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Behind the scenes with the student engineers building space rockets

Combining our love of engineering + space has taken us to the US to compete with the best at rocket building!

By Ranuli Illankone

Hi there, my name is Ranuli and I’m the current engineering lead of Monash High Powered Rocketry (MHPR), an engineering student team from Monash University that builds and launches experimental sounding rockets.  

Comprising roughly 100 students from across the university, the team mainly designs and constructs high-powered rockets to compete in the Spaceport America Cup, but we’re also looking into developing our own hybrid and liquid engines for the future.

We recently competed in the 2023 Spaceport America cup, with our 10,000 ft entry: Project Valkyrie. 

Standing at a total height of 3.47m, Project Valkyrie featured some of our new and exciting student researched and developed innovations. These included: an in-house manufactured moulded fibreglass nose cone, a camera array capable of 360-degree flight footage, and LAIKA, our in-house developed flight computer for data logging. 

The rocket also housed a scientific payload running an experiment to determine the effects of microgravity and high accelerations on blood transfusions.

After a hectic year of unforeseen manufacturing delays, testing and dedication, we made it safely with the rocket to Las Cruces, New Mexico in June. 

The competition included safety reviews, presentations of our rockets and most importantly: the launch days. 

After a lot of preparation, hard work and early mornings, we launched Valkyrie to 10,576ft with a successful recovery!

Coming 3rd in our category and 7th overall, we are so proud of all the hard work of the team over the past year. Being a part of the Spaceport America cup is truly a once-in-a lifetime opportunity and it was so rewarding to be a part of the global rocketry stage. 

Our team members learned so many invaluable skills and met other university students who are passionate about rocketry and engineering.

Having come back from New Mexico, the team is pushing on and working on several interesting research and design projects for systems for future team rockets! 

One specific system is our student-researched and built hybrid rocket engine: Solaris MkII. 

Our propulsion sub-team has been working very hard throughout the year, designing, prototyping, and now testing the system to optimise it for a rocket. Two weekends ago, we managed to have our very first hot fire of Solaris, which is an immense achievement and a testament to the hard work and skill of the team. 

My experience in HPR has been so rewarding. As a mechatronics engineering student with a strong passion for space I’ve been able to learn so many new skills and help contribute to cool projects like rockets.

To anyone who is keen on building on their engineering skills or working on interesting real-world projects, I would highly recommend joining a student team at university. It is a great way to do practical hands-on work and work with other passionate like-minded students to solve engineering problems and build cool systems! 

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