Yes, actually–it is rocket science!


- Julie Sloan

Engineering students take first prize in international competition

For three mechanical engineering students with a passion for aerospace, what could be better than a Do-It-Yourself rocket-design competition? 

Winning it, of course. 

In the summer of 2013, second- and third-year BEng students Michael Pearson, Simon Moffatt and Harry Evans–the Stratodyn team–designed a 3D printable rocket engine and won first place in an international competition open to anyone and everyone, competing against novices, school-based teams and professional engineers alike.

The Silicon Valley non-profit Open Space University created the DIY rocket competition to promote innovation and cost effectiveness in small payload delivery into space, and explore the possibilities of 3D printing for the space industry. Pearson stumbled across the competition online and enticed fellow UVic AERO team members Moffatt and Evans to team up with him. 

"Space is only about 100 km straight above us, so it's close,” says Pearson. But the problem is, once you get there, a rocket will just fall straight back down to the ground if it’s not propelled fast enough. We needed to design a rocket engine that would propel a rocket 28,000 km per hour at those altitudes to stay in orbit." 

It took four months for the team to put together the design, post it online, and have it printed by New York City-based sponsor company The company specializes in metal 3D printing. The team completed the entire project online.

“One of the coolest things about the competition was that it was open to anyone in the world. There was an elementary school team that came up with a really cool design, and there were professional engineers competing as well,” said Moffatt.

Out of 12 teams competing, the UVic team took first prize, which included $5,000, an offer for a free business-development consultation, and a tour of the NASA research centre in Mountainview, California.

When asked what they would do with the prize money, the team unanimously agreed they would use it to travel to Silicon Valley to meet the group running the competition and tour the NASA facility. For these three students who love aerospace, it’s an opportunity they wouldn’t dream of passing up.

And these three aren’t just ordinary students.  Pearson leads the Faculty of Engineering’s autonomous submarine design team (AUVic) and the autonomous aircraft team (UVic AERO).  In addition, he hosts UVic’s weekly astronomy open house that invites the public to use Canada’s largest teaching telescope.  

Moffatt builds planes in his spare time. He’s the president of the UVic AERO team and serves as the mechanical lead on the satellite design team (ECOsat-2). Once finished his mechanical engineering degree, he plans to pursue graduate studies in astronautical engineering.

Evans is an avid pilot and currently is building his own plane. He is the RC Test Pilot on the UVic AERO team and has worked for a number of aerospace companies as an Autonomous Aircraft Pilot. With all of that talent, they could start their own company, which is something they hope to do in the future.

While there aren’t many options for aerospace engineering in Canada, UVic is a natural place to start for students like Pearson, Moffatt and Evans.  The strength of UVic’s mechanical engineering program provides the foundation for any further specialization these students may want to pursue.  And practical experience will be key, which they will have plenty of through co-op work terms and their above-mentioned club participation by the time they complete their degrees.

And if they take Stratodyne to the next level and build a company, what would they build? Aerospace designs for anything from “rocket engines to space habitats,” says Moffatt. “If you have good engineering, you can pretty much do what you want.”

With that level of drive and skill, there's no limit to what this team can accomplish.  

For more information on the DIY rocket competition, go to:!rocketchallenge


In this story

Keywords: competition, aerospace, AERO team

People: Michael Pearson, Simon Moffatt, Harry Evans

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