NCKU’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics Takes the Lead and Successfully Launches a Two-Stage Hybrid-Propellant Rocket
成大航太系領先各大學 成功發射兩節式混合火箭
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          The hybrid-propellant rocket development team of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), launched a two-stage hybrid-propellant rocket with 1500-kg thrust in August at Xuhai Coast, Mudan Township, Pingtung. This was the first rocket launch for a Taiwanese academic institution, and the university successfully completed the key technological testing of rocket separation and high altitude ignition. The NCKU’s two-stage hybrid-propellant rocket design outperforms those by the hybrid-propellant rocket teams from other universities, and more crucially, the design, technology, and manufacturing of the critical components and payload instruments are performed by the team or domestically; the rocket production is thus completely independent and self-sufficient.

          Professor Chao Yei-Chin of the Department of Aeronautics, who leads an interdisciplinary hybrid-propellant rocket team, suggested that NCKU’s two-stage hybrid-propellant rocket can now leave the laboratory and be launched successfully. NCKU has thus made major breakthroughs in rocket research and technological development, and these breakthroughs can be used in practical rocket design. The hybrid-propellant rocket team increased the thrust from an initial value of 30 kg to 1500 kg, and this indicates that the team has mastered thrust amplification technology. At all other academic institutions in Taiwan, all rocket designs are one-stage designs; the NCKU research team’s two-stage rocket was successfully launched, separated, and ignited at high altitude, indicating that the team’s technology surpasses that developed by all other university teams.

          The vast universe has brought infinite imagination to mankind, and countries worldwide compete to develop space technology and explore related industries. Training astronauts is fundamental to this competition. According to Professor Leu Tzong-Shyng, director of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Third Space Technology Long-Term Development Plan of the Executive Yuan will devote NT$25.1 billion to creating a national team for the Taiwanese space industry, increasing the need for space technology talent. NCKU’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics has not only excellent research standards and ability in the aviation field but also outstanding teaching, research, and talent cultivation in the space field; these capacities mean the university can effectively promote the development of aerospace science and technology and industrial upgrading.

          NCKU’s hybrid-propellant rocket research teams previously focused on one-stage rockets. The advantage of a two-stage rocket is that when the first stage section runs out of fuel, the oxidant storage and engine are no longer functional, which becomes an extra weight to the rocket and reduces the subsequent acceleration. The use of rocket separation technology can reduce the rocket’s weight and achieve higher speed and altitude than use of a large one-stage rocket. However, such technology complicates the entire rocket manufacturing and operation. The air is thin and the temperature low at high altitude; reignition under these conditions requires certain technological breakthroughs.

          Professor Chao indicated that when their rocket was launched, his team tracked the trajectory of its high dynamic attitude throughout the day. The data revealed that in the first stage, the 1500-kg-thrust rocket engine was operating normally, and the rocket separation and second stage ignition function were normal, achieving the index results. This showed that NCKU has made advancements in the development of a rocket body and systems related to rocket launch.

          Professor Chao’s team launched a two-stage rocket with a total length of 5.57 m, diameter of 34 cm, weight of 264 kg, and thrust of 1500 kg on August 7 at Xuhai Coast, Mudan Township, Pingtung. This was the largest-thrust hybrid-propellant rocket launched since the team had first completed a rocket launch test.

          Professor Leu stated that space technology requires interdisciplinary cooperation. In NCKU, the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Department of Electrical Engineering, Department of Earth Sciences, Institute of Space and Plasma Sciences, Institute of Physics, and various colleges such as the College of Engineering, College of Science, and College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science have gained good mutual understanding. These departments and colleges teach the theoretical basis of rocket launching and provide comprehensive courses and training for satellite system integration. They have also developed outstanding research capacity and achieved excellent research outcomes.

          In terms of research on rockets required for satellite launches and microthrusters required for satellite attitude control, NCKU was the first university in Taiwan to devote research to a hybrid-propellant rocket propulsion system. The 30-kg-thrust hybrid-propellant rocket launched by Professor Chao’s team in 2009 was the first successfully launched hybrid-propellant rocket in Taiwan. Additionally, the team successfully launched a 1000-kg-thrust hybrid-propellant rocket in 2015 and 1500-kg-thrust two-stage hybrid rocket in 2019.

          NCKU’s research team from the Institute of Space and Plasma Sciences participated in the Exploration of Energization and Radiation in Geospace (ERG) satellite project of Japan and formed an ERG Taiwan team with Academia Sinica. The Taiwan team is devoted to studying the payload for measuring the low energy electron distribution in the ERG satellite. The team is independent and self-reliant in the process from design, development, and production to subsequent data format setting. NCKU’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics self-designed and developed the 2-kg Phoenix Cube Satellite, setting a new milestone for the development of aerospace technology in Taiwan. Jordan Vannitsen, a French student who participated in the Phoenix Cube Satellite development, established a space startup in Taiwan and participated in the European Space Agency's business proposal competition, winning the grand prize of 500,000 euros.