Rocket Launching Air Vehicle

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Group Design Project
The design of a glider to be used as a reusable lauch vehicle for the air launching of rockets
Group Members
Jody Baralla, Matthew Carr, Laksha Chopra, Alex McConville, Naresh Krishna Gopikrishnan, Anurudhha Higgoda, Greg Kelleher, Ben Kettle, Jason Williams

Supervisors
Dr. András Sóbester, Professor Jim Scanlan

The aim of this project was to design, build, test and fly an unmanned glider equipped with autonomous soaring capabilities in order to carry out a “proof of concept” in flight rocket test exploring the feasibility of a glider being used as a reusable launch vehicle for air launching rockets in the future.

The fuel emissions of the project should be kept to a minimum to satisfy an environmentally friendly criterion for the launch system. This was in an effort to reduce the cost of deploying small mass payloads into space by reducing the fuel necessary for launches after rising above the densest part of the atmosphere with the rocket in a glider.

A glider design was established which incorporated the rocket into the fuselage of the design, housed inside a rotating mechanism which allowed the rocket to be fired both at an angle and vertically whilst the glider remained in horizontal, steady, level flight. This was to improve the stability of the rocket upon launch, without the need for unsteady pitch up manoeuvres from the glider. Also designed was a multi stage rocket system, capable of launch from a ground support mechanism, which was capable of carrying a payload, so that an idea of a scaled up rocket design could be established.

It was found, through simulations, wind tunnel testing and flight tests that the design was capable of autonomous soaring with the capability to hunt for thermally rising air and use this thermal energy to gain altitude. Furthermore, stable flight before and after the rocket launch and the resulting centre of gravity shift was possible, and the glider recovered from the impulse generated by a rocket launch from the fuselage.

Following a scaling analysis of the rocket from small scale, to one capable of carrying a payload to space, it is believed that the adverse effects of drag and centre of gravity shift of the glider, and the mass of the rocket necessary to achieve this goal would make the design explored unfeasible. This pointed towards the need of thinking about alternative launch mechanisms that would be required for a larger sized rocket.

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