EPFL students design a rocket from scratch
Summer series–Student projects. Students on this year’s EPFL Rocket Team designed a rocket that’s three meters tall and weighs 23 kilograms. Dubbed Eiger, it took home fifth place in its category at the 2019 Spaceport America Cup.
From 18 to 22 June, EPFL Rocket Team took part in the 2019 Spaceport America Cup in the New Mexico desert – the third year the School has competed in this university challenge. The student teams have to design, build and launch a rocket, and they’re judged on a number of criteria, including whether their rocket reaches a target altitude, how clever their design is and the craftsmanship used in constructing the payload.
EPFL was one of 120 universities from around the world to compete at this year’s event. The School’s rocket, called Eiger, came in 12th place overall and fifth place in the 10k-COTS category, where the rocket had to use a commercial off-the-shelf motor and reach an altitude of 10,000 feet (3,048 meters). “Our category was the most popular, with around 50 teams,” says Albéric De Lajarte, a Master’s student in microengineering and a member of EPFL’s team. “Of course we would’ve liked to end up in the top three, but we’re still really happy with the result. Next time we’ll make it – we know exactly what we need to improve.”
Eiger reached the target altitude with an error of only 6% – a brilliant performance – but had problems on the descent. “The first part of the flight was great with a really straight trajectory. But there was a problem in the second phase of the parachute’s deployment, and the rocket came down faster than expected,” says De Lajarte. That cost the team precious points.
A launch pad for a career in aerospace
Eiger took nearly 18 months to develop, and the most enthusiastic students spent 20–30 hours a week on it. “We built on the work done by last year’s team for their Matterhorn rocket,” says De Lajarte. “But since our rocket is slightly bigger – three meters long and weighing 23 kilograms – we had to scale up their design. I think we ended up with a slightly more advanced and streamlined rocket. The integrated payload had to be designed from scratch, however. That was an interesting lesson in fluid dynamics – how non-Newtonian fluids can be used as shock absorbers, for example.”
Overall the team members are pleased with their performance – and with the experience as a whole, which was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “The competition allowed us to develop our skills, meet both volunteers and professionals who are passionate about rockets, and get valuable experience in our fields – all while having fun,” says Jules Triomphe, a Bachelor’s student in mechanical engineering on the EPFL team. De Lajarte adds: “For me it was a chance to get first-hand experience with aerospace engineering through a real-life project. As we went along, I realized this is what I’d like to pursue as a career. Around a dozen other team members also plan to go into aerospace now.”
EPFL Rocket Team is already thinking about ideas for 2020. If you’re interested in joining, send an email to [email protected].