To stoke the curiosity of their fellow St. Petersburg College students about rocket science, Gentian Kruja and Thong Van decided to build one.
This summer, they hope to witness the static firing of their supersonic creation, which uses their own hybrid engine design. The rocket will not take flight but remain on the ground when it’s fired, a mighty accomplishment for the budding engineers.
“The idea started in the Engineering Club,” said Kruja, who graduates in May. “It snowballed from there and we got more ambitious.”
At the recent Honors College Research Conference held at SPC’s Collaborative Labs, Kruja and Van presented their project and what went into it. Turns out taking it to their engineering professor John Williams was their first obstacle.
“I was somewhat negative about it because of safety and legality,” said Williams, who has taught at SPC since 2001. “I tried to discourage them because I thought it was too dangerous. That kind of spurred them on to keep asking about it.”
Once cleared for, ahem, takeoff, the pair talked to everyone they could who knew about rocket science. They read extensively about the best propellants for their rocket, beginning with the website of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). They also reviewed free graduate course materials on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Open Courseware website.
Usually a graduate level mission, Kruja and Van didn’t let that stop them.
“They called a lot of people who do this for a living,” Williams said. “They got a feel for what is possible, and what is doable, all spurred by their interest in rocket design.”
The pair quickly became experts and were completely at ease taking their Honors Conference audience through the basics of how they designed their hybrid engine rocket. The conference gave them an opportunity and a sense of urgency to organize their thoughts and experiences.
Their rocket will use a combination of a solid fuel (acrylic) and nitrous oxide. Working with an engineering firm in Miami, they are in the final stages of the 8-inch diameter prototype.
“They’re helping us, making sure our design will work,” Kruja said. “And making sure as little as possible can go wrong.”
As Van put it: “There’s a lot more that can go wrong than right.”
With an estimated price tag of $10,000 to $15,000, the pair is still looking for sponsors and funding. Several local machine shops will donate time in their shops, which will cut expenses.
“That’s the hard part, the money,” said Williams, who is hoping the project can land financial assistance from the SGA, the Florida Engineering Society or local aerospace and engineering firms to complete the mission.
SPC became an official chapter of the Florida Engineering Society in 2007 when students began spearheading efforts to install solar panels at the college. Members of the Florida Engineering Society SPC Student Chapter helped choose the best solar installation for the Clearwater Campus’ newest building, the Ethics and Social Sciences Building, which opened in spring, 2013.
SPC also became the first state college in Florida to be selected for Duke Energy Florida’s SunSense Schools Post Secondary School Award, which brings more solar panels to Clearwater and a set to the Seminole campus this year.
As for their rocket’s design, Kruja said it will cause “extreme thrust in the supersonic engine – about five times the speed of sound. It’s extremely cool.”