Cody Howard
School of Engineering

Aerospace students honored for aircraft design

Thu, 10/02/2014

LAWRENCE — A team of students from the University of Kansas School of Engineering earned high honors in an international spacecraft design competition. The team, composed of four 2014 aerospace engineering graduates and an engineering physics major due to graduate this fall, landed in third place in the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Team Space Transportation Design competition.

Teams were challenged to launch an orbital vehicle into low Earth orbit capable of transporting a 5,000-pound payload from a currently operating aircraft.

“The biggest benefit of this project would be flexibility, because you don’t have to be tied to a traditional launch pad site,” said Julian McCafferty, team leader and 2014 KU aerospace engineering graduate. “Our orbital vehicle is jettisoned from the cargo bay of an airborne C-5, which can take off from just about any runway, so essentially you can get (the spacecraft) into orbit anywhere at any time.”

The KU team designed its rocket to be loaded and deploy from a large military transport aircraft, the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. The spacecraft could be used primarily to transport satellites into low Earth orbit. 

“Deploying the rocket is a relatively low-risk procedure,” McCafferty said. “The C-5 climbs to height of about 30,000 feet and goes into a low gravity maneuver to relieve some of its weight. The rear cargo bay door opens, and a drogue chute deploys the rocket. This pulls the rocket out and away from the aircraft – it free-falls for a few seconds so it’s clear of the aircraft – then it ignites and travels upward toward its destination.”

This honor extends KU’s mark of excellence in AIAA design competitions. KU has earned more first- and second-place awards than any other academic institution in the world in the 47-year history of the competition. McCafferty credited the success to the team’s adviser, Mark Ewing, associate professor of aerospace engineering, and KU’s legacy as a leading institution in aircraft design.

“The bar has been set so high at KU that we were as relieved as we were excited when we’d heard we finished in the top three,” McCafferty said. “There’s a wealth of knowledge amongst the faculty and an amazing amount of student pride in our tradition of excellence. It’s great to carry that on.”


Luis Berges, Julesburg, Colorado

Will Burg, Lawrence

Julian McCafferty, Lawrence

James Sellers, Benton

Alex Sizemore, Douglass.

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