A group of students has been working to bring Binghamton University to the forefront of collegiate rocketry and inspire more students to pursue aerospace engineering.
AeroBing is a student-run research group based at BU that has been working on launching their rocket, Ambition-III, to the Kármán line by spring 2021, specifically in 239 days. The line, which is 62 miles above sea level, represents the altitude where outer space begins and Earth’s atmosphere ends.
Alex Blumenthal, a senior majoring in chemistry, is the chief operating officer (COO) and co-founder of AeroBing. As the COO, Blumenthal works alongside the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and with potential launch sites to ensure the legality and safety of the launch.
Blumenthal recalls imagining the “crazy” idea of sending a rocket into space during his freshman year along with Jacob Goodman, co-founder, project lead and a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, and Jeremy Gendler, co-founder, chief engineer and a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. The three have been working together since then, and founded the club in 2019.
In early 2020, the team partnered with the SUNY Research Foundation (SRF), a University-connected research foundation that aims to provide services for SUNY faculty and students to engage in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) research. This partnership established AeroBing as an official research group. Since then, AeroBing has worked to spread aerospace education with the University community and engage students with a passion for space.
“I’d love for this organization to thrive in the coming years and involve more students,” Blumenthal wrote in an email. “Most undergraduates don’t have the opportunity to work on something getting sent to space. By providing that opportunity and encouraging students to learn about the aerospace industry, I hope that we’re able to eventually create a culture of aerospace education at BU.”
AeroBing utilizes laboratory and office space at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, a business-oriented incubator in Downtown Binghamton that helps start-ups succeed by providing them resources. The team is currently in the first research and development phase, where they have been working to familiarize themselves with sounding rockets, an instrument-carrying rocket that takes measurements and engages in scientific experiments during the sub-orbital flight. The avionics team focuses on the electronic systems used on spacecraft. The aerodynamics team is preparing scale nose cones, and the propulsion team is fabricating fully functional scale rocket motors. The design overview has utilized the motto “keep it simple, stupid” for prototype rockets as a reminder of how easy it is to overcomplicate small things.
The team is on the fourth iteration of the Ambition-III design. This stage has been focused on the refinement of build techniques, computer model verification and system viability tests.
Leslie Torres, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering, works with avionics as the electronics team lead and works in marketing as well. Torres was recruited by a friend on the team after learning they were in need of electrical engineers and found it nearly impossible to turn down the opportunity.
“I’d like to see us exceed expectations and breach far past the Kármán line,” Torres wrote in an email. “I’ve learned that anyone can teach themselves ‘rocket science.’ If you put your mind to anything, you can achieve just that. Nothing beats hard work and dedication.”
There are several different aspects that go into the creation of a working rocket. Ian Beckman, a senior double-majoring in mechanical engineering and English, serves as the aerodynamics team lead. Beckman aims to design and build the nose cone for the rocket that will meet requirements that align with the design, such as strength, heat resistance and radio transparency.
Beckman noted that AeroBing has provided him with the opportunity to learn more about the practical side of designing and building a rocket.
“From previous internships, I was familiar with the large amount of documentation that goes into a given project in order to keep things running smoothly,” Beckman wrote. “At AeroBing, there is a much higher-level view to show why the documentation is necessary to keep a project running efficiently. I have also learned a lot more about issues that aren’t often discussed in class, such as tooling, sourcing parts and manufacturing new tools on the go as they are needed.”
Aerodynamics research also requires the creation of simulations that determine various elements in order to accurately predict the flight path of the rocket, as well as what is occurring throughout the rocket’s flight. The simulations give the team an opportunity to run through faulty designs and gain a better understanding of the trajectory of the rocket. The data provided by these simulations help to calculate the location of the rocket after liftoff and where it will be once it returns.
Naor Isak, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, is the head of simulations for AeroBing. He is currently working on creating an equation-solver to calculate the effects of the wind on the rocket. Isak utilizes matrix laboratory (MATLAB), a multi-paradigm programming language that allows an individual to manipulate matrices, plot functions and data and implement algorithms, which he learned about during engineering courses.
Isak expressed how well the team works together and how members are constantly working together to stay on track.
“We all don’t have time to learn everything there is to know about rocket building and designing, but we all become masters in our part of the project,” Isak wrote. “Also, by doing all this work and research, I have come to appreciate the magnitude of aerospace engineering and the level of professionalism and genius that it takes to send a rocket to space, let alone actually doing research once up there using satellites and telescopes, whether it is looking out into deep space, or researching Earth or the Sun.”
As the project lead, Goodman works to enable and guide the team for the launch, and find adequate fundraising by ensuring the team has proper facilities, tools and equipment as well as money management and math. He is excited to see what AeroBing can accomplish as they continue with their project.
“AeroBing was founded to fulfill a dream: to launch a rocket into space,” Goodman wrote. “My personal goal mirrors that of AeroBing: to see the Ambition-III make it into space!”