Ever since the project began in 2020, there loomed an idea of this project to set the groundworks for an interplanetary bound Aerial Vehicle to be tested in the Earth’s stratosphere. With the recent successful flight of the Mars Helicopter Ingenuity in April 2021, our team chose to change the project's focus to chase this goal.
Our mission profile from the get-go included a sounding rocket as our launcher. The rocket would house our payload which is a folded Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and deploy it at a target altitude. The UAV would then free-fall till it’s reached its target deployment altitude where it unfolds its wings and begins its flight. This mission profile is very similar to a Mars bound aircraft, isn't it? Not including the several month-long coasting phase from Earth to Mars, the phases of rocket, entry, descent, and deployment can be tested here on Earth with a single sounding rocket launch. The only caveat: we need a rocket that can launch us above 50km altitude.
Read more about REXUS
During the summer break of 2021, our team got together to conduct crucial research to put together a proposal to join the European Space Agency’s REXUS (Rocket Experiment for University Students) programme to make our project a reality. The REXUS rocket was ideal for us as we would be able to launch our payload from 70km altitude. After months of hard work, our team became the only UK team to get shortlisted for the REXUS programme that year!
Our proposal included a case for using the REXUS to test Mars bound aircrafts. The team had come up with a design that made use of an aerodynamic capsule to hold our UAV. The aerodynamic capsule ensures that the UAV payload is secure in the rocket nose-cone payload bay. The capsule had another main function, which was to maintain a stable free fall from 70 km to our target altitude of 27km, after which a parachute deploys from the capsule to slow the descent and facilitate the deployment of our UAV.
We were invited to defend our proposal at ESTEC, an ESA facility in the Netherlands (albeit virtually). During the three-day selection workshop programme in the Netherlands, where our team learned many crucial aspects of proposing a space project. The training involved most aspects of coming up with a successful proposal for a space project. The final day of the programme involved the team conducting a 20-minute presentation and defending our project by answering questions from ESA scientists and engineers. The team did an excellent job defending the proposal!
The selection workshop was a wonderful experience for the whole team and now began the agonising wait to get the final verdict: did we get into REXUS?! Towards the end of our first semester, we got an email from REXUS citing that we had not been selected to fly with them that year! This was understandable as several teams had applied to fly within the nosecone of the rocket, which could only house a single payload. The feedback we received was very encouraging and we are more excited now than ever to give REXUS a shot again in 2022!
Advanced Engineering Fair
On the 3rd and 4th of November, SunStratos and other Sheffield Space Initiative teams represented the University of Sheffield at one of the most popular engineering fairs in the UK - Advanced Engineering conference 2021 at the NEC in Birmingham.
Our participation there required a lot of effort to plan and organise everything on time, but it definitely was worth it. It was an invaluable experience to talk to amazing people from businesses as well as visitors interested in our project.
It would not have happened without other exceptional teams within SSI. Huge thanks to Project SunrIde, Project Hex and SunSat - Sheffield University Nova Satellite for collaboration and a wonderful time!
Special thanks to The University of Sheffield and AlumniFoundation for supporting us financially and allowing us to participate in the event. Many thanks to the organisers from Advanced Engineering UK, everything went perfectly!
Read comments from participants
"The Advanced Engineering Fair was a great experience that offered the ideal platform for expanding our knowledge and understanding of the engineering industry as well as grow our networks by forming connections with industry professionals." - Mihai Dutescu, SunStratos
"Advanced Engineering was not only a great opportunity to build out my personal brand and network with top minds in the industry, but also to promote SunStratos at the UK's biggest engineering expo and forge connections with related companies." - Andy Coulter, SunStratos
"Advanced Engineering was a brilliant opportunity for Students part of the Sheffield Space Initiative to Network with Companies from all across the engineering supply chain. The contacts we made will not only assist us in taking our projects to their fullest potential but also open many doors to the industry in our futures!" - Katherine Riley, SunStratos
"Advanced Engineering Fair was an amazing opportunity to learn more about the forefront of Engineering in the UK. Getting the opportunity to speak with other students, as well as industry professionals gave a unique experience to learn more about the current climate in the industry, as well as sharing our passion for Cubesats with likeminded people. Having met so many fascinating people, I also walked away with more confidence in networking, and excitement for the future of the student-led projects at University" -Olivia Davies, SunSat
"The advanced engineering event provided an incredible opportunity to get to know the engineering sectors we hope to be a part of in future. With plenty of options for industry collaborations, the fair allowed us to show of our highest engineering achievements at Sheffield bringing them into the spotlight of the event. I can only hope students continue to have this amazing opportunity in future." - Alec Dent, SunrIde
"Attending the conference was a fantastic experience, helping to improve my networking skills massively. Being able to talk to members of industry about our exciting projects, and getting their input on our developments, as well as building relationships with several companies, has really helped to push things forwards for us." - Joshua Gilmour, Hex
"The Advanced Engineering Fair gave us a chance to network with industry leaders which resulted in new partnership and collaboration opportunities for all of us that attended. Being one of the only Universities there no doubt presented The University of Sheffield as being at the forefront of innovation and a national leader in engineering research." - Balazs Rigo, Hex
"Experience at the Advanced Engineering fair showed that as a coherent collective, we are capable of accomplishing anything by fulfilling each other. We aroused the interest of many investors, companies and even plenty of college students. In my opinion, the most significant benefit of participation was bringing teams together and structuring the Sheffield Space Initiative." - Kacper Sikorski, SunStratos
Aerodynamic Test Rig
With the University's Wind Tunnel currently undergoing maintenance, we took the liberty to create our own portable aerodynamic test rig to get experimental data on our prototypes. The test rig can be mounted on the roof of a car or a van and will collect useful aerodynamic data using its on-board Data Acquisition System.
The conceptual design of the folded glider along with its dock can be viewed in the first picture
Test Rig Update
Finally, after a few sessions in the iForge at The University of Sheffield and our lab in the George Porter Building, the test rig assembly is finished. The next step is to calibrate all of the electronics, and we should be able to test it shortly in wind tunnel at our University. This prototype will give us essential aerodynamic data, which will be analysed to improve the design of our glider.