NI’s biggest rocketry team has just gotten bigger

by | 26 Feb 2024 | Blog Posts

Following an eventful first year of operations in 2023, Queen’s Propulsion Laboratory (QPL) has hit the ground running in the new year with a plethora of talented new recruits, a trip to the European Space Agency and several long days in the workshop.

New year, new talent

With 2024 set to be a monumentally busy year for QPL, the committee saw fit to grow the team to meet the increasing workload head on. Starting with 20 members in October, a recent recruitment drive has brought in an additional 10 of Queen’s University Belfast’s finest bringing the overall member count to 30. Almost every sub team has received reinforcements, particularly in propulsion and media. The propulsion sub-team has almost doubled in size to aid in the development of the Phoenix hybrid engine which will power Odyssey-1’s flight this summer. The hybrid, which is the first of its kind on the island, is also being entered into the UK Race to Space National Propulsion Competition. Race to Space (R2S) is an initiative run by the University of Sheffield to challenge teams from across the UK to design, build and ultimately test their own rocket engines.

The first full team meeting with the new recruits – via QPL

A brand new sub-team

Another benefit coming from this additional talent is the creation of a dedicated systems team, led by former head of Aero-structures. Systems engineering is a crucial but easy to overlook aspect of any team with many of the associated responsibilities often confused with management roles. Concept generation, requirements setting, risk analysis and integration all fall under the remit of the systems engineer and are vital to the successful implementation of all projects, large or small. QPL has previously functioned without this thanks to the excellent communication between sub-team leads however with this expansion the need for devoted systems engineers is undeniable and will help lay the foundations for future teams to build on.  

Build days

While the new recruits have been inducted into the team, there have been various developments in the manufacturing department for QPL. The Aero-structures team has been hard at work assembling the G-1 and X-1 rockets as well as laying up test pieces from fibreglass. The use of composite materials will be an integral part of QPL airframes starting with X-2 and once body diameters start to exceed those available commercially, it makes much more economic sense to have the capabilities to make the same hardware in house.

The Aero-structures team preparing to lay-up some composite body tubes – via QPL

Also arriving last month was the new QPL recovery system as well as the first parts of the Phoenix engine. These components which were produced from aluminium by CNC machining have been kindly provided by the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) at QUB. It’s generous services like this which allow the team to keep tight deadlines and move forward towards the end goal of reaching space.

ESA Academy

To cap off a period of development, QPL Team Lead Colm Daly and newly promoted Systems Lead Alex Dunne travelled to Belgium to take part in the ESA Academy Intro to Space Law Training Course 2024. Held in ESEC-Galaxia, this is just one of many training courses held by the European Space Agency and is intended to educate students from universities across the 22 ESA member states.

Team lead Colm Daly (left) with Systems lead Alex Dunne (right) at the ESA Academy training course – via QPL

Across 5 intense days, the guys learned about public international law, diplomacy, international relations and much more. A hugely rewarding part of the course was making connections with the 28 other students from across Europe and hearing about the fantastic work being done by the next generation of the space industry.

Stay tuned to hear more updates on the team’s work via the Springco website and to find out more information go to