June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
26.1287.1 - 26.1287.13
Putting the Emerging Commercial Sub-orbital Industry to Work for Engineering EducationLow-cost re-usable commercial sub-orbital rockets are beginning to fly for space tourism and forresearch and education missions. This emerging industry, which for now is unique to the UnitedStates, is presenting new opportunities for engineering education. Rockets to fly with andwithout human occupants are being built by a handful of companies, and thus numerous types offlight opportunities are becoming available. The educators who choose to be early adopters ofthis new flight capability may find fertile ground for both teaching and research.The paper reports on the author’s teaching activities in which an existing design-build-test classfocusing on zero-gravity flight experiments is adapted to provide undergraduate student designedand built payloads for launching in the commercial sub-orbital industry. Payloads launched todate on test flights of these rockets are described along with lessons learned for student payloaddesign and flight. Payloads under development and the class structure which enables this workare also described. Feedback on the in-class experiences are gathered from recent alums and willbe shared and discussed.One example is fully-reusable liquid rocket with green propellants, gentle lift-off, and GPS-guided parachute return to the launch pad area for payloads only, not for human flight, whichfurther reduces costs. These new rockets are being developed with private capital; they are fullycommercial ventures, not government programs. Access to launch is therefore through apurchase, not agency peer review. One US company has a price list on line making it clear thatthe cost for access to space is now approximately 1/250th of the typical cost for an experimentlaunch on a traditional NASA or ESA sounding rocket. Some deride the industry as being “joyrides for rich guys,” but note that those joy rides are financing the development of the vehiclesand research and education users are essentially paying only the recurring costs of flightoperations. Thus, the cost for spaceflight experimentation is now sufficiently low for frequenteducational launches.
Collicott, S. H. (2015, June), Putting the Emerging Commercial Sub-orbital Industry to Work for Engineering Education Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24624
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