Purdue SEDS team wins Technical Project of Year at SpaceVision

The Purdue Space Program Liquids team was awarded by the national SEDS organization.

Christopher Nilsen looked down and saw people sitting, legs crossed, on the floor. Saw others clogging the aisles. Others, standing outside the doorway, contorting bodies, doing their best to hear.

Nilsen couldn’t quite believe it.

But he also kind of could.

The Purdue Space Program Liquids team, part of Purdue’s Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS), had generated considerable attention over the past year-plus with its work on a liquid oxygen-liquid methane rocket. Nilsen, the president of SEDS, says Purdue’s team is one of only five college teams in the world that has a functioning liquid rocket.

But Purdue’s rocket is the only one with dual cryogens. And the only liquid-liquid rocket designed entirely by students. And, perhaps, the first one to actually complete a successful launch and flight, hopefully in March.

It’s how PSP Liquids has been able to design, build and test its “Boomie Zoomie” rocket that had so many people packed into a room in early November at SpaceVision, the national SEDS conference. After giving a presentation on the rocket, Nilsen was approached by a gentleman who praised the project as one of the most impressive he’d seen by a student group. The next day, Nilsen saw the man giving a keynote talk at the conference: He was Roger Simpson, the program manager for NASA’s Rocket Propulsion Test Program Office.

That same day, Nilsen and his PSP Liquids team were awarded the “Technical Project of the Year” by the national SEDS organization.

Considering the turnout for the presentation, Nilsen wasn’t exactly surprised by the award. But still no less proud of the team’s accomplishment.

A hot test fire of the 'Boomie Zoomie' earlier this year.

“It was very cool,” says Nilsen, a senior in multidisciplinary engineering. “We had a following. People were actually asking us questions. They knew who we were before we got there. They knew the rocket before they got there. Students from Arizona State said, ‘We saw your rocket. Now, we’re building one, too, because it’s so cool.’  We’ve kind of spurred a little movement, I guess, that people want to do the same thing.”

Nilsen will write another paper and give a presentation about the project at AIAA’s Science and Technology Forum and Exposition (SciTech) in January 2019.

Currently, the team, which consists of 61 percent AAE students, is assembling the trailer that will house the methane condenser and all the fluid systems. The estimated launch date is March.

“It’s just a matter of taking everything from the courtyard where we tested to putting it on the trailer. There’s no great engineering feats left. There’s just getting it all on the trailer and praying. Lots and lots of praying and hoping,” Nilsen says with a laugh.

Though the project initially started to compete in the FAR-MARS competition, which offered $50,000 to student-built bi-propellant liquid fueled rockets that traveled 45,000 feet and additional $50,000 if the propellants were liquid oxygen/liquid methane, that’s not necessarily the end game. Nilsen says the team knows its rocket won’t meet the competition’s minimum requirement of 30,000 feet, but he thinks it still can set records.

The highest student bi-prop rocket is about 12,000 feet, he says, and Purdue’s should reach 20,000 or so.

“But that’s not the goal,” Nilsen says. “Our goal right now is just to get it off the pad and back down again. … I’m pretty confident we’ll be OK.”