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Full Circle


Full Circle

One of the most competitive facets of our rocket is the engine assembly. Rather than the hundreds (and sometimes thousands!) of parts used to create a traditional rocket engine, our team has streamlined the process into just two: an injector and a nozzle.

Since they’re so integral — and so specialized — we’ve spent hours upon hours designing, modeling, and simulating these parts. And we’ve come full circle.

Phase One: Solidworks

The CAD starter kit for any Stevens engineering student, Solidworks helped us make our first few rounds of injectors. It was pretty cool. Tom spent a lot of time on it.

Injector, Mk. 1. It was bulky, but it got the job done.

Phase Two: COMSOL

Once happy with the geometry, we needed to simulate fluid flow through the manifold. What better software to use than a COMSOL, taught to grad students and marketed as a multi-physics program with a hefty computational fluid dynamics (CFD) engine. Dakota’s self-taught COMSOL regimen came to a standstill when, no matter how finely we meshed the part, physics kept saying, “Nope.”

COMSOL needed the injector flipped inside out. Crazy, right? This part seemed okay…
… But this one obviously had some problems.

They ended up both not working out. One kept growing gnarly spikes, the other had faces that wouldn’t meet up. In the end, no amount of curve smoothing could fix it.

Phase Three: Ansys Fluent

So, what now? Let’s try another CFD! Stevens also offers Ansys to its students, which comes with the handy Fluent plug-in. Abe and Dakota worked on modeling the part in early January, only realizing after returning to campus why it wouldn’t work: Even when simplifying the models by excluding symmetrical pieces, the parts were MUCH, MUCH too big for our Ansys versions to handle. (If years of math has taught me one thing, it’s that 1.1 million “cells” is larger than 512 thousand “cells.”)

Phase Four: Back to Solidworks

The most recent iteration of the injector. We’ve come quite a long way!

We were lost. What do we do? Our school’s CFD programs weren’t working. We had tried simplifying the parts to no avail. Were we just going to hope our applications of what we read in NASA journals would work? Would our rocket engine be held together by dreams and back-of-the-napkin calculations?

Of course not. In the words of Professor Aziz, who teaches courses in Modeling and Simulation at Stevens, “You started
in Solidworks. Why did you leave?”

This simulation tracks individual particles traveling through the injector manifolds. Red means high speed, blue means low speed. Good news: They don’t stop!

So we’ve come full circle. We’re back where we started. We’ve been running fluid flow simulations fairly smoothly, these last couple of weeks. Sure, we keep iterating and optimizing. But at least it’s all built-in, now.

And boy, are the simulations colorful.