Viterbi lab shoots to send rocket into space


first_imgWarren Poh | Daily TrojanRocket man · Neil Tewksbury, a freshman majoring in mechanical engineering, works on the nose cone of a rocket at the Viterbi lab.The Rocket Propulsion Laboratory of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering allows students of all experience levels to participate in design teams where they complete projects for competitions.Their ultimate goal, though, is to create the first university-built rocket to go to space.Each year, the team aims to make improvements on their rocket from previous years to increase its distance and height. “Our goal, to be the first university to go to space, is an ambitious goal. It’s a feat that takes faithful people,” Chief Composite Engineer Roberto Lopez said, in an email to the Daily Trojan. “The kind of people rocket lab attracts are internally motivated and excited about going to space.”Members of RPL can work with a number of sub-teams that specialize in order to work more efficiently. Chief Propulsion Engineer Damian Balla co-heads the propulsion team, whose main function is to design and build motors. Members in that sub-team focus on improving the motors to gain more altitude by collecting data on the performance of the propellant.Over the remaining semester, Balla and his team will find ways to improve the propellant. “We have several performance improvements to make to the propellant, which include making denser propellant that burns longer and has a different ‘thrust profile’ which allows us to gain massive amounts of performance,” Balla said in an email to the Daily Trojan.Last semester, RPL came in with the goal of testing their newest rocket, Fathom II, on the ground and in the air successfully in September. The plan proved too ambitious when the front end of the rocket burned through during static firing. “This made us push back our launch date until we had a working case design,” Lopez said. “After redesigning, we came back a month later only to have the same thing happen on the aft end of the vehicle.”While the first two tests were demoralized, Balla said that they were able to make progress with new member training and building hardware. Despite these setbacks, the team was able to regroup by November and attempt a third test. This time, the case they tested did not burn through. “With this new qualified design, we have built another case and attached fins to it getting ready for our much deserved flight March 4,” Lopez said.Balla said that the ability for RPL to press on in spite of hardships is emblematic of USC. “The ‘Fight On’ motto is extremely important for us because after all, it is rocket science, and it’s extremely difficult,” Balla said. “Because we continue to make improvements and iterate our designs at a rapid pace, we are able to truly ‘Fight On’ and achieve amazing things.”Lopez also believes it is the Trojan spirit that makes it possible for RPL to continue to make progress. “RPL produces engineers that are skillful and ambitious like Trojans. At RPL, we like to do things ourselves,” Lopez said. “We are more than just designers. We are builders. We machine all the metallic components on our manual mill and lathes. From this attitude, we gain valuable hands-on skills that help us design better components.”last_img

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