Author: Jonathan Van Wersch -
An engineering degree at the University of Bath (UoB) provides students with the opportunity to gain practical experience through several different hands-on projects, such as by joining one of the student engineering competition teams. While many are likely familiar with Team Bath Racing, which has existed since 1999, there exist several other successful teams such as Team Bath Drones, as well as Bath Zero Emissions Motorcycles. In 2018, the Bath University Rocket Team (BRT) was formed with the intended goal of developing an experimental sounding rocket, approximately 3 m in length, capable of carrying a 4 kg payload to an altitude of 10,000 ft (~ 3 km) to compete at the Spaceport America Cup (SAC). The state of New Mexico plays host to the SAC, which is the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket competition and has been held annually since 2017.
Similarly to all student engineering competition teams, BRT began as a Group Business Design Project, a form of coursework mechanical and electrical engineering students at UoB must complete during the second semester of their third year at university. Throughout the semester, 12 aerospace, mechanical, and integrated mechanical and electrical engineering students designed what would go onto become Mallard 1, the university’s first-ever rocket.
After acquiring the necessary funding through sponsorships, adhering to all the various competition requirements, and manufacturing the rocket, the team set off to New Mexico in June of 2019 becoming the second ever UK-based team to compete at the SAC.
Despite a successful launch, the rocket’s parachute system failed to deploy on its descent, resulting in a crash landing. The rocket did not survive and perhaps most unfortunately of all, the experimental data being collected by sensors in the payload was unrecoverable. This data was going to be used to compute the rocket’s coefficient of drag.
It is easy from an outside perspective to look at this result as a failure, but it is important to put everything into context. With no precedence, the 2019 BRT team was able to design, build and launch a rocket. The launch itself was very stable and the rocket overshot its predicted apogee by only 1.6%. The lessons learned from the failure of the recovery system will, if anything, prove invaluable moving forward.
In February of 2019, the next BRT team was formed to compete at the SAC in June of 2020. We are made up of eight mechanical and integrated mechanical and electrical engineers.
Our rocket has been designed and we will begin manufacturing it over the next university year. Unsurprisingly, we will also be placing more of an emphasis on testing the various systems of the rocket. As for the rocket itself, it is approximately 2.5 m in length and 0.2 m in diameter. To increase its functionality, we have opted for the inclusion of a deployable payload with its own recovery system. Similarly to last year’s rocket, the payload will be made up of various sensors allowing for the collection of data. Moreover, a dual-stage drogue and parachute design will be used to recover the rocket. For a full tour of this year’s rocket, be sure to check out its annotated 3D model on our website: bathrocketteam.com.
This year, our primary goal is to ensure that all systems function as required, ensuring safe recovery of both the payload and the rocket. Regarding the competition, we are aiming to finish in the top 25% of all teams. Points are awarded for several different factors relating to the design of the rocket as well as its performance at the competition. With over 200 teams competing, from some of the most prestigious universities from around the world, the SAC is highly competitive. Nonetheless, we are greatly looking forward to both the challenges the next year will bring, as well as showcasing our university’s engineering prowess on a wider more global scale.
Don’t forget to follow us on all our social media profiles where we will be providing regular updates throughout the year!