QPL lifts off to end 2023 on a high!

by | 29 Jan 2024

Northern Ireland’s biggest student rocketry team, Queen’s Propulsion Laboratory (QPL), closed out their first year of operations with a successful launch and static fire. After being founded in August of last year, the team has been working hard to set up infrastructure for the next generation of students at Queen’s University Belfast and were rewarded with getting to watch Gemini-1 take to the skies for the first time.

Launch day

Gemini-1 was QPL’s first venture into medium powered rocketry and the largest airframe to date. Sporting the iconic QPL colours of red and black, G-1 reached an approximate apogee of 700m (~2300ft) powered by a commercial G-class motor. Rocket motors are classified based on the thrust they can provide across their burn time (known as ‘impulse’) and given corresponding letters from A through to O doubling in impulse each time (B motors have twice the impulse of A motors and so on). Any motors rated H and above are considered ‘high-powered’ and a launch license in required. QPL will use the same airframe with different motors to attain the requisite license which will be needed for future projects.  

Gemini-1 on the launch stand ahead of its maiden flight – via QPL

Later in the day, the team also successfully conducted the first static fire of the micro hybrid engine which is a scaled down version of what the Propulsion team is currently developing. This begins a testing regime which will validate the team’s ability to operate a hybrid engine and collect critical data such as thrust, pressure and temperature values.

Paving the way for future success

The success of this launch day was thanks largely to the work of the excellent Testing team. Starting an organisation such as QPL from scratch is a daunting task and demands infrastructure which established rocketry teams might take for granted. One such item is a launch stand used for allowing the rockets to maintain a straight, predictable trajectory until they are safely clear of the launch site. In essence they can be as simple as a metal rod protruding from the ground however, in keeping with the QPL ethos of building a foundation to last, the Testing team fabricated a robust and precise launch stand capable of setting a range of launch angles.

This gives the Recovery team control over the expected landing sites irrespective of wind speeds or directions and is one of the many examples of sub-teams cooperating to better both themselves and their colleagues. As well as this stand, the team also constructed a test stand to accommodate the static fire, another crucial piece of groundwork which will endure for years to come.

Propulsion lead Fiyinfoluwa Owolabi preparing the micro-hybrid engine for testing – via QPL

Plan of action

Since Gemini-1, the team has been working diligently to implement the lessons learned and advance towards the goal of Odessey-1, the first launch of QPL’s very own hybrid engine which would be the first of its kind on the island. In order to achieve this, a series of smaller launches have been planned to certify the individual sub-systems which will make up O-1 and there is much to be done for each sub-team with new ground being broken each week that passes. These launches, known as the X (eXperimental) family of rockets, consist of X-1 and X-2 and will feature in-house avionics and recovery systems respectively. They will also demonstrate the team’s ability to manufacture full-composite airframes and capture stable in-flight footage.

By building up capabilities one step at a time in this manner, QPL is following in the footsteps of industry leading rocketry campaigns such as Apollo and Artemis. This allows the team to have complete certainty in the function of each system before moving on and building on that assumed functionality. 

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