Senior year means that the fun finally begins. And I am not talking about the typical partying and shenanigans that might pervade an ordinary college student’s life. As a mechanical engineering student, my definition of fun is a bit different. After three years of class and book work, it is finally time to get the “hands on” experience that my fellow peers and I longed for ever since graduating high school. I am talking about my senior capstone project!
To elaborate, every senior on campus is required to do some sort of senior capstone that encompasses what they have learned over the past three years while in attendance at LMU. For other majors, this “capstone” may be referred to as a “senior thesis” or “senior project.” Some of my non-engineering friends are conducting different types of research and then writing about it, or they have to come up with some sort of ultimate business/marketing plan, etc. Nineteen other senior engineers and I get to build a rocket. Yes, you read correctly. For the past five months, I have been working alongside four of my fellow peers designing, simulating, and constructing a high-power rocket. Finally in my life, I am allowed to say, “It is rocket science!” This high-power rocket has a few restrictions. Like I mentioned, there are about 20 of us senior mechanical engineers that get to build a rocket. We were split into different groups and given a $1,000 budget per group by the school. Using this $1,000 budget, each group has to be able to customize their own individual rocket, while having to hit a few key requirements. For example, each team is aiming to hit a rocket apogee of 3,000 feet — which is just over half a mile, to give you a better perspective. We have to use a Level 1 high power motor, which means at least one person from every group needs to become “L1 high power certified.” This certification is done on this person’s own time, but has to be completed before our launch day on April 9, 2016. Each team is required to use what is called a “dual-deployment system,” which plays a major factor in our overall design of the reusable rocket. This means that when we recover the rocket after its initial launch, it must be able to be easily reassembled and in contact so that we can launch it again. There are more requirements, but I will not bore you with the details.
This may seem like a daunting task, seeing as though none of us are “aerospace engineers” and many of us have little to no experience with building a rocket to this scale. Luckily for us, our advisor that has been our point of contact throughout this year is LMU alum, Dan Larson. Dan currently works for SpaceX, which is known for its innovative and groundbreaking changes in the aerospace/rocket industry. Even though Dan was the one who created these requirements and guidelines for us to abide by, it really has been up to us students to do the research, and make all the decisions using the knowledge we have gained these past few years when it came to the ultimate design of the rocket. Size, weight, placement of certain parts and materials used for the rocket are all major factors that our groups have discussed to then be reviewed by Dan. Currently, we are in the actual construction phase of our capstone project and are looking to complete it within the next few weeks. When all is said and done, my group’s rocket will stand at roughly six feet tall, about three inches in diameter, and weigh about eight pounds. I couldn’t be more excited to see my group’s hard work be put in action!