Fly back home: studying re-usable rockets

27 Jun 2017

Stuart Loughrey is a fifth-year mechanical and aerospace engineering student. Stuart is currently working on his thesis, on the topic ‘Flight testing of a prototype fly-back rocket booster’.

Stuart’s project looks at re-usable rocket technology and, in particular, the first stage of a multi-stage rocket. He told us about his project:

“Professor Michael Smart and his team from the UQ Centre for Hypersonics have developed their own design for a re-usable first-stage rocket whereby, following the rocket’s initial ascent and the discarding of the first stage, the first stage is then flown back as a more conventional fixed-wing aircraft structure which allows it to be re-used.

“The use of a swing wing on the rocket enables this process.

“My project is looking at the component of the rocket’s flight where it is in fixed-wing configuration. The flight test aircraft we are using is a one-third scaled radio controlled model.

“Basically, we want to understand and identify the flight characteristics of the aircraft, for example, how it responds to control inputs or other disturbances during flight.

“There are a couple of reasons for this.

“Firstly, by analysing how the sub-scale aircraft flies, it will help identify any design modifications that may be required for the full-scale aircraft to perform adequately, and secondly, since the end goal is to have this first-stage rocket return autonomously, knowing how the aircraft responds during flight will assist in designing suitable control systems.

“Through the flight test we wanted to collect data of the aircraft’s flight, for example what controls were input and the output of the aircraft- such as accelerations, velocities, angles that the aircraft is flying at.

“In order to achieve this, the aircraft was fitted with sensors capable of measuring and recording such data.

"Dawid Preller and Hugh Cronin from Australian Droid and Robot made the aircraft and provided equipment and assistance to me throughout the process of making modifications for this flight test.

"Dawid, who is also a PhD candidate at the UQ Centre for Hypersonics flew the aircraft during the testing, too.

“The next step will be to analyse this flight data to identify its aerodynamic characteristics and, then potentially to do more flight tests if we find we require further data.”

Watch the video of the flight test below.