Projects

I’ve worked on a broad range of technical projects over the past 3 years, all of which have been a tremendous learning experience and a lot of fun. I’ve highlighted a few of the more unusual or interesting ones below.

Nexus Aurora Martian City-State

In the first half of 2020 I worked with the Nexus Aurora citizen science community on an entry to the Mars Society’s City-State Design Competition. We ultimately designed a sprawling metropolis of basalt fibre and steel in Hellas Planitia, full of little gems like a methane-electric high speed freight rail and a modular robotics system to do everything from transport cargo to manufacture pharmaceuticals.

I led the Logistics & Infrastructure domain in the design phase, which formed the foundation of many other fascinating designs in the city. I specified standard containers for robotic transport, worked with colleagues to design railway systems, contributed to the design of manufacturing facilities and generally had an absolute blast.

Once our designs were broadly collated I was the lead author of our 20 page final report (which was the product of a madcap 1-week sprint involving over 30 editors, visual artists, factcheckers and technical advisors). The report was successful enough to get us to the top 10 from over 170 teams, so I then took on the task of designing the 30 minute presentation at the Mars Convention. I opened this presentation at the Convention, and we ultimately were awarded first prize by a panel including Robert Zubrin.

White Giant rocket engine

I’ve been working on systems engineering for the CUSF spaceshot rocket Griffin since March 2020, and formally kicked off the White Giant engine development in January 2021. White Giant is the latest and largest in CUSF’s Stellar engine series – a 10kN regeneratively cooled engine burning nitrous oxide and isopropyl alcohol. White Giant will burn for 30 seconds, lofting the Griffin vehicle to 20km at around Mach 3 before firing the Aquila solid-fuelled second stage to space.

The path to space has begun with the development of a battery of analytical tools (Midas, Octopus, Bamboo). In the next few months we will carry out cold-flow testing and two-phase injector characterisation, followed by the build and test firing of the White Dwarf 1kN engine.

In parallel to the White Giant development process I’m directing the development of the Aquila rocket/upper stage, and carrying out further high-level design of the Panthera first stage. This will be a mammoth rocket, weighing in at around 200kg and 6m tall. Unlike existing student sounding rockets (notably USCRPL’s Traveller IV) we are unable to use custom solid motors thanks to UK law. This ultimately results in the need for a very powerful long-burning liquid engine and sold upper stage.

Martian Agri-robotics

Along with a small team at Nexus Aurora, I conceptually developed an autonomous farming system specifically for use in large Martian agricultural volumes. I entered this design in a Call for Experiments from the Transatlantic Mars crew, a joint American/French team who’ll be doing a rotation at the Mars Desert Research Station in December 2021. The proposal was accepted so I set about designing a subscale (~1m2) farming system to be deployed in the MDRS GreenHab.

This design is well underway, drawing on a number of open source designs (primarily FarmBot and GoodEnoughCNC) with specialised mechanical and software aspects added where required. The agri-bot team is thoroughly international (mechanical design, software and manufacturing spans 3 continents) and will be one of the first major hardware projects for Nexus Aurora – along with the sister MDRS project, autonomous scouting robots.

Orbital CAN Engineering

Another major project at Nexus Aurora is the family of projects around the Orbital CAN space station architecture. I’ve assisted in a few different technical aspects of this.

The Universal Berthing Mechanism (pictured above) is an evolved space station module berthing mechanism, specified to handle the next 50 years of LEO commercial and scientific development. I’ve assisted the team in specifying the MEP links between modules (power, coolant, data, experimental resources) and the complex plumbing required for maximum compatibility and simplicity of operations.

Across the aisle I’ve helped with high-level power and coolant system specification for the CAN module, used the UBM specification to limit station topologies and generally pushed the concept of operations for the architecture.

Sixth Form Turbojet

In retrospect, trying to build a metre-long turbojet engine in sixth form in a thoroughly poorly-equipped workshop may have been a bad idea. In the intervening years I’ve learnt a lot more theory that would have made for a much more successful project with more than a chance of spinning up successfully. But being forced to learn spectacularly complex theory from absolute scratch, and designing for hyper-constrained manufacture, was an absolutely tremendous experience and a load of fun for the whole team.