Student Projects Edition: ICL Rocketry

Imperial College London Rocketry (ICL Rocketry) is a fully-student-led and organised project at Imperial College London (UK), focusing on the design and manufacturing of sounding rockets.

Founded in late 2018, the team has been working on the development of a 4-meter tall rocket to compete at Spaceport America Cup, an intercollegiate competition held annually at Virgin Galactic’s spaceport in New Mexico (USA). The team gathers some 80 aeronautical engineering students, with approximately 50 of them working towards the competition.

One of our founders had encountered Valispace at an ESA Concurrent Engineering Design workshop and quickly realised how useful Valispace could be to the team. Valispace has been supporting our project since early 2019, and it has been an exciting journey so far with them.

Designing a rocket is a complex task, especially when we are building our own hybrid engine, ground support system, 3U CubeSat payload, the electronics and avionics, the airframe and recovery subsystems.
Each subsystem is, by itself, a piece of engineering that involves 10 or more students.

Mass and safety factors require particular attention.
Small changes in one part cause a ripple effect that causes many other parts of our design, causing a sizable change in our end mass budget. We need to be compliant with many safety rules and regulations: both in the UK and the US.
As it turns out, there is a fairly thin line between what is legally considered a safe sounding rocket and what is considered a bomb or a missile. To keep track of tens or even hundreds of dimensions, our systems team initially attempted to create an Excel sheet; and use its in-built features. This very, very quickly proved to be impractical.
Trying to monitor all the values in an Excel sheet leads to a complicated mess of formulas and inter-connected values, and much effort was spent in keeping it up to date. Given that the formulas were created by hand, it leaves a large room for error in each parameter, which compromises both optimisation and safety.

On this front, Valispace has been an invaluable help.
Valispace provided a centralized location for every team member, with a few people to link together all the dependencies within our project. As the changes are propagated within the platform, different sub-teams were then able to smoothly accommodate any changes that resulted from a modification.
Features such as the margins tool were a great help for the systems team in identifying how sensitive to change some features are, and the automatic notifications system made it easy for us to stay on top of everything. We also made some basic use of Valispace’s requirements module to ensure our rocket parts, as well as the assembly as a whole, were within the boundaries of the previously mentioned mass and safety restrictions.

Overall, even a fairly basic usage of Valispace removed much of the headache of trying to manage systems engineering. Having a centralized and organised repository for our numerical data allowed the team to achieve data-driven engineering. It enables us to easily track changes and resulted in a huge improvement in quality of life for our project.
This automation allowed the systems team to focus on more advanced strategies to improve the design process for the team.

Our next steps include a full use of the requirements feature to validate compliance at the component-level automatically, as well as integrating Valispace with other software such as MATLAB and Fusion 360.
In particular, the team is working on integrating the generative design tool provided by Autodesk’s Fusion 360 with Valispace to create an innovative, flexible and efficient design cycle to cheaply produce mass-optimised components for aerospace applications.

More on this in a future blog post.
We look forward to continuing our cooperation with Valispace in the future!

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