UQ engineering team blitzes NASA competition

Designing and building rockets and sending them into space is one of the most expensive endeavours on earth, costing upwards of $500 million.

But a team of University of Queensland engineers has come up with a cheap 3D-printable solution, earning them first place in the NASA Brisbane International Space Apps Challenge and an invitation to the international competition.

UQ engineering team blitzes NASA competition
UQ Rocket3D team (Photo credit: UQ)

The Rocket3D team, made up of UQ tunnel engineer Sam Grieve, and Thomas Reddell and Jianyong Wang, PhD students at the School of Mechanical and Mining Engineering, were given a brief to design a rocket that could be built inside the Kennedy Space Center.

“We chose to design a 3D-printed rocket because the technology has many advantages and it’s much easier to create complex geometries” Mr Grieve said.

“One guy in the competition produced a fully functioning asteroid mining computer game, which was absolutely amazing! It was a huge honour to be selected over that.”

The UQ engineering Rocket3D team incorporated an unconventional features into their design—an Aerospike engine—which they said would potentially provide a 30 per cent increase in fuel efficiency.

“Usually these engines aren’t used as they have problems with cooling, but a 3D-printed version could incorporate complex cooling channels as well as mass air pockets to improve cooling,” Mr Grieve said.

The competition, which challenges teams to find solutions to complex problems within 48 hours, is run simultaneously at locations around the world.

Ideas are summarised into a 10-minute pitch to a judging panel that considers if projects could be turned into viable product.

“Having a background studying and working at UQ was certainly a great advantage, as I had the confidence to approach problems that were new and unusual,” Mr Grieve said.

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