Vice President Biden Visiting Howe Hall, ISU

It was such a late notice. Last Sunday we received a cryptic email from our adviser informing us that the Make to Innovate (M:2:I) labs would be closed all week this week. This was horrible timing since we have to finish the USLI rocket by its March 10 test launch date. The email didn't even explain why, except that "it would be revealed the following day."

The closed labs didn't deter us from getting work done. We simply worked where we could. We're actually making great progress this week. The rocket structure is 90% completed, and the payload parts are coming together as well.

Still, we wondered what on Earth the big deal was. People in suits were all over the place, and so were people with guns, and other official stuff. Finally it came out that VP Biden was coming to Iowa State to give an "America Built to Last" speech, and to tour some of the undergraduate research/projects. That's why all the labs were closed down: the department was scrambling to sweep all the messy-looking stuff under the rug and clean up.

Honestly, it reminds me of having to clean my room before doing something fun with my family as a kid. It gets done in the blink of an eye... but don't open the closet. Oh, and don't look under the bed. That's exactly what went down: everything got crammed into one tiny little room, while only selected projects were displayed meticulously in immaculate array.

It's mildly dishonest, because it's not an accurate representation of what goes on. It's also mildly ironic, because Biden's visit is to bolster engineering and productivity... and here we have to shut down all the labs and nobody can do any work.

We were all joking around about pranks we could play... however, we had great difficulty thinking of anything that didn't result in getting pinned to the ground by Secret Service.

Anyway, look for a new post in the next few days about recent build sessions!


Update on Happenings in the Private Space Industry


The famous SpaceX is gearing up to launch their new Dragon capsule up to the International Space Station. The flight was originally planned for December of last year. One thing led to another, and they are now planning to launch this spring. Yesterday (2/27) the capsule was integrated with a Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral.

XCOR Aerospace:

The Lynx Mark I has some new partners in science! EMXYS of Spain, Texas A&M's Space Engineering Research Center, and the Planetary Science Institute have joined XCOR's payload processing sales channel for the Lynx suborbital vehicle. (press release). XCOR also picked up $5M of investment capital from individual investors, such as Esther Dyson, Pete Ricketts (co-owner of the Chicago Cubs) and several top Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and former venture capitalists. (another press release). This will help accelerate the date of the first flight of the Lynx.

(XCOR offered me an internship for next summer/fall. I have yet to hear the final details, but I am very, very intrigued.)

Armadillo Aerospace:
If you don't want to watch the whole thing, then at least watch the amazing footage at apogee (starting ~2:50), and the ending.


USLI -- Fiberglass Layups

We are trying something new this year, attempting our own composite layups of both the body tubes and the fins.

The approach for the body tubes was simple: Just wrap the fiberglass around the tubes, rubbing the epoxy into it and rubbing the air bubbles and defects out along the way. We made five layers on the body tubes, and they turned out fairly well.

For the fins, we are laying up sheets of 1/8th inch fiberglass. This was quite simple, but labor-intensive. It involved cutting out many layers of fiberglass cloth, stacking them neatly inside vacuum bags, sucking all the air out, and then injecting the epoxy, impregnating it into the fiberglass weave. It was quite the experience, and only took a couple hours. Now all we need to do is cut the fins out and sand the airfoils into them.