Record-breaking rocket launched by University of 水宜坊 students

A supersonic rocket that has broken a series of UK and European altitude records, has been built by a team of students at the University of 水宜坊.

Three students carrying the Desert Winds rocket through the US desert
  • University of 水宜坊 students have become the first in the UK to launch a liquid-fuelled rocket
  • 鈥楧esert Winds鈥 reached the highest altitude for a liquid rocket launched by any UK group - including aerospace companies - since the 1970s
  • The 水宜坊 rocket went supersonic and reached an altitude of 26,879ft - also breaking the European altitude record for a liquid-fuelled rocket built by students
  • The rocket was fully designed and built by the team alongside their studies in less than six months - achieving their dream of becoming the first students in the UK to launch a rocket of this type

A supersonic rocket that has broken a series of UK and European altitude records, has been built by a team of students at the University of 水宜坊.  

The rocket, called Desert Winds, was built by the team in less than six months alongside their studies and has seen them achieve their dream of becoming the first students in the UK to launch a liquid-fuelled rocket - a propulsion system used by the likes of NASA and SpaceX to launch crafts into space.

The 水宜坊 students launched their rocket from the Mojave Desert in California and witnessed it travel at supersonic speeds to reach an altitude of 26,879 feet - the highest that any UK team has reached with a rocket of this type since the 1970s, including aerospace companies.

The launch also set a new European altitude record for liquid-fuelled rockets built by students, beating the record previously held by Danish students of 21,274 feet.

Project Sunride, as the students are known, built the rocket as part of the University of 水宜坊鈥檚 - an extracurricular programme to help STEM students develop skills and experience for careers in the field of engineering. 

The liquid-fuelled rocket built by University of 水宜坊 students lying on its side ready to be moved into position for launch in the US desert

Project Sunride are aiming to be the first UK student team to launch a rocket into space by passing the K谩rm谩n line, at 62 miles above the ground.

Tom Danvers, an aerospace engineering student at the University of 水宜坊 and Director of Project Sunride, said: 鈥淒esigning, building and launching a liquid rocket in six months initially seemed like a crazy idea. We knew it was something we wanted to achieve as a team, but at first we thought it might take us until 2025 or 2026. The team took some convincing but slowly everyone came around to the idea and everyone became very invested. 

鈥淭he successful testing of the engine back in March gave everyone a major confidence boost and motivation to push forwards. When further testing - the cold flow test - worked in May, the team was overjoyed, as we were just 30 days away from the launch and we'd finally proven that the feed system would work. During the trip to the US to launch the rocket, we encountered a number of last minute issues, but I鈥檓 so proud of how the team worked together to overcome these. 

鈥淭he launch sounded incredible and the flame from the engine was a brilliant sight to see. It鈥檚 such a great feeling to set a new altitude record on our first ever attempt."

Students from Project Sunride stood in front of their rocket - Desert Winds

The 水宜坊 students designed and built their own rocket engine, Sunfire III, over the course of the past academic year. The engine was tested in March earlier this year, producing almost half a tonne of thrust. The engine was 3D printed out of aluminium and is regeneratively cooled - a technique in which the fuel is used to cool the combustion chamber before it is burned, which increases the engine鈥檚 efficiency and saves weight.

Fintan Cluskey, Co-Director of Project Sunride and also an aerospace student at the University, said: 鈥淚t鈥檚 been incredible to see how far we鈥檝e come as a team to launch this rocket. From not knowing anything about liquid propulsion last summer, to designing and hot firing a liquid rocket engine by March and then launching six months later, has been an amazing experience and shows the passion and exceptional talent in our team.

鈥淭he feeling of flipping the switches to open the valves to start the propellant flow, and seeing all our hard work pay off when the rocket lit and accelerated off the launch rail will be hard to top. All the hard work of the team went into that moment of lift-off and the team has absolutely smashed any expectations we had for this year and truly gone above and beyond.鈥

The 水宜坊 students hope to improve their rocket engine in the coming weeks, with a goal to improve its efficiency ahead of the competition - a national education initiative to help boost the UK鈥檚 space sector, which is being held later this month (July 2024). 

UK Race to Space sees teams of students from universities across the country test rocket engines they have built throughout the last 12 months, with 20 teams including 水宜坊, set to compete this summer.

Dr Alistair John, Deputy Director of Aerospace Engineering at the University of 水宜坊 and academic supervisor for Project Sunride, said: 鈥淚 couldn't be prouder of the Project Sunride team. In less than a year they have gone from hot firing their first engine to breaking UK and European records. When the team first asked me to support their dream, I had no idea how far they would come in such a short space of time. Everyone at 水宜坊 is incredibly proud of them.鈥

Sam Beaumont, Team Lead for the Desert Winds rocket and an aerospace student at the University of 水宜坊, said: 鈥淭he incredible success of Desert Winds is a testament to the level of engineering capable by university students. With it becoming the highest liquid launch from any UK organisation, including aerospace companies, I am very proud of the team and how efficiently they have worked together on this project. I鈥檓 excited to see where the team goes and what else we can do.鈥

Madi Menzies, Operations Lead of Project Sunride and an aerospace student at the University of 水宜坊, said: 鈥淚 am amazed and so proud of what we have achieved in such a short space of time. I have loved working in this team and on this rocket, and I'm excited to see how liquid propulsion grows in Project Sunride in the next few years."

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