OSML Supports Student Rocket Launch

Makers Making a Difference

Dan Hendricks

Behind the scenes support by Open Source Maker Labs for UCSD SEDS launch of Vulcan1 rocket was very extensive, and demonstrated our capabilities.

Prior to launch, the team needed to perform a successful test at OSML called a “cold flow” to verify the proper operation of the fluid systems and control valves. This required the the fuel tank to be filled with distilled water, and the liquid oxygen tank to be filled with liquid nitrogen. After pressurizing the system to 700 PSI, the firing sequence would be initiated to test all control systems. The team needed some means to raise the rocket into a vertical position suspended securely above the ground for the test. While the team was making the final fabrications on the rocket, OSML designed and built a steel-framed rocket test rig (in 14 hours) that could securely hold the rocket for testing. The rocket test rig doubled as a transport carrier, and was designed to exactly fit into a specific trailer.

To help prepare the team for safe launch operations, NASA provided a training team from their Jet Propulsion Lab and Stennis Space Center. Two days of NASA training on liquid oxygen safety procedures and design considerations were held at OSML. This was a very professional engineering training session, and many of the students said that they learned more in those two days than in an entire quarter of coursework.

We offered to host a launch party at OSML for those that weren’t able to travel up to the launch site. To share the experience with the viewers back at the lab, we needed a way to get a high speed Internet connection that could support a streaming video broadcast from the launch site. We asked our friends at nearby Viasat if they could help, and they provided a portable Ka-band satellite terminal that we used to send our YouTube live broadcast. Although the wind was so strong at the launch site that it made the audio difficult to hear, we did a live coverage of the launch that was watched by 160 viewers on the Internet. We also did interviews with several team members as part of our broadcast.

We knew there was limited power available at the launch site, and that if we set up our broadcasting station to get a good view of the launch, we may not have power available. To solve that problem, OSML designed and built a portable solar generator to power the broadcast from the desert. As a prototype experiment, we proved we could build and deploy a self-contained, portable broadcast capability to almost any remote location to showcase “extreme making” in action.

The team's gear was pre-loaded into pallet containers, which were loaded into two OSML trucks for transport to the launch site. OSML is ready to go anywhere!