UH builds a rocket-powered car

The rocket car on its first-ever run

The rocket car blasts away on its first-ever
test run at Duxford airfield

Staff and students at the University have built a rocket-powered car - full-size. The car, a Vauxhall VX220 sports car, was fitted with a large hybrid rocket motor that is designed to produce over half a tonne of thrust. Since the car weighs about the same, it should be capable of accelerating from 0 to 60mph in about three seconds - better than almost any car on the road. Top speed, however, is not much more than 60mph, for reasons of safety and due to limits on the amount of propellant stored.

All of this was achieved in only six weeks from being given the go-ahead, and the car had its first outing on Tuesday 28th February 2012. The runs were filmed and form part of an article about the Bloodhound supersonic car in the BBC1 programme Bang Goes the Theory, broadcast on Monday 30th April 2012. Although the full performance goals were not achieved, the car did complete two runs with the ignition system working as intended first time for both runs. The car was built by staff and students from the University, and will be run again to develop it, as well as making appearances at various shows and events. Click for more details...

(More news and photos - see News Archive).

Rocketry started here at the University in October 2005. The purpose is to develop a rocketry presence to motivate students, carry out some research and development and to help with student recruitment. From a fresh start, we have progressed quickly from model rockets into high-power rocketry. We have built a number of rockets, and have several being built at the moment. We have recently added a page containing some technical data and techniques.

We have one lecturer certified to UKRA/Tripoli Level 2 standard, who is a qualified Range Rafety Officer (RSO), able to supervise and certify flights up to Level 2. (See the details of the Odin.) He is currently working towards his Level 3 certification the highest possible - with his Sky Streak. Quite a few students are involved in model rockets so far, and we offer help with Level 1 certification for those who build a suitable rocket, by paying for the motor reload for their first Level 1 attempt. So far, one student has built and successfully flown a Level 1 certifying rocket.

We have close ties with Deepsky Rocket Shop, and are supplying components to them. We plan to be supplying rocket kits in the near future. We have been designing and building our own hybrid motors for a couple of years. We have worked on several TV productions, the most recent being for Scrapheap Challenge, where Ray assisted Paul Lavin of Deepsky in preparing the rocket motor for a rocket-powered railway vehicle. Ray's Ariel has also featured on TV, including the launch shown in the adjacent picture. There are more photos in the Gallery.

We run rocket workshops for schools in our area, with a talk on what it's all about, a few sums on rocket performance and a demonstration launch if the weather is right. It is sometimes possible to arrange for school groups to build and fly their own rockets - please for details.

You can download a poster in PDF format of our latest activities - the current one is March 2011 268Kb, A3 format).

Opinion: What use is space travel?

Some people think that space travel is a waste of time and money. However, it's worth considering the following point of view, seen on the website Space.com:

"If America is going to remain a global technological leader, we must inspire our youth to pursue careers in math, science and engineering. And the best way for Congress and the President to do that, in terms of benefit per dollar spent, is to promote commercial spaceflight. Today's space innovators offer an amazing story of how a nascent industry can be an example of positive change for the future of our country." Eric Anderson, Founder and CEO, Space Adventures.

This is a very insightful comment, and is also true for the UK. Space has the capacity to excite and enthuse people, and can draw them into studying maths and the sciences it's what we've been trying to do at this University for several years, through workshops and school visits. If the UK Government want more people to move away from so-called soft subjects and into maths and the sciences, it's no good crossing their fingers and making a wish; young people have to see a future for themselves that is exciting and dynamic, not boring and limiting. Space is that future.

Is it fit to fly?

We fly most often at the EARS club launches near Cambridge: Weather forecast from XCWWeather