UT Austin Rocketry Student Lab Strives to Develop Space Rocket for Base 11 Challenge

The student-led team at UT Austin partnered with NI to tackle the challenge.

(Image courtesy of Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.)

(Image courtesy of Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.)

Industry interest in space exploration is increasing. To make that happen, a new generation of engineers needs to be developed that can grow the industry.

The goal of the Base 11 Space Challenge is to encourage universities to bolster their rocketry programs. Teams of students will have the opportunity to build a liquid-fueled rocket that can reach space. The first team to do so will win a $1 million grand prize.

One such team is from the Texas Rocket Engineering Lab (TREL) in the Cockrell School of Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin. The rocket they are developing will be the most powerful collegiate rocket ever built. If successful, their rocket, named Halcyon, will go 30 times farther than the last collegiate liquid bipropellant rocket.

An aspect that makes the Base 11 Space Challenge particularly beneficial is its focus on strengthening the participation of underrepresented minorities and women.

“Space exploration is the new economic frontier and should be open to all—not just big business, government and the ultra-rich,” said Landon Taylor, the founder of the student competition, in a statement. “That’s why we’re leveling the playing field by partnering with industry, academia, government and philanthropy to empower high-potential low-resource students across the country with the mindset, skills and resources they need to stake their claim on what is forecasted to become a $2.7 trillion industry in the next 30 years.”

The competition is expected to foster many partnerships. TREL, for instance, has partnered with NI. NI is supporting the team with testing hardware, simulation systems and, more importantly, mentorship. With NI’s support, the students are preparing for their first hotfire test. The test is a full-scale burn of the engine. This is no small feat. The TXE-1 engine they have designed generates 2,500 pounds of thrust.

Phase 1 Winners

In addition to the grand prize, Base 11 includes a series of prizes for each development phase. Phase 1 focused on the design, which required the students to complete a high-level design of the rocket. They had to demonstrate the soundness of their design and support it with calculations, analysis, simulation and/or initial test data.

(Image courtesy of Base 11.)

(Image courtesy of Base 11.)

The work of the students in Phase 1 has already astounded the judges.

“If this first year has taught us anything, it’s how exciting and unpredictable this field is,” Taylor said. “The boldest goals, the greatest innovations and the strongest determination can come from unexpected places.”

Three teams won in Phase 1. The University of Michigan won first place ($25,000), Concordia University took second place ($15,000) and Portland State University was third place ($10,000). The next phase is Critical Design, which will require students to iterate and refine their designs.

Participating in the competition will give students valuable hands-on experience that will help them in their future careers.

Stefan deBurn, a senior student on the TREL team, explained, “Working with NI to test Halcyon has been a privilege. The experience is invaluable, as this level of dynamic testing is generally outside the scope of university classwork but ubiquitous in industry. With our new ability to test Halcyon in a wide range of mission scenarios, come launch day, we’ll be prepared for anything.”