Model Rocket Car Challenge at UKZN
The boundaries of innovative engineering design were recently tested at a model Rocket Car Challenge Workshop at UKZN’s Science and Technology Education Centre (STEC).
BLOODHOUND SSC Education Director, Mr Dave Rowley, and the BLOODHOUND SSC Education team in South Africa visited UKZN to facilitate the workshop which was the first for the South African science and education community. A total of seven teams participated in successfully building their own model rocket cars from basic materials, such as dial sticks and Styrofoam.
BLOODHOUND SSC is the most advanced racing car ever designed. Using a jet and a rocket engine, the car is designed to travel faster than a bullet when it is tested on the desert surface of Hakskeenpan in the Northern Cape later this year and in 2016.
The aim is to break the world land speed record and in so doing inspire a generation of scientists, engineers and mathematicians.
UKZN’s College of Agriculture, Engineering and Science is well versed when it comes to rocketry. The School of Engineering’s residing ‘Hybrid Sounding Rocket Programme’ (HSRP) team at Howard College launched Phoenix 1 in 2013 and Phoenix 1A last year.
A hybrid rocket uses a liquid oxidiser in combination with a solid fuel grain which combines under pressure to produce thrust.
BLOODHOUND SSC has a hybrid rocket developed and supplied by NAMMO, which uses high test peroxide (HTP) and hydroxyl terminated polybutadiene (HTPB), to produce 122 kN of thrust. HTP functions as an oxidiser, and HTPB as the solid fuel.
Despite Howard College’s successes, the Westville campus is the home of UKZN’s Science Centre, and served as the location for the rocket workshop, hosting participants from Maritzburg College, George Campbell Technical School, Clifton College, LIV Village and three teams from Wiggins Secondary.
Rowley welcomed and introduced the students to BLOODHOUND SSC and emphasised that by participating in the workshop the students were taking an active leap towards becoming scientists or engineers.
The students were put in teams and given the task of designing and building a car from a 30cm long block of Styrofoam. The design needed to be aerodynamically stable, and include wheel axles and rocket motor housing as well as being able to withstand typical forces when travelling at speeds of more than 100 km/h. This was the participants’ introduction to “rocket science”!
The teams also had to give their creations a unique name.
The range of designs and “branding” configurations the seven teams produced was outstanding. Once completed, each team got involved in testing their models which involved attaching the car to a guided-wire track and using a radio control transmitter to ignite a solid rocket motor placed inside the car. The activation of the solid rocket motor was the catalyst for high speed trajectory. Each car passed a timing device which calculated the speed of the car as it travelled past. All teams were then required to reload their designs for a repeat run.
The necessity of a repeat run is consistent with BLOODHOUND SSC plans for Hakskeenpan, when the world’s-fastest car will need two test runs within an hour of each other to validate its average speed.
Teams then went to the Vibration Research and Testing Centre (VRTC), which facility was kindly made available by Mr Pravesh Moodley. This 95m long, temperature related facility is used by Engineering students with the conductor vibration test rig. Protected from the elements and with a smooth concrete floor, the VRTC proved a perfect run site for cars. Pan African Pyrotechnics supplied the equipment for the testing, while Edit Microsystems provided the timing device to calculate the average speed of each team’s car.
Team members lined up alongside the track to marvel at their creations being ignited from the start of the track in a flurry of flame and smoke. Mr Simon Watson of Pan African Pyrotechnics loaded the cars onto the wire track one after the other. The first car, the creation of the George Campbell Technical team, reached an impressive speed of 122 km/h while the Maritzburg College design achieved 138 km/h.
After each car had completed two runs, the teams returned to STEC to debrief on the top speeds of each car. The Clifton College design clocked the fastest average speed of 152.15 km/h.
BLOOHOUND hopes to organise many more rocket car challenges in South Africa. The Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor, has said she would like to see the challenge launched through all science centres.
To find out more, follow the project at www.bloodhoundssc.com
Christopher Maxwell, BLOODHOUND SSC