Imagine that a hurricane has just hit your home town. Streets are flooded, power lines are down and resources are running out. Instead of waiting for help for two to three days, a rocket filled with essential supplies will be launched across the world and land within an hour.
The US Space Force wants to help when disasters like Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria hit. His goal is to build a rocket filled with food, water and other aids and send it to areas in need within 60 minutes.
With the help of three UCF researchers, the agency seeks to realize this project in the next decade.
UCF Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering assistant professors Michael Kinzel and Tarek Elgohary, along with Luis Rabelo, a professor in UCF’s Department of Industrial Engineering and Management Systems, became UCF’s first scholars to receive Space Force funding, after being awarded a $350,000 grant for the project.
UCF is one of seven universities to receive funding from the Space Force University Consortium Research Opportunity, which connects universities to Department of Defense space science and technology projects .
“It’s a very radical change from what we call human logistics, when there are critical issues,” Rabelo said. “There are people on top of the buildings who don’t know what to do and we have to go through some bureaucratic processes. It can be drastic!
Now, supplies needed in disasters are usually delivered by helicopters, planes or trucks, Elgohary said. Kinzel said the rocket’s goal is not to replace those options, but rather to provide a fast-track option for extreme conditions.
“UCF’s effort goes back and forth, ‘if you can get it in under an hour, what will all the other bottlenecks be?'” Kinzel said.
The project falls under the U.S. Air Force’s Vanguard program to determine and develop the viability of using large commercial rockets for Department of Defense global logistics, Kinzel said. The rockets would be deployed for disaster relief, shipping tons of medical and military supplies, food and even blood donations.
With the grant money, UCF researchers have two years to work on this project.
Each of the researchers will address different aspects of the plan. Kinzel will ensure cargo security using numerical analysis and aerodynamics. Elgohary’s role would relate to orbital mechanics and astrodynamics to ensure the rocket lands accurately.
Rabelo will use simulation technology to identify any potential issues in the process.
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Kinzel said there were a lot of factors to consider when designing this project, especially since the rocket would land by parachute instead of runways or landing pads. The goal, he said, is not only to shorten the process from three days to an hour, but also to get supplies within 100 yards of the targeted site.
UCF students will have the opportunity to participate in this research. Graduate and undergraduate students will participate next fall. Graduate students will take the initiative to model the rocket and the dynamics of its launch.
Rabelo said students will be individuals with a good GPA, have some background in industrial engineering or systems engineering, and complete their capstone course.
Students will help create hypothetical rocket designs in their capstone course, but the core of UCF’s research will focus on cargo delivery. Currently, there are no plans or prototypes for the rocket, Kinzel adding that he believes SpaceX will build it. The Elon Musk-led company has won a five-year, $102 million contract for the rocket cargo program.
While plans for how the group will participate are still being worked out, Elgohary said they are working with senior design coordinators and will meet monthly to see how the project is progressing.
“I really appreciated that there is now a huge interest in space from the federal government, with the formation of Space Force,” Elgohary said. “I’ve been doing space research my whole career, so it’s really an exciting time.”
This story is part of a partnership between the Orlando Sentinel and UCF’s Nicholson School of Communication and Media.