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Year 2 Rocket Project

2008-9 and 2009-10 have been exciting years for the electronic engineering stream in the School of Engineering. In 2008-9 and 2009-10, 46 and 38 students respectively designed and built model rocket telemetry systems, to measure the altitude and apogee of the rocket. The project culminated in launching of the rockets which provided them and staff alike with an enjoyable and satisfying experience!

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Project Background

This is a new project which was created and run for the first time in 2008-9, as part of the second year ES2A4 Electronics Design module. This module is taken by students if they are following the electronics stream in year 2 (pathway 1). The project has been designed to follow a similar structure to the ES2A3 Design and Durability module, which the other students in year 2 follow (pathway 2). It accounts for almost half of the module credit and runs throughout the whole year, giving students a valuable experience in design, simulation, prototype circuit development, construction and testing. These are all skills required in a professional electronic engineering envrionment. One particular skill it also develops is the circuit fault-finding - indeed this is a great opportunity for students to hone these skills at this stage in their development.

The sensing circuits were designed by the students, detecting acceleration, pressure and magnetic field. This allowed the data - which was recorded on board the rocket - to be analysed after the launch to estimate the altitude of the rocket. In term 1, the students individually designed and simulated the magnetic apogee sensor. (The apogee is the top of the rocket trajectory where the rocket starts to point downwards again.) In term 2, the students formed groups and built the prototype sensor circuits on breadboard. Following testing, they then constructed the final circuit boards into term 3, before launching the rockets a few weeks into term 3.

Model Rockets

The model rockets used were constructed from SLS Hustler KV-11 kits. These consist of a cardboard body tube, balsa wood nose cone and balsa wood fins. The rocket motor (engine) - similar to a firework - is fixed in the bottom of the rocket. In addition to launching the rocket from the launch pad it also fires an ejection charge after launch, deploying the parachute to make sure the rocket flies back safely to ground. The payload in the rocket type used here is large enough to accommodate the circuit.

Inside the rocket.
The circuit is placed inside the payload.
Rocket flight: 1: Launch; 2: cruise;
3: ejection; 4: descent.
The apogee is at the top.

Constructing the Circuit

Testing the PIC datalogger
in the lab

Testing the sensors in the

Soldering components on
to the circuit board
Testing the pressure sensor
Testing the pressure sensor
A completed circuit board

Launch Success

The 2008-9 launch took place at the monthly Black Knights Rocket Club launch at Oxhill, between Stratford and Banbury, on 17 May 2009. We had almost three hours of suitable flying weather, despite the rain showers! The 2009-10 launch was at Shipston High School in Shipston-on-Stour, on 19 May 2010, with much better weather.

Each group came along with their own instrumentation and datalogger circuit. Rockets were fired for each group, so they could collect data from the flight. The months of hard work seemed to pay off as most of the circuits worked!

Video of the launch session (2008-9)

Video of the launch session (2009-10)


Preparing the rocket
for launch
Preparing the rocket
for launch on the pad
A gentle descent by
Examining the rocket
after landing
David Beeton holding
a rather larger rocket


Safety briefing - essential since the
motors (engines) burn very hot!

Preparing the motors (engines) and
parachutes for launch
Setting up launch on the school playing
imag0082_small.jpgAttaching the igniters to the launch
Some proud rocketeers!
Preparing for the more powerful motor

Flight Data: Results

The results we get vary between circuits and launch conditions. The pictures below show a selection of typical results obtained.

The raw data comes back as 4 voltage signals from the PIC microcontroller on board. There is a signal for each of the pressure and acceleration sensors, and two signals from the magnetic apogee sensor:


The acceleration is then calculated from the data (likewise the pressure):


Finally, the altitude is calculated from both the acceleration and pressure, and these two estimates of the altitude are compared. You can see they match very well! The first apogee pulse also occurs very near to apogee (maximum height), showing that this works too.


Looking Forward

The project will run again next year (2010-11), with a new cohort of students to take on. We hope to build on the last two years with further years of successful circuits and launches!


Project supervisors: Dr Angus Bryant, Dr Annette Muetze, Dr Duncan Billson, Dr Neil Storey
Launch director: David Beeton (Black Knights Rocket Club)
Technical support: Gavin Downs, Ian Griffith, Martyn Darby
Teaching and admin support: Dr Tony Price, Terry Vygus, the staff in the EUO
Filming: Dr Mike Jennings, Kennith Leong
Lab demonstrators: Peter Gammon, Martin Westmoreland, Kennith Leong, Graham Roberts
Hosts: the landowner at Oxhill and Shipston High School for hosting the launch

...and finally the students themselves for their hard work over the two years and for turning up for the launches!

Dr Angus Bryant
15th June 2009
Updated 20th May 2010