Purdue Space Program Soars to New Heights

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(photo courtesy Purdue Space Program) (photo courtesy Purdue Space Program)

A student team called Purdue Space Program has built a liquid methane rocket and hopes to win a competition with it. The team of students will compete for the FAR-MARS Prize, which is named after its two sponsors, Friends of Amateur Rocketry and Mars Society.

The $100,000 competition takes place in May, and the Purdue team will try to win two separate contests within the competition. If a student team is able to launch a bi-propellant liquid-fueled rocket to 45,000 feet, they win $50,000. If they launch using liquid oxygen and liquid methane, they receive another $50,000. The Purdue team is competing with a single rocket .“Solid rocket fuels are pretty simple and well-known, but very few people attempt liquid-fueled rockets,” said Christopher Nilsen, a multidisciplinary engineering major and president of Purdue SEDS (Students for Exploration and Development of Space).  “With liquid-fueled rockets, there are valves, there are pressurizations, and everything has to be kept very cold. There’s a lot of plumbing to figure out.”

Due to the unavailability of commercial liquid methane, the students make their own with a condenser system to convert gaseous methane to liquid methane. The 50-student team has built the rocket, condenser system, and the launch pad, within a 12-month period for only $20,000. However, they also have a secret weapon: Zucrow Labs. “Zucrow is the largest propulsion lab at any university in the country,” said School of Aeronautics and Astronautics Cat White. “They have more area, they have more test cells, they have more experience. They have parts everywhere that we’ve been able to adapt for our rocket. They have control systems already established, so we don’t have to re-invent the wheel.”

The FAR-MARS competition launches May 5th in the Mojave Desert of California, and runs for 9 days.  The Purdue team will have two hours to deploy their system, fuel the rocket, and launch a payload of an altitude tracking device, and then recover it with a parachute. The team will have just two hours to deploy its launch system, fuel the rocket, and launch a payload that includes an altitude tracking device, and recover it via parachute. Video of the rocket can be seen by clicking here .

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