Where: Propulsion Research Center, University of Alabama in Huntsville
What You’ll Learn: What will make up the future of rocket-propulsion systems
Job Prospects: Aeronautical engineer, mechanical engineer
Typical Assignment: Test burn rates of new propellants
Each year, 20 aeronautical- and mechanical-engineering students get eight months to design, construct, and fly a rocket to a height of exactly 5,280 feet. These aren’t hobby rockets, which typically fly to less than 1,000 feet (any higher requires an FAA permit). “Consider that an A engine is half as strong as a B engine, and so on,” says engineering professor Marlow Moser. “The rockets you shoot off in the park: A and B engines. Our rockets: L engines.”
Last year’s class built a 37-pound, 8.5-foot-long carbon-fiber projectile with advanced data-collection systems onboard. The nosecone carried a video camera and avionics to record the rocket’s flight path and other information; the aft end, temperature and strain sensors.
Students enter their rocket in a NASA-sponsored student rocket-launching competition and present a report to the space agency’s scientists and engineers as if they were a company vying for a contract. Although the presentation is just an academic exercise, several rocket-crew alums go on to work for NASA, which has its Marshall Space Flight Center just down the road from UAH.
“Here, students are playing with fire and explosives all day,” Moser says. “It doesn’t get much better than that.”single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.