Rocket technology

A team of students has tested its own rocket engine at Swiss Rheinmetall’s Test Centre Ochsenboden (TCO). As a sponsor, Rheinmetall has provided the young research team with the necessary infrastructure – free of charge, of course – to support the next generation of researchers. Further test runs are planned.

The young researchers in the team were about to graduate with a Bachelor's degree when they tested their self-developed rocket engine at Rheinmetall's TCO. As part of the Swiss academic space initiative (Akademischen Raumfahrt Initiative Schweiz, ARIS), which brings together students fascinated by space, the research team consisting of nine members has developed its first prototype rocket engine using hybrid technology.

For the students, testing the rocket engine formed part of their Bachelor's dissertation – including setup, testing and dismantling, the trial lasted just under a month.

Creation of the rocket engine

The students developed their first prototype rocket engine over a period of 15 months in 2018/19. It was installed with hybrid technology with a power of 500 N. This means that the thrust is sufficient to lift 50 kilograms. One project goal of the dissertation was to build and successfully test a self-developed rocket engine – including the corresponding control system (valves, propellant) and the test rig (e.g. thrust). These types of rocket engines are usually used in space travel.

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The young scientists are taking part in the important Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico with the rocket engine they developed themselves

Under the coaching of the ETH Zurich, the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts and the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and Arts, the aim is to get a rocket to win the Spaceport America Cup by 2024. The Spaceport America Cup is a rocket competition with different categories in which both college teams and commercial teams can participate. It is held annually at the Spaceport America site in New Mexico and is sponsored by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA).

Why Rheinmetall's TCO is ideally suited for such tests and open for trials of almost any kind

The TCO is characterised by a high standard of safety in its infrastructure. This includes protected premises, such as bunkers. The premises are equipped with bulletproof glass and viewing slits. Necessary barriers such as gates or shooting flags are just some of the precautions that contribute to the high safety standard.

Missile tests always involve a certain risk. As Rheinmetall was able to guarantee all the necessary safety standards with the TCO's special infrastructure, the company did not hesitate for long to provide the young researchers with the requested support and make the TCO available to them for the tests.

Rheinmetall's responsible approach to the project: rocket engine testing was only allowed to take place after the presentation of an environmental and safety concept

At Rheinmetall, the focus is on safety and sustainability. That is why the TCO is subject to high standards in these respects. Only after submitting an environmental and safety concept was the research team allowed to start work on the TCO.

Rheinmetall pays attention to which substances may be released into the environment and, above all, which may not. "At the beginning, the choice of fuel was still open. Hydrazine, for example, would not have been acceptable to Rheinmetall because of the potential risk to the environment," explains Dr. Patrick Wick, head of the chemistry and ballistics laboratory and the students' point of contact.

The safety concept was similar. The project group developed a safety concept derived from a pre-prepared risk analysis. Both concepts were reviewed and approved by the ETH supervisor. "The project group's professionalism amazed me. The young team has done exemplary groundwork," says Dr Wick, who is very pleased about such a project at the TCO.

Another test has been performed and is currently being evaluated by the research group.

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