4 Rocketry team members with Pete Naysmith at a Valiant TMS facility

Supporting University of Windsor Capstone Projects Series 1/3: Rocketry Team Designs a Commercial Off-the-Shelf Rocket

At the University of Windsor, engineering students participate in Capstone projects as an integral component of their graduation requirements. These projects challenge them to apply the theoretical knowledge they have learned in their undergraduate program to solve complex societal problems. Capstone provides an excellent platform for students to merge their classroom learning, internships, and co-op experiences to design and present projects in their respective disciplines. The culmination of these efforts is showcased during Demonstration Day at the Ed Lumley Centre for Engineering Innovation.

Having been a Capstone Endowment Partner with the University of Windsor since 2015, Pete Naysmith, Director, Service and Spare Parts, and the Valiant TMS team play a crucial role in bringing many Capstone projects to life.

This year, we were proud to sponsor three teams: Rocketry, Formula Electric, and Rover for Chicken Deadstock Collection. Dive into the journey of Rocketry below, from how they came up with their design concept to competing in New Mexico, USA, and presenting at Demonstration Day.

Stay tuned as we unveil the stories of Formula Electric and Rover for Chicken Deadstock Collection in the coming weeks!


Creating a commercial off-the-shelf rocket for University of Windsor Capstone

The Rocketry team was formed by 12 mechanical engineering students. Within 24 weeks, the team designed and built a commercial off-the-shelf rocket that could reach an altitude of 10,000 ft. using solid fuel. The rocket was also brought to New Mexico, USA, to compete at the Spaceport America Cup, the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering competition, against students from 158 other universities in 24 countries.

The application of the rocket lies in the payload section. Since the rocket has a 3U CubeSat structure (30 cm x 10 cm), one can put any experiment within those dimensions inside the payload and study the changes it experiences leading up to 10,000 ft.

“The project is called an ‘experimental sounding rocket.’ The rocket is essentially built to be reused multiple times to help save on costs. For example, with this type of rocket, you can study the physics and vibration in a life-traveling experiment. When going into space, we need to do experiments to understand what forces go into it. A company can, therefore, conduct small-scale tests using these experimental rockets, then scale up to better understand what humans would experience when traveling to space,” said Aman Thomson, Sub Team Lead – Air Brakes.


Design and manufacturing process

The team initiated the project by selecting the motor and managing weight distribution for stability. From there, they designed the blueprints of the rocket in 2D, where they ran simulations on how high it could go based on launch conditions, as well as choosing what to keep inside the rocket. Once the open rocket was set up, they proceeded to more critical designs such as stability design using CAD software, final design, CFD analysis to narrow down the shape of the nose cone, and competition analysis to choose the most optimal shape. “When we selected the desired shape based on the rocket’s speed, the last step would be deciding on the weight of the components to ensure the rocket is stable enough,” said Milind Handa, Sub Team Lead – Main Body.

Most of the manufacturing was done at the University of Windsor. At the same time, the entire mold work of the nose cone was completed at a Valiant TMS facility. Valiant TMS also supplied the team with materials to build other components for the rocket. According to Ghida Hamoud, Project Manager, many of the team’s difficulties weren’t projected when they started. “Ordering materials through the university is a time-consuming process. The good thing about Valiant TMS is that you can go out to the floor and find scrap materials that can be used to make something or fix an issue. The availability of scrap parts and machinery offered by Valiant TMS was a huge help for us,” Hamoud shared.

3 team members of the Rocketry team holding the body of a commercial-off-the-shelf rocket
The team with the body of the rocket. From left to right: Milind Handa, Ghida Hamoud, Hardik Patel.

To prevent exceeding the 10,000-ft target, the students introduced integrated air brakes to increase the rocket’s drag force and slow it down. Thanks to the air brakes, they successfully achieved an altitude of 9,200 ft., representing an 8% margin below the intended apogee.


Timelines prove to be an obstacle

The biggest challenge that the team faced was the tight schedule. All team members had to meet deadlines for both the university and the competition while having part-time jobs and internships. Since the delivery date in manufacturing wasn’t always guaranteed, the team struggled in planning and setting a realistic timeline for manufacturers and technicians to meet the university deadlines. “One thing the university didn’t prepare you for is real-life timing and how it works. We don’t have the experience to look at a part and predict its cost and lead time. We later learned that giving ourselves an extra two weeks to manufacture and ship the part was important,” said Hamoud.

