Students Use Simulation to Make Record-Chasing Rocket and CubeSat Designs

The Stanford Student Space Initiative is using simulation to fly past the competition.

The Stanford Student Space Initiative (Stanford SSI) is using ANSYS simulations to optimize various record-setting technologies. Three unique examples are:

  1. CubeSat designs that use cold-gas thrusters
  2. Rocket designs that use balloons as a first stage prior to ignition
  3. Nitrous-kerosene liquid-powered rocket motor

Simulations are rocketing Stanford SSI into a leadership position in the college level aerospace world. Despite being only six years old, the team has already designed techniques for DNA synthesis in microgravity and set world records with their long-endurance balloon system.

But above all, Stanford SSI wants to use simulation to get people excited about space by pushing the limits of engineering.

How Stanford SSI’s Rocket Design Could Create the First Open-Source Space Vehicle

Mesh of Stanford SSI’s spaceshot rocket is used in a hypersonic computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation.

Stanford SSI aims to create the first fully open-source space vehicle, which can lift half a kilogram to a height of 100 km for only $4,000.

The team is taking advantage of its high-altitude ballooning expertise. The plan is to use a balloon as a first stage that carries the rocket to a high altitude. Then, once the rocket is within 5% of the top boundary of the earth’s atmosphere, its engine is ignited.

The team calculates that this plan will accelerate the rocket to Mach 5 in just three seconds. This will generate a lot of heat stress on the rocket.

To ensure the rocket will survive, Stanford SSI uses ANSYS pervasive engineering simulations. These simulations calculate the rocket’s heat and aerodynamic coefficients as it travels half a kilometer (0.31 miles) in the first second.

Stanford SSI Optimizes CubeSat Designs Using Simulation

Simulations of the unsteady flow of a CubeSat’s cold gas thruster nozzle

Besides propelling a rocket into outer space, Stanford SSI relies on ANSYS solutions to deliver reliable simulations for other challenging tasks.

When developing an optical communications CubeSat — able to transfer large amounts of data via carefully steered lasers — the team used ANSYS solutions to assess its structural and thermal reliability.

In its latest satellite project — a CubeSat capable of autonomous navigation in deep space — Stanford SSI uses ANSYS simulations to back up testing of its cold gas thrusters.

Stanford SSI Tests its Liquid-Powered Rocket Motor with Simulations

Finally, SSI is working to break the current student altitude record for liquid-powered rocket motors. The team has studied the aerodynamics of the rocket’s flight and estimates that the nitrous-kerosene liquid propulsion system will nearly double the student altitude record for liquid motors.

Thermal simulations of the CubeSat’s combustion chamber and nozzle.

ANSYS simulation solutions are key to the design of every part, with a focus on safety, simplicity and efficiency. Stanford SSI analyzes the strength of the rocket’s tanks, nozzles and plumbing to ensure they can withstand the extreme loads of a space launch. The team also simulates the heat transfer within the rocket to make sure its nozzle won’t melt.

The students on the Stanford SSI team are all excited to learn hands-on engineering and simulation skills. To have your student team follow in their footsteps, gain access to ANSYS pervasive simulation software by applying for a sponsorship.