SEDS UCSD Launches Liquid Fueled Rocket

Built and Tested at OSML

Dan Hendricks

College graduates in today’s economy often find themselves in an impossible cycle: they need experience to be hired, but they need to be hired to get experience. To break that cycle, a group of students from UC San Diego decided to gain their own experience by creating a local chapter of an organization called Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS).

SEDS is a 501(c)3 non-profit that empowers young people to participate and make an impact in space exploration. SEDS helps students develop their technical and leadership skills by providing opportunities to manage and participate in national projects as well as to attend conferences, publish their work, and develop their professional network, in order to help students become more effective in their present and future careers in industry, academia, government, and education.

The UCSD SEDS team designed and built a 3D-printed engine powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene for their current rocket, Vulcan-1, and they did frequent tests and builds to improve the design and structure of their rocket. In 2015, they ran a successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, raising $21,882 to pay for an industrial 3D print in inconel (a nickel alloy) of their custom designed engine.  They learned CAD and taught each other how to use power tools and fabrication machines. Through involvement in SEDS, these students learn how to be self-advocates for gaining new skill sets and understanding how the components of the industries work, making them much more competitive as they enter the aerospace job market.  

The UCSD SEDS team needed more space and fabrication capabilities than what was available on campus, so they went in search of a makerspace - this led them to Open Source Maker Labs. Becoming a build space for SEDS naturally fit in with many of our goals here at the lab, and since we currently host two FIRST Robotics teams and several entrepreneurs developing product prototypes, we had three generations of engineering teams working together.

Vulcan-1 was 19 feet long and 8 inches in diameter, capable of 750 lb. of thrust. A cryogenic, bi-propellant, liquid-fueled blow down system, the rocket was powered with a combination of liquid oxygen (LOx) and refined kerosene. The Vulcan-1 project began in 2014 and quickly grew into a team of over 60 student engineers. The team fabricated and tested the rocket at Open Source Maker Labs, a makerspace in nearby Vista, CA which provided equipment and support for the project.  SEDS UCSD also received mentor support from NASA, XCOR, and many other groups in the space industry.

“This sort of technology has really come to fruition in the last few years. This is proof of concept that if students at the undergraduate level could drive down the costs of building these engines, we could actually fly rockets and send up payload that is cheaper and more efficient,” said Darren Charrier, SEDS UCSD’s incoming president. “One day, we’d like to see this technology being implemented on large-scale rockets, which means that we could send satellites to provide internet for developing countries, we could mine asteroids, perhaps even go colonize Mars.”