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Vortex Generators – Next-Gen Spaceflight

Posted by Matt on October - 19 - 2015

Alright so in six grade I began my research for science fair with a relatively simple project. If I change the design of a rocket in different ways which will fly the highest. Now I had predicted that the rocket with no modifications would go the highest, but in fact this hypothesis is wrong in one case.

The rocket that I’d added tape to sticking out all over ended up flying the highest even though I had predicted that the tape would add drag therefore the record would not fly as high. So I had to do some research as to why this might have happened and I decided that maybe the tape had acted as vortex generators.

Now vortex generators are they sound more complicated than they really are. They’re just these little blades, I guess you could call them, that are used on generally smaller airplanes to reduce the drag and add lift at a slow speed in order to reduced stall speed.

Now and a stall is it’s when the wing of an airplane get at a very high angle to the air coming at it, and the air comes over and separates off the end of the wing as you can see in the picture on the left and now the wing can no longer create lift, but with vortex generators the air comes over the wing and adheres to the wing, so the wing continues to create lift.

So seventh grade was the blood and bones of my project, I was privileged to work with a mentor named Adrian Adamson that year who he was he worked on the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rovers and you know, he’s obviously as you can tell really smart. In his spare time he actually made these altimeters right here and they’re from other rockets and they measure altitude and speed among other things.

So I remember the first time he came over to my house to explain how to use his altimeters, he were sitting on my dining room table and he he’s explaining how to use altimeter and he’s pointing to this computer and he is explaining all these complex, all these complex equations and I just have no idea what he’s talking about, and you know that feeling you get when you so much don’t know somebody’s talking about where you can’t even ask questions about it, That’s the feeling I got.

So after he left my mom came up to me and said well what he tell you about the altimeter, what he tell you about the altimeter, and I just said I pretty much nodded and smiled my way through it, and I wrote down these random words I heard heard here and there, but other than that I didn’t know what he’s talking about, but undeterred by his superior intelligence, I took the few ideas that I had written down and did some research and actually did some Q&A back with back and forth with Adrian and I came up with a plan for my seventh-grade science project.

The plan was to do 24 launches to prove that vortex generators reduce drag on model rockets. Plan didn’t go exactly as intended, so I launched out at my cousin French, in the winter, in the snow, and it was cold so and on top of all that it was windy. So this pretty much meant that the rockets never landed within the ranch’s property. So there’s lot of running, and jumping the fences, and avoiding barbed wire, and that look that gray-haired I got there.

That that not only sacrifice my sanity but also my jeans, so also the rockets never lasted may be more than six launches without needing a repair. So there I was, torn pants and all, running after these rockets like a deranged dog running after tennis balls.

There’s snow on my boots and I’m trying to make these repairs really quick and easy in my car and it smells like sulfur in blue. Then I’m running back out into the middle the field to enter this data from my altimeter into this computer with frozen hands. Unfortunately instead of twenty four times repeating this I repeat it forty three times.

This is because about half way through I realized that the data I was getting was not accurate. So I had to do nineteen more launches in order to make it accurate. That was not fun. So near the end I was in tears because my shock cord had broke and the altimeter plummeted to the ground from like the thousandth time and the the wires had popped out, and it was cold, and I was hungry, and it was late. I just want to be done, but I kept testing for the glory of discovery.

In 8th Grade I was given the fantastic opportunity to work in the wind tunnel at CU Denver with the assistance a professor Joe Cohen. The really cool thing if you think about it of using a wind tunnel is that you know the Wright brothers all the way back when they invented the first powered airplane use wind tunnels to test their designs. Now NASA uses wind tunnels to test their designs.

Now I got to use the wind tunnel to test my design, and so when I first arrived at the wind tunnel and met professor Colin is that same feeling when I met Adrian, and you know he’s explaining all this equipment and these this data I’ll be getting and all these words that I did not understand, and you know, I all I was hearing was you know Charlie Brown’s mom or teacher whoever it is going while wa wa wa wa wa wa. So but eventually cause Mr. Colin was very good at explaining these concepts. Eventually I figured out the ways of the wind tunnel, and the nice thing about using the wind tunnels that I was able to control variables such as wind and the tilting of the rocket that I was not able to control the year before when launching the rockets.

