October 07, 2003

Aerospike test

In June of this year, a team consisting of professionals and students from California State University, Long Beach successfully conducted a static test firing of their aerospike rocket engine design.

This was followed up last month by an in-flight test.

"Several seconds later [after liftoff] it abruptly pitched ninety degrees and demonstrated unstable operation until finally transitioning into a ballistic terminal descent."

That's geek-speak for "Lawn-dart."

"The subsequent impact with the desert floor destroyed student payloads provided by a USC/JPL team and another from Cerritos High School, but the aft section with the aerospike survived relatively intact. Preliminary analysis indicates that the most probable cause for the observed flight behavior is that part of the engine's graphite exit outer ring experienced excessive and asymmetric erosion, which in turn created a side thrust component."

There are a couple of key points here. First, notice that one of the payloads riding this rocket was designed and developed by a high school. I'll do a post in the near future on the CanSat program, it's pretty cool. Second, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this kind of failure because that's how you learn. They'll analyze the remains (the important bits survived relatively intact) and figure out what improvements need to be made. Then they'll try again. And again, as often as needed. This is solid scientific method in action, with a viable application waiting at the end of the development cycle.

Follow this link for more information about the concept behind aerospike engines and how they differ from standard rocket engines.

Posted by Ted at October 7, 2003 08:05 PM
Category: Space Program

So, how come on this rocket they have a little spiky doohicky on the back of the thruster thingo?

Posted by: Victor at October 8, 2003 08:52 AM

I'll ask Peter. :)

(beavis) heh heh, heh heh. he said 'embiggens'. heh heh. (/beavis)

Posted by: Ted at October 8, 2003 11:18 AM
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