HomeNewsRocket science: these students are literally high-flyers!

Rocket science: these students are literally high-flyers!

In 2019, mechanical engineering students Nathan Jacques and Alexander Nieuwland founded a rocket society with a handful of fellow students. The official RISE student team has since grown into a club of 28 part-time students. Their ambitions are sky-high, but the sky is definitely not the limit. In fact, their goal is not so much flying high as landing precisely. “In three years time, we plan to have built a rocket that runs on biofuel and can land using its engines.”

Something to sink your teeth into

Already during secondary school in Purmerend, it was clear that classmates Nathan and Alexander like to have something to sink their teeth into. “We put a lot more hours of work into our final-year project than we needed for the points,” says Nathan Jacques. “We needed all that time to figure out what the effect of radiation is on bees.” Now in their third year of Mechanical Engineering, they still have the same intense focus on, and interest in, the effect of technology on our world.

Official student team

In April 2019, the students were part of a robotics team when RISE Alexander came up with the idea of building a model rocket. They established their own team and laid the foundations for RISE: Rocketry Innovations & Space Engineering. The club was recognised as an official student team in March of this year, which comes with quite a few benefits. “Our members can now work full-time in the team, and their tuition fees are refunded. We are also supported by UT’s marketing and communication team, can request coaching and mentoring, and we are in close contact with the other student teams. The help of the other teams is particularly valuable. Take Solar Team Twente, for example: they know exactly how to find sponsors, expand networks and communicate with partners, and organise an event or competition. So we don’t have to reinvent the wheel!” explains team manager Jacques.

Reusable rocket

The team consisting of students from the joint UT and VU Mechanical Engineering programme is ambitious and has one very clear goal. “Our team develops innovations to make rocket technologies more sustainable,” says Jacques. “We are at a global tipping point; the rocket industry has to change, for example by recycling materials and using more sustainable fuels. We want to play a role in this transition, and so we are developing a rocket that runs on biofuel and can return to Earth for a very precise and soft landing. That will make it suitable for reuse.”

Cleaning up space junk

In the transition to a sustainable aerospace industry, there is also huge room for improvement in the area of space junk. ESA (The European Space Agency, ed.) is working on the first systems to overcome this problem. “Our team does not have a concrete contribution in the pipeline, but we would like to start a competition that invites students to come up with solutions for collecting and recycling space junk,” says Jacques.

Official competition

A launch is scheduled for next month in Baarlo. “We will be testing the engine systems for braking and changing course. We will use fold-out adjustable fins to steer the rocket back to the landing pad. A test launch is always a tense moment, because although you have done your best to calculate everything exactly and carried out extensive simulations, you don’t know if it will work in practice. Currently, our biggest dream is to make a successful landing at an official competition. We hope to be ready for that in 2027, during a European competition that is held every year in Lisbon.”

New workshop

“We are currently building our rockets in Alexander’s attic,” Nathan says with a laugh. “There is just enough room to run the 3D printers. Ideally, we would like to find a larger space, in a warehouse for example. The other student teams are doing well in that respect.”

New team members

The team is already quite big, but they are keen to attract more full-time students. So what does it take to get on the RISE team? “Of course, we are particularly on the lookout for people who are passionate about the rocket industry, and then preferably with different backgrounds. Engineering, physics, marketing and PR, finance: we can use students from all these fields. The most important thing is that you are curious-minded, keen to learn and like the idea of working with teammates who have different areas of expertise than your own. And it helps to be a bit crazy,” Jacques admits. “That’s how we build a strong and motivated team.”

J.C. Vreeman (Jochem)
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