24 May 2022

Actually, it is rocket science: ANU students on a mission to blast nation-first rocket into space

| James Coleman
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ANU students in a paddock

The ANU Rocketry team is aiming for the stars. Photo Finlay Campbell.

A group of Canberra university students is striving to be the first in the Southern Hemisphere to send a rocket into space.

The Rocketry team at the Australian National University (ANU) is pitched as the future of the nation’s space industry. And how better to start than by putting a home-grown rocket into the great black yonder?

The 52 students have recently completed their first prototype – a 10,000-foot rocket called ‘Project Halo’ with a liquid propulsion system designed in-house.

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They now have their sights set on a space launch within three to six years.

Second-year engineering and economics student Finlay Campbell says they have just reached the first milestone of developing a stand for testing the engine.

“That’s been in progress for about two years and we’ve just finished testing the stand itself,” he says.

“We’re now undertaking our first hot-fire test of the rocket engine.”

Rocket blasting off

Blast off. Photo Finlay Campbell.

Finlay says the program gives students from all sorts of fields hands-on experience in Australia’s space industry.

“Our students hail from a multitude of academic fields, bringing a wealth of unique perspectives, ideas and skillsets,” he says.

“We want to equip students with the skills needed to succeed in Australia’s rapidly growing aerospace sector and strive to bridge the divide between academia and industry.”

ANU Rocketry is also partnering with the Canberra Rocketry Group (CRG) to develop internationally recognised certifications in rocket science.

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“It’s a hands-on approach, allowing students to gain real-world experience, master rocketry fundamentals, and construct and launch their own rockets,” Finlay says.

“We’ve been working with CRG to run a local certification program for students, so they can gain the experience they need to launch high-powered rockets.”

CRG helps facilitate test launch events in Yass and Ardlethan in NSW while leaving the design and development in the hands of the students.

The typical design process takes between six and 12 months, from sketches on paper to a real-world test, but Project Halo has taken longer due to COVID-19 delays.


Project Halo mini-prototype. Photo Finlay Campbell.

They hoped to have the project flying in time for the 2022 Spaceport America Cup, but that wasn’t possible, so instead, they’ve set their sights on the 2023 competition in New Mexico. There they will compete against some of the world’s top university rocketry teams at Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceport.

“In terms of how long it will take to move from this prototype to a completed, space-ready design, it really depends on how we go securing funding.”

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Finlay says it took a US university team 12 years of development before they became the first university in the world to send a rocket into orbit, “and Australia doesn’t yet have the resources to match the space industry over there”, he explains.

The Australian Space Agency coordinates the nation’s space industry on behalf of the Federal government. On 4 April this year, they announced plans for ‘G’day Moon’, Australia’s first attempt to set foot on the moon.

Selected Australian businesses and researchers will receive $50 million to develop and build a semi-autonomous lunar rover. NASA will fly the rover over to the moon after 2026 where it will be tasked with collecting the oxygen-infused lunar soil.

Rocket firing

Testing rockets. Photo Finlay Campbell.

By extracting the oxygen, NASA describes it as a critical step towards establishing a sustainable human presence on the moon.

Closer to home and the present, Finlay says many of the specifics of Project Halo – including the take-off location – are still in the works.

“But there are a number of commercial launch sites currently being constructed in Australia, including in the Northern Territory and South Australia,” he says.

“One of the other things we’re working on as a team is an outreach program where we can give back to the local community and highlight the awesome job opportunities in Australia’s growing space industry.”

To follow their journey, visit ANU Rocketry.

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Are they going to plant a 1000 trees to offset the carbon pollution?

“A group of Canberra university students is striving to be the first in the Southern Hemisphere to send a rocket into space.”

The first what? Certainly not the first in the southern hemisphere:
“Other programs continued work at Woomera. One of the landmark events was the launch of an Australian satellite, WRESAT, in November 1967 using a spare Redstone vehicle. Australia became the third country after the US and Russia to launch its own satellite.

Another success occurred in October 1971 when a UK satellite was launched from Woomera on the British Black Arrow. ”

Try, the first “group of … university students … in the Southern Hemisphere”. This is clearly implied in the quoted text, and in the main text by comparative reference to the first US university student group, and hope of competing against other student groups in New Mexico in 2023.

To me the term “clearly implied” is an oxymoron – either it is clear and explicit or it is implied. But I think you get my point, better wording in that sentence would have been clearer and we would not have this competing interpretation.
Good luck to them with their launch.

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