|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Long Beach Press-Telegram 3-14-04
Rocket program sets off hope
In April 2002, a team of Cal State Long Beach students waited anxiously in the Mojave Desert as the countdown began. Soon they would know if their months of work building an innovative rocket engine would pay off.
But not the "boom' they were looking for. Two hundred milliseconds after ignition, their "aerospike' rocket engine exploded, causing a fire.
The students participating in the California Launch Vehicle Education Initiative, a private-public partnership between CSULB and Garvey Spacecraft Corp., were crushed.
John Garvey, CEO of the aerospace firm, told the sullen students that the engine test wasn't a failure, just a necessary step in the innovation process.
"They looked at me like, 'What are you talking about?" said Garvey, whose Huntington Beach firm works with CSULB undergraduates to create inexpensive, innovative rocket technology.
That setback didn't stop the CSULB team.
After fixing the problem, they went back to the Mojave Desert last September and conducted a successful flight test of their 1,000-pound thrust "aerospike' rocket. The 13-foot-long rocket made of aluminum, wood and resin-coated graphite cloth, was fueled by liquid oxygen and ethanol.
The "aerospike' rocket engine is designed to self-adjust to pressure changes as it climbs through the atmosphere. That would make it more efficient than conventional rocket engines, which are designed to operate optimally at a single altitude.
The aerospike engine was investigated in the 1960s and again in the 1990s, but until the CSULB team stepped in, no aerospike engine using liquid propellant had ever powered a rocket in flight.
And the CSULB rocket team accomplished the feat without the benefit of a multi-million dollar budget.
"The challenge is to do it in this environment, using off-the- shelf technologies,' Garvey said recently, as about a dozen students stood around him in a CSULB lab working on their next rocket, the NLV - a 25-foot-tall, dual-stage rocket that will run on propylene.
But as important as the scientific breakthroughs is the hands-on experience the rocket program gives the team of 30 to 50 undergraduates. Students spend hours each week working at night in the large lab, applying their classroom knowledge to real-world engineering problems.
Engineering students "do a lot of theory, but we also want them to get the hands-on part,' said Dr. Eric Besnard, a CSULB aerospace engineering lecturer who runs the program.
That experience translates into an impressive addition to students' resumes, Garvey said.
"They can go out into the aerospace industry and say what they did, and it's going to mean something,' he said.
Ashley Carter, a senior aerospace engineering student, says the program has given her a glimpse at how industry professionals interact.
"It's definitely giving me the experience and confidence to go out into the job world,' said Carter, who expects to graduate in May.
Garvey shopped around for universities to partner with for the program, but ultimately settled on CSULB.
"You got to have a good attitude to make it work, and that's why we're at Cal State Long Beach,' he said.
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