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Student Space Systems Aims High With Liquid Rocket Engine

In 2014, Student Space Systems (SSS) began at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a high-powered rocketry group. In those early days, most of the rocket building was done simply with prefabricated parts. Since then, SSS has progressed to designing and creating its own rocket technology, including power electronics, telemetry and propulsion systems. One of its biggest goals — and challenges — has been to create a liquid-fueled rocket engine built with additive manufacturing techniques.

SSS members prepare Olympus rocket for flight in Mojave Desert

This engine, which is slated to fly in 2018 on the team’s Phase IV rocket, will be the first of its kind. Thus far, the group has flown solely on commercial solid motors, so designing and operating a liquid engine represents a large milestone for the organization. One crucial component in the design of the engine is the injector plate, which sprays the fuel and oxidizer into the combustion chamber of the engine in a precise pattern to optimize the fuel mixture.

ANSYS Fluent simulation showing the pressure drop across the injector

Maintaining a specific, steady pressure drop across the injector to supply the engine with fuel at a desired rate and pressure is critical to the design of the rocket. Using ANSYS Fluent, we have been able to test multiple iterations of our injector design. Fluent allows us to create a fluid mesh from CAD models and study pressure profiles over a range of initial conditions, such as temperature and pressure variations. The CFD graphics allow us to easily pinpoint high and low pressure areas to modify and improve the injector design. The speed and ease of this method makes it superior to other analysis methods. As a result, our group has converged on a design that brings us even closer to the manufacturing phase of our rocket.

ANSYS Fluent simulation showing a velocity vector map of the fluid flow in the injector The ANSYS software suite has other merits for our organization. Our members, who are all undergraduates, are using the software to improve their engineering and design skills. It helps them to apply what they learn in class on real engineering projects with tools they will use in their careers. In addition, the software has enabled the group to further its goals in a short amount of time. It has been used on many additional projects in the club, ranging from structural analysis of the rocket nozzle to thermal analysis of the combustion chamber and more advanced fluid simulation for fuel compressors. Student Space Systems members with Sierra (left) and Olympus (right) rockets in 2016.

Student Space Systems will continue to pursue its goal of flying a student-built rocket above the Kármán-line, a threshold 100 kilometers above sea level which commonly marks the limit of the atmosphere. To achieve this end, we will continue using ANSYS as an integral tool in designing and analyzing the various systems and components on our rockets. We’d like to thank Jack Malluege and ANSYS for their support of our organization, our mission and our members. To learn more about us and see the details of our many technical projects, please visit Follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for updates.

To learn more, download a free academic copy of ANSYS.