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Rocket Systems Engineering Education At The Undergraduate Level

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2000 Annual Conference


St. Louis, Missouri

Publication Date

June 18, 2000

Start Date

June 18, 2000

End Date

June 21, 2000



Page Count


Page Numbers

5.533.1 - 5.533.13



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Paper Authors

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Ron Humble

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Michael Caylor

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 1302

Rocket Systems Engineering Education at the Undergraduate Level Michael J. Caylor, Ronald W. Humble United States Air Force Academy, CO


Cadets and faculty at the U.S. Air Force Academy are designing and building a sounding rocket powered by advanced hybrid propulsion. The eventual goal of the program is to launch a vehicle carrying a small payload to an altitude greater than 50 miles thereby achieving "space." Senior- level cadets are developing a prototype rocket to meet these objectives as part of their engineering curriculum. The primary objective of this capstone design project is to allow the cadets to synthesize what they have learned in the classroom and apply it to a challenging project within their field of study. We have found that this program significantly enhances the ability of our students to tackle ill-defined problems within a dynamic team environment.

By its very nature developing a rocket system is a multi-disciplinary endeavor. Although the participating cadets are primarily Astronautics majors, the project requires them to apply expertise from many technical disciplines including aerodynamics, mechanics, electrical engineering, computer science, and astronautics. Through the development process the students learn the value of systems engineering to pull together the diverse subsystem disciplines into a well-integrated vehicle system.

Advancements in aerospace technology are exciting and beneficial spin-offs from this effort. Cadets are performing leading-edge research and development in hybrid rocket propulsion systems that use solid fuels and liquid oxidizers for propellants. A small piston oxidizer pump is being developed to negate the need for highly pressurized vessels. The rocket system will employ lightweight composite propellant tanks, integral to the structure, to reduce mass and enhance the overall system performance. A peripheral interface controller (PIC) chip will be used to store sensor data and to initiate key flight events.

As with any significant curriculum effort, developing a rocket system with undergraduate students can be a formidable task. In particular, our program requires a substantial commitment of faculty expertise, laboratory resources, and funding. Nonetheless, overcoming these inherent challenges enables substantial student learning to occur. Our experience is that both group learning and independent thinking are enhanced, and that the curriculum provides first-hand experience in the development of aerospace technology.


An ongoing challenge in engineering education is to provide students with meaningful design projects that help them synthesize what they have learned in the classroom and to better prepare

Humble, R., & Caylor, M. (2000, June), Rocket Systems Engineering Education At The Undergraduate Level Paper presented at 2000 Annual Conference, St. Louis, Missouri. 10.18260/1-2--8673

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