their breaths as the student organization Danstar was about to launch its rocket Dragonfly—and four years’ work—up into the skies above Portugal on 24 October. The announcement “Prepare for lift-off” crackled over the headphones, and the students in the control tower started to count down from 10. The first attempt was a damp squib. However, in record time, the team managed to correct a technical glitch and prepare for a new launch time, which was granted an hour later. And it was successful.

"Space is kind of here to stay. However, despite this fact, launch technology is not something you are taught in Denmark. The only place where you can find this expertise and get hands-on experience is in Danstar."
Rasmus Arnt Pedersen, chairman of Danstar and an MSc student at DTU.

“It was amazing as it shot up through the clouds at the second attempt. It’s hard to put into words what it meant for all of us on the team. It’s a rocket that has come into being through the hard work and innovation of students in the phase of space technology called new space, where we utilize technologies which are already on the market, for example a GPS module, while we have developed a new engine. So, we’re very proud that it’s been successful,” says Rasmus Arnt Pedersen, chairman of Danstar and an MSc student at DTU.

Europe’s first

In addition to the Danstar team being the first students in Europe to have constructed a so-called bi-liquid rocket with dual fuel supply, Rasmus Arnt Pedersen believes it will raise the bar significantly for the launch technology environment, which has been growing in Denmark since the establishment of the amateur space programme Copenhagen Suborbitals in 2008.
“Space is kind of here to stay. However, despite this fact, launch technology is not something you are taught in Denmark. The only place where you can find this expertise and get hands-on experience is in Danstar. A student who has helped build a rocket would be well-placed to go out into companies and solve real-world problems in many different disciplines, for example fluid mechanics,” says Rasmus Arnt Pedersen.

One-tonne rocket transport

Prior to the rocket launch, the 40-strong team had spent months planning their trip. In addition to flights to Portugal, approvals had been obtained for the rocket to be loaded into the students’ own specially designed transport boxes a few days earlier and transported to Portugal in a large truck. The rocket, special tools, and the launch pad altogether weighed just under 1 tonne.

Danstar is the first student association in Denmark to have designed, developed, and tested its own rocket, rocket engine, and launch pad. The development work has taken place in DTU Skylab for several years, and the overall goal of the project was to compete in the annual Spaceport America Cup competition in New Mexico, USA, in 2020. However, as this was not possible due to the corona pandemic, Danstar contacted Director-General Jan Wörner of the European Space Agency (ESA), who made contact with the Portuguese organization PT Space. PT Space then took the initiative to establish an EU rocket competition with input from Danstar, Propulse NTNU in Norway, and Jacob Skov Larsen from Copenhagen Suborbitals.

The necessary safety approvals were obtained as well as approvals for the event itself, which was due to take place in the town of Montargil in Ponte de Sor north-east of Lisbon in central Portugal. Danstar’s launch pad, which would be used by four of the six teams, would stand in a field outside the town far away from human habitation. A technical jury made up of industry experts assessed safety ahead of the launches.

3D printed in steel

Six teams comprising more than 100 students participated in the competition. Danstar from DTU was the only team with their own bi-liquid rocket, which is the most technically advanced design. The rocket engine was designed by Rasmus Arnt Pedersen and two other MSc students at DTU Mechanical Engineering, and was then 3D-printed in steel at the Danish Technological Institute. The rocket as a whole was designed by the 40-strong team.

After lift-off in Montargil, Danstar’s rocket reached an altitude of 2.2 km. By mistake, the main parachute was pulled out at an altitude of 450 m when the drag parachute was triggered. It never unfolded properly, and as a result the rocket’s electronics were crushed when it hit the ground.

All six teams received a prize for their rocket launches at the competition. Following the event, Danstar is continuing to work on the project, and is purchasing new parts for its rocket model. The aim is to enter the competition again in 2021, and set the world record for student bi-liquid rockets by reaching an altitude of 9 km.

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https://www.skylab.dtu.dk/news/Nyhed?id=%7BD169533F-A0E1-4395-9A9A-91FD440C9DD7%7D
1 DECEMBER 2020