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UCLA Students Investigate Magnetohydrodynamic Pump in Space

In fall 2016, our group of UCLA science and engineering students created Bruin Spacecraft Group, an organization that encourages student-initiated space mission engineering. One year later, we learned we would soon be realizing one of our major goals: sending a mission to space.


During the summer of 2017, a small group of our Bruin Space members proposed an experiment to be conducted in microgravity as part of the Ken Souza Student Spaceflight Research Competition. Our team envisioned a scientific experiment that involved developing a 2U CubeSat form-factor bus (right) that would carry and study the behavior of a magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) pump in space, where pumps are crucial for climate control, fuel systems and many other vital applications. We thought that using an MHD pump could improve the reliability of future space missions. Our bus/pump proposal was selected by the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research (ASGSR) as the top student experiment and, when realized, will fly on an upcoming Blue Origin New Shepard launch.

Our mission, dubbed Blue Dawn, was inspired by a desire to investigate technologies that play a vital role in space fluid transport. Traditional mechanical pumps are often thought to be a less-than-optimal option for fluid transport due to the increased risk of failure associated with moving part systems. On Earth, this risk is acceptable because repair sites are easily accessible; in space, repairs are much more difficult and spare parts are limited. We believe that an MHD pump may prove to be a suitable alternative to mechanical pumps. An MHD pump operates without the use of mechanical parts and takes advantage of fundamental electricity and magnetism. The operation is simple: Opposing magnetic and electric fields create a Lorentz force that acts to transport a conductive fluid through a defined volume.


As we ready the payload for space, we rely on ANSYS software to verify our designs and increase the payload’s reliability through various modeling and simulation efforts. Using provided, expected flight conditions, it is possible to model how the payload will handle the accelerations and vibrations associated with ascent and descent. Running ANSYS Mechanical structural analysis software, our team has been able to do preliminary analyses on the chassis itself. Under tight mass restrictions, we found it necessary to cut down the chassis to its bare essentials. ANSYS has enabled us to verify the structural integrity of this unconventional design.

Total deformation of chassis under peak nominal acceleration.

Additionally, given that the payload will be subjected to a range of vibrations during the rocket’s flight, it is necessary to analyze the harmonics of the chassis and ensure they do not resonate with the rocket’s vibration.

Directional deformation of chassis due to vibration.

In the future, our team hopes to perform a more in-depth structural analysis with the electronics and pump in place, as well as a computational fluid dynamics (CFD) analysis of the pump itself. It will be useful to characterize the expected flow through the pump to optimize the design before launch and/or gain a better understanding of the data acquired during the flight.

ULCA Student

As with any university student group, funding for this mission is in short supply. If you are interested in helping send UCLA to space, check out our Crowdfunding campaign. To stay updated on our progress or see what other projects we are undertaking, visit our website or follow us on Twitter or Instagram.