A second success for the team of the Politecnico di Milano.
Skyward is a multidisciplinary association that brings together engineers from different faculties (aerospace, mechanics, computer science, electronics) at the Politecnico di Milano for designing aerospace rockets – and unlike any other such association in the international arena of higher education in that it has designed and created rockets for ten years now – won the 2022 edition of EuRoC.
EuRoC is the first university rocket launch competition in Europe, sponsored by Portugal Space that brings together students from across our continent to “launch” their projects and encourage them to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects) and develop technological skills.
This resounding success follows on from the “category” success that Skyward achieved in 2021.
EuRoC is a proving ground for rockets that can “reproduce” the conduct of a real aerospace mission for putting a satellite into orbit, in a certain place and at a certain time. The competition is divided into two categories – 3,000 and 9,000 meters – awarding those who manage to get closest to the target height and then to return their rocket intact to a specific place.
Skyward participated in the 3,000-meter competition, where projects are considered, according to a set of criteria, for various awards:
- EuroC Award, the overall ranking
- Technical Award for the best technical report
- Team Award determined by a score based on how organized and reliable the team is during the year of preparation and then during the course of the competition.
- New Space Award interpreting the market desirability of the rocket.
- Flight Award for the flight performance of the rocket.
In 2022, Skyward won the EuroC Award, the Technical Award, and was runner up for the Team Award and Flight Award given, however, to other teams.
There were also the Anacom Awards, sponsored by a Portuguese company that took first and second prize for both telemetries mounted on the two components of the rocket.
In 2022, 19 out of the 25 registered teams took part in EuRoC.
The Pyxis rocket and the role of Rollon (and linear motion)
The rocket designed by Skyward is known as Pyxis, and has the following “technical specifications”:
- 5 meters in length
- 15 cm in diameter (to accommodate the air brakes)
- 14 kg when empty – 21 kg with engine.
- It was built from carbon fiber and glass to reduce the weight and to allow the transmission of data to the ground for the purposes of telemetry (the glass fiber enables this). Aluminum was used for the connections between compartments, the flanges and air brakes
According to the official telemetry, the rocket reached a height of 3033 meters during the competition, and was recovered intact at the pre-set location. This was not an insignificant achievement, and the Rollon linear rails played an important part.
Let’s see why.
The Pyxis is powered by a solid propellant engine, which once switched on cannot be either turned off or adjusted, and which has to propel the rocket up to a height of 3,000 meters. In order to meet its target height as closely as possible, when it reaches 1,000 meters the rocket opens up its air brakes – systems that are controlled by the rocket itself with the help of telemetry and the on-board technology. It then gradually reduces its cruising speed to get as close as possible to the 3,000-meter target, extending and withdrawing its air brakes according to the data it receives.
The aluminum air brakes are pushed out by the linear movement of Rollon’s Mini Mono Rails inside the rocket.
The linear rails were needed to reduce friction between the components as far as possible, and to allow the air brakes to be extended and withdrawn at a speed very close to that of sound (or of a large airliner): i.e. 1,000 km/hr.
The air brakes are only about the size of a credit card, and under these conditions they are subjected to a pressure of about 30kg. Without a system of high-performing rails, it would not be possible to open and adjust the air brakes in the correct manner, making it impossible to reach the target height of 3000 meters.
Hence the choice of a reliable linear rail such as that of Rollon, which offered sufficient rigidity and could also ensure the right load capacity.
Rollon’s choice of solution
The choice of the Rollon solution brings together companies in the same territory to form long-lasting partnerships and help generate shared value for the territory itself, and was based on Pyxis’ real need to solve an as yet unsolved problem.
In detail, the extraction of the aerobrakes involves movement of the rail while the slider remains inside the rocket compartment. The extraction of the aerobrake therefore puts the rail in the condition of flexing, which is why the Rollon solution, which can guarantee maximum stiffness, was ultimately chosen.
The company’s engineering department evaluated the requirements and identified the product – Mini Mono Rail -that provided the right performance in terms of stiffness, reliability and sliding quality with a low coefficient of friction when implemented. All in a very small space.
The quality of sliding is ensured for extraction, but also for reinsertion of the aerobrakes into the body of the rocket: the aerobrakes must not snag on the parachute that opens when the rocket reaches its apogee, splits its two components and begins its descent.
This recovery does not necessarily have to be “harnessed” by rails and aerobrakes, but rather – guided by the servo motor with GPS system connected to the on-board telemetry – can duly control the parachute and guide the component of the rocket to the intended drop and recovery point.
Supporting research and the region, investing in technology
The success of the project, and the mutual satisfaction of Skyward and Rollon, has set the course of a collaboration that will continue in 2023.
The project is also indicative of the company’s commitment to social sustainability – with free direct support for the Skyward initiative (and others) – and technology investments in keeping with our times.
Indeed, aerospace is an area that requires high skills, an ability to manage complexity, and a capacity for problem solving. It is also a sector that impacts the development of technology in a broader way, producing advances that extend into other areas of application.
Rollon’s leadership in this area is clear and firmly established. The success of Pyxis is confirmation of this.