Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering
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UMN Team participates in CanSat competition

CanSat team

The 2013 CanSat team. From the left to right on the bottom row: Tieler Callazo, Dan Bicklehaupt, Maninder Grover, Nick Penning, LiHua Zhang. On the top row, Andrew Mahon, Jerry Zheng Zhang, Caleb Carlson, Akshit Reddy, Matt Boysen, Joe Mein.

The CanSat team was formed in early October 2012 with the goal of placing in the top 10 participants of the competition. Each year, the CanSat competition changes the rules and requirements of the competition to encourage students to find an effective solution to controlling the descent rate of a near earth satellite, known as a CanSat. The CanSat itself must be able to fit into the cylindrical cargohold of a Mini-Mag Rocket and must be autonomously controlled by a ground station. It is then launched by the competition officials and deployed at a height of about 610 meters. Once released from the rocket the CanSat should be designed to descend at a rate of 20 +/- 1 m/s from a parachute. Once the CanSat reaches 400 meters, it is supposed to reduce its speed below 20 m/s without the use of a parachute. With these requirements and others, the main goal is to protect a large hen's egg from breaking at impact with the ground.

The competition has four separate scoring components: a preliminary design review, a critical design review, the actual flight operation, and a post flight review.

After learning from the previous year's mistakes, the UMN team was able to prepare for any hardware failures as they purchased multiple backup parts. This was necessary as one of the radio sets shorted out and malfunctioned and a microcontroller was not functioning properly. The team's design was quite different than other teams as they decided to use a counter rotating motor system to control the descent rate from 400 m and below. The reason this method was used was to fight against any adverse winds that could occur and to prevent a large impact force at the ground.

Several models were made during the spring of 2013. The exterior of the CanSat was produced by a 3D printer from Stratasys Inc. while the motor itself was powered by a custom built lithium ion battery pack from Batteries Plus, both of which were generously donated. The team intended to do a full scale test launch before the competition, but was delayed by bad weather during the month of May.

The team passed the flight safety check on Friday June 7th, which allowed them to successfully launch their CanSat on Saturday. The flight of the CanSat went well as it separated from the parachute at about 405 m with a descent rate of around 23 m/s and initially slowed to 13 m/s with the motor running. The CanSat experienced a complete power failure at about 120 m and began to accelerate until it hit the ground at a speed of 33 m/s. After a lengthy recovery period, the CanSat was recovered intact. However the blades of the motor had been destroyed on impact and it was later revealed that the egg did not survive. However the team was able to stream the telemetry of the flight by being able display the altitude, GPS, airspeed, temperature, and battery voltage.

Of the 45 teams that originally signed on to compete (several dropped out due to funds, incomplete CanSats, or failing to pass the safety check), 22 teams were able to successfully launch with only 8 teams having their egg survive. The UMN CanSat team, known as "Team Iron Gopher", placed 6th much to their surprise. The team was only 0.39 % from placing in the top 5 of the competition and beat out several schools within in the U.S. including Arizona State, University of Alabama-Huntsville, University of Michigan and international schools from countries including Turkey, India, Colombia, Guatemala, and the U.K.

Sponsors of the competition included AIAA, NASA, the American Astronautical Society, the Naval Research Laboratory, Goddard Space Flight Center, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ball Aerospace & Technology Corp., Praxis Inc., and Kratos ISI. The UMN team received support from the AIAA student group, ATK, the College of Science and Engineering, the Richard and Shirley DeLeo Scholarship and Engineering Fund, and the AEM department. The group was mentored by Professors Yohannes Ketema and William Garrard. In addition, the team received rocket building assistance from Gary Stroik. He is the President of Away We Go Rocketry and helps the students here and other places with their rocket projects.

The group would like to thank everyone who helped them in their effort this year and will be competing again next year to perfect their design and place in the top 5 of participants.

Inside CanSat

Interior of CanSat for the Mark IV model.

CanSat outside

Logo for the UMN CanSat “Team Iron Gopher.”


Last Modified: Monday, 01-Jul-2013 10:30:51 CDT -- this is in International Standard Date and Time Notation