They opted to produce components in-house whenever possible and used inexpensive materials to reduce expenses. By substituting machine-fabricated aluminum with wooden pallets for the nose cone and coupler molds, they achieved a 14% reduction in their mold work expense. The money saved was then allocated to support other sub teams that needed more resources — or to expedite manufacturing production by offering higher compensation to manufacturers.


Navigating design translation challenges

Additionally, the students’ lack of real-world experience made it difficult to describe to manufacturers how to transfer their designs into a real-life application. Manufacturers were also hesitant to create air brakes due to their unfamiliarity with rocketry principles. Our Director of Service and Spare Parts and the team’s industrial advisor, Pete Naysmith, helped solve this issue by personally meeting technicians in machine shops and providing clear explanations and simplified solutions that ultimately convinced them to take on the job.

Naysmith also went above and beyond to help the group prepare for their big day in New Mexico. The night before they departed for the competition, Naysmith stayed at the University of Windsor lab to help them troubleshoot a problem with the air brake’s rotational cam. Hardik Patel, Team Captain, recounted the critical moment, “There were cases where we designed something, and it didn’t work. That’s where Pete came in. We got the air brake the day before heading for the competition. We were assembling it at 9:30 pm while having to leave at 8 in the morning, and it wouldn’t work! We started panicking… until Pete came and identified the issue almost immediately. It was something that we would not have thought of.”

As no CNC shop would open at night, Naysmith went on to machine the air brake mechanism at his house before dropping it off early in the morning for the team to bring to the competition.


Successful launch at competition and post-analysis

The team finished in 4th place as a Canadian university in their category, achieving an altitude of 9,200 ft. However, they did not rest on their laurels. Upon returning to the university, they conducted a comprehensive root-cause analysis to investigate the issues with each malfunctioning component. When they met with their academic supervisor, they underwent the entire engineering process again by reviewing all potential scenarios, narrowing down possibilities, verifying available data, and cross-referencing information to pinpoint the correct root cause.

The lessons learned from this experience were later presented at the University of Windsor’s Demo Day. During the presentation, the team showcased the internal components of the rocket using a cutaway model. Their candid assessments, in-depth analyses, and recommendations for further improvement were well-received by both faculty members and junior students. Although they could not incorporate the changes into their design due to their graduation, the documented lessons are of tremendous value to next year’s students.

A cutaway model of a commercial off-the-shelf rocket
Cutaway model at Demonstration Day.
The whole Rocketry team at University of Windsor Demonstration Day.
The team at Demonstration Day. From left to right: Kevin Tebbens, Maria Gudisey, Massimo Chiodo, Milind Handa, Ghida Hamoud, Hardik Patel, Jiezhi Huang, Aman Thomson, Matthew Thamarappallil, HappyKumar Saija, Akshad Kunder, and Alma Tanin.

A bright future awaits

The team is confident about the future of their project. While the rocket is not to be reused at the Spaceport America Cup, the tests can be implemented in applications outside of rocketry. “Our material testing, for example, is beneficial to not only next year’s Rocketry team but any team that wants to use carbon fiber or Kevlar in their project. We also learned a lot about manufacturing air brakes recently and at the competition… and I think the idea of air brakes can be used in more experiments than just rockets,” said Ghida Hamoud, Project Manager.

7 team members of the Rocketry team pose in New Mexico, USA.
The team in New Mexico, USA. From left to right: Maria Gudisey, Massimo Chiodo, Aman Thomson, Ghida Hamoud, Hardik Patel, HappyKumar Saija, Milind Handa.
4 team members of the Rocketry team pose with their iron rings at the Iron Ring ceremony
The team at the Iron Ring ceremony. From left to right: Aman Thomson, Hardik Patel, Milind Handa, Ghida Hamoud.

Pete Naysmith expressed great pride when discussing the achievements of the students. “Rocketry is one of the Capstone teams at the University of Windsor that have a track record of strong performance. The accomplishments of this year’s team came as no surprise. Considering the size of the team, the funds they had, and the adversities they faced, I believe they did an excellent job,” said Naysmith.

4 Rocketry team members with Pete Naysmith at a Valiant TMS facility
The team with Pete Naysmith at a Valiant TMS facility. From left to right: Milind Handa, Hardik Patel, Pete Naysmith, Ghida Hamoud, Aman Thomson.

The rocket’s design, along with all the research and follow-up analyses, is now with the university and can be studied by other teams and future students.

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