Hybrid rocket engine wins 2018 Capstone Grand Prize

 Macfab is a platinum sponsor of the 2018 Capstone Design Symposium at University of Waterloo Mechanical Engineering Department

Macfab feature - Capstone rocket

Click here or on the image above to view the video of the rocket’s test-fire

Captone -Macfab feature - winning team

“My dream would be to work with a rocket company, designing engines and propulsion systems.” – Nicholas Christopher  (center) with teammates Nerissa Wong and Scott Dalgliesh

This year’s Macfab-sponsored award for Best Overall Project went to a three-person team for their design and development of a hybrid rocket engine. The hybrid design, incorporating elements of both a solid- and liquid-fueled system, provides improved safety and reliability.

The team picked up two other awards at the Capstone event – for best student design team project, and first prize in a separate design analysis competition. And they aren’t finished yet: In June, the team will join their colleagues from a university student group, Waterloo Rocketry, to compete with students from around the world in the 2018 Spaceport America Cup.

Next up: Reaching greater heights

The team’s engine design evolved from their work last year as part of the Waterloo Rocketry team. That rocket was designed to achieve a target altitude of 10,000-feet – and it took first prize in this category at last year’s Spaceport competition. This year’s goal is to reach 30,000-feet, which meant a complete redesign of the engine – no small feat, says their faculty advisor Jean-Pierre Hickey.

“The engineering challenge they had ahead of them was of monumental proportions. It’s not a well-defined problem and there are many, many variables. The design of their rocket, just the raw engineering, was extremely well done and well thought out.”

“What impressed me,” says Steve Lambert, the team’s project instructor, “was how thorough and how disciplined they were. In addition to the design and then physically building the rocket, they test-fired last year’s rocket, got some test data, and used that to verify their analysis. And just before the competition they were able to successfully test-fire their own rocket, and validate that it would behave as expected.” (To view the test-fire video, click on the link shown above)

Rocket propulsion – Canada’s next space niche?

Canada’s reputation in space robotics and satellite technologies is well established, but there’s much more that could be done to expand the industry, says Jean-Pierre Hickey. “There’s very little activity in propulsion, so that aspect is where my research is directed, to address the challenges in the field of rocket propulsion.”

Starting this fall, Nicholas Christopher will be working with Jean-Pierre as he completes his Master’s degree, but whether he’ll be able to fulfill his dream within Canada remains an open question. One of his teammates has already found a job in the USA, and if Nicholas is to build his career in space, he may have to follow suit. Jean-Pierre and his colleagues at the University of Waterloo are hoping to improve the prospect for keeping talent like his from leaving Canada.

“I’ve been working with a lot of startup companies in Canada – space propulsion companies – in Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa and elsewhere. That’s very exciting because all these companies are pushing to develop an industry in Canada which could eventually launch small satellites to low earth orbit.”

Macfab - 2018 Capstone Award presentation

Macfab’s Charles Day presents a cheque for $2,000 to the Grand Prize winners. Left to right: Prof. James Baleshta, Scott Dalgliesh, Charles Day, Nerissa Wong, Nicholas Christopher, Prof. Steve Lambert

Macfab “pays it forward” with award sponsorship

This was the second year that Macfab has sponsored the grand prize award for the Capstone Design Symposium, and it won’t be the last, says Macfab president Chris Macmorine:

“We’re proud to support the Mechanical Engineering department’s efforts in making the Capstone event such a success. Engineering is the key to our company’s future growth, and to the well-being of our industry. Seeing the talent and ingenuity of all of these students, and so many great projects, gives us a lot of confidence in what’s to come in the years ahead. We salute and congratulate the university’s staff, faculty and students for their great accomplishments.”

This year’s Capstone Symposium included 42 projects involving over 160 students; over 700 votes were cast – by invited judges as well as by some of the several hundred visitors.

For a description of this and other Mechanical Engineering projects in this year’s competition, click here.