Postgraduate aeronautical design students at the University of Southampton have designed the world’s first-ever 3D-printed, rocket-powered space plane.
The space plane, named Vulture 2, will be launched into the stratosphere at three times the cruising altitude of a transatlantic jet on the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator (LOHAN) mission.
The Vulture 2 was designed by post-graduate aeronautical design students Amrith Surendra, Chris Dodd and David Cooper, and produced with industrial-scale 3D printing equipment. Amrith Surendra said:
“Being involved in the design of Vulture 2 has been an amazing learning experience. It gave us the opportunity to apply our knowledge to explore new ideas and come up with a truly revolutionary design. Working on this project has allowed me to appreciate level of precision and ingenuity that is required to create a system of this nature, and has undoubtedly piqued my interest in pursuing a career in the aerospace industry after my doctoral studies.”
It has been reported by the university that it will rise to an estimated launch altitude of 20,000m under a carbon fibre launch structure lifted by a helium-filled meteorological balloon.
Once the rocket motor fires – courtesy of a custom-built electronic igniter board – the aircraft will reach 25,000m, after which the Vulture 2 will glide back to earth under autopilot control.
The head of the Register’s Special Projects Bureau and holder of the Guinness World Record for the highest launch of a paper aeroplane, Lester Haines, said:
“Without doubt, this is the most complicated amateur high-altitude mission ever undertaken. We’ve spent four years, thousands of hours and quite a bit of cash overcoming numerous technical challenges, and we’re delighted that EXASOL has come on board for the grand finale. We don’t know quite what will happen when the big day arrives, but one thing’s for sure – it’s going to be quite a show.”