Spaceport America Cup 2018 - "Noctua"

Noctua on the launch pad just before launch

Noctua on the launch pad just before launch

      Noctua is an in-house high powered rocket designed by Rice Eclipse to participate in Spaceport America Cup 2018. Noctua was entered in competition under the 10’000-ft AGL Apogee commercial of the shelf (COTS) solid rocket propulsion system category. Eclipse has participated in SEDS competition with a two-stage design in the past, where staging designs were explored. Moving forward, we are hoping to gain more experience in designing heavier and larger scale rockets. Noctua tested our ability to manufacture such rockets, create our own carbon fiber body tubes, and gain experience in performing better flight predictions. Noctua was our first rocket to enter the 10,000-ft range and we took a simplistic approach in most designs to ensure success.

An Eclipse member rolls carbon fiber body tubes

An Eclipse member rolls carbon fiber body tubes

      Noctua is powered by a single solid COTS motor of category L. Standard two body tube configuration is adopted, each with an OD of 4” for easy avionics and motor installation. 4-fin design at the end of lower body tube is chosen to maintain high stability. A standard Ogive-shaped nose-cone is used for aerodynamics consideration.

      Material-wise, body tubes are constructed completely with layered carbon-fiber, while the fins are made with carbon-fiber reinforced fiberglass. Lastly, a fiberglass nose cone tops off the rocket.

      The length of the rocket and size of fins are optimized so that rocket is expected to hit 10,000 ft in simulation. However, as team progressed throughout the year, many changes were made to the design. While rocket’s stability and safety remains a high priority, rocket’s efficiency was traded to ensure successful recovery. The targeted apogee for Noctua has dropped from the original 10,000 ft to 9,200 ft but with increased factor of safety in design.

      In addition to flying our rocket, the team participated in the payload segment of the Spaceport America Cup by launching an 8.8 lb scientific experiment from team member Sahil Patel, a researcher in Rice’s Lou Research Group. By exposing the crystals to the highacceleration environment of up to 11.37 G’s, we are seeking to better understand the phase stability of Mica and Silicon crystals. While preliminary inspection of the payload showed that it was structurally sound, we will only be able to draw conclusions after inspecting the samples under microscopes in the fall.

      In the competition, Noctua reached a height of 7,843 ft leading to a 15th place finish out of over 45 teams in the COTS category and achieved a maximum speed of 603 mph, almost 0.8 times the speed of sound! While this height was not enough to win the very competitive event, it was the highest our team had ever launched a rocket by a wide margin.


High Powered Certification Flights

L1 rocket just before launch

L1 rocket just before launch

      Eclipse works closely with Tripoli Rocket Association and all of our launches take place at Tripoli Houston events. As such it’s important that we have a number of members who are certified to fly high powered rockets under Tripoli. In an effort to make this more widespread and less expensive, Eclipse has developed our own Level 1 high powered rocket kit. Since our first launched in September of 2016, we have certified ten members for L1, and one member for L2 certification. 

      Our goal is to give as many members as possible the option to achieve this certification with minimal expense. Certification candidates must build their own rocket from scratch, make its OpenRocket file, and be able to load the motor and parachute themselves. We hope that these Tripoli high powered certifications give our members the opportunity to learn a skill they cannot get in a classroom and spark a lasting interest in amateur rocketry

Team member having his L1 rocket inspected before his certification flight.

Team member having his L1 rocket inspected before his certification flight.