So even though everything was going great in the wind tunnel there is always a point in an experiment where everything just comes to a screeching halt. This happen for me when I realized that the data this year was conflicting with the data the year before. The vortex generators in the Wind tunnel was showing that vortex generators we’re adding drag at every position and every speed I did not want. While the year before the vortex generators had consistently reduce drag at a low speed.

So I had to find out why are these results conflicting where had I gone wrong and at that moment my future flashed before my eyes and I knew if I did not solve this problem I’d be doomed to a life of failure and my dreams of being becoming an aerospace engineer were just dashed, but coming back to reality professor Colin came to my aid and he we went through some extensive brainstorming about what might be the issue and we came up with an idea that may be the very things that we were trying to control with the wind tunnel such as the wind and the tilting of the rocket were the things that allow the vortex generators to reduce the drag in first place.

So to simulate this idea I mounted the rocket at an angle in the wind tunnel so you can see that here. So these tests prove very successful because the vortex generators consistently reduced drag at when the rocket was at an angle. So now I made this mechanism here. There’s me and my incredibly messy shed. I made this mechanism here that extends the vortex generators when they reduce drag and their in while they while they add drag.

So pretty much all I have I have this radio control airplanes controller, and I flip this switch and it sends a signal to this servo. You can tell it’s actually pretty simple. It send a signal to the servo in here, and that servo pushes down on this which is pretty flimsy but it’s a prototype, and it’s got vortext generators on the end, pushes down on this cone in here and the vortex generators pushed down and out on that cone out at the rocket.

So let’s see, and so after these three years of hard work on this science fair projects, I was able to have some pretty amazing opportunities. After a long application process, I was chosen among 29 other seventh, eighth and ninth graders to participate in this Broadcom masters competition and it was great because I met and worked with kids that had the same interests as me in the stem category which is science, technology, engineering and math and we met the president, and he’s really tall, and we got a minor planet named after us which is pretty cool too okay, and now here I am doing a techx talk and it all started with science fair and an idea. So let us move ahead in time. How can what I’ve learned be applied in the future. Well NASA and other private companies are breaking new ground in developing space like technologies not only for exploration but also for flight around the globe commercial spaceflight.

Vortex generators may be able to be applied to these new rocket designs in order to reduce the drag while the rocket is in the in the atmosphere. SpaceX is a company that’s in the aerospace industry and they’ve developed this rocket called the grasshopper and what the grasshopper can do, which is very cool, it launches from one spot and then it can launch maneuver even hover and then it comes back down and it can land in that same spot upright unlike a space shuttle which launches and lands like a airplane.

So Colorado has been and will continue to be a very important part of the aerospace industry. We have CU which is a has a nationally recognized aerospace program, Lockheed-Martin, United Launch Alliance and Sierra Nevada who is working on the dream chaser which could possibly be NASA’s next space vehicle. One more cool thing about Colorado we have Front Range Airport which soon may very well be Front Range spaceport for space like transportation.

So imagine yourself instead of climbing into an airplane for a trip from New York to London that would take 8 hours, you’re climbing into a rocket to blast in the low Earth orbit at 17,500 miles per hour for a trip of an hour and a half instead, or even imagine yourself stepping being one first people to step onto an asteroid or even Mars. As a kid you at the perfect age to accomplish this goal of being an astronaut, so, but there are these barriers unfortunately that that will have to be passed in order for all this to be possible. One is expense, two is fuel and propulsion, and three is efficiency.

Now researchers and scientists are all working on these issues but young fresh minds are really necessary to you come up with these ideas that nobody’s come up with before. All it takes is to have a little bit of drive, passion, motivation just interest in the things around you. Ask your counselor or teacher about getting a mentor like I did, and new opportunities will open themselves up to you. There just experiment with the things around you. Also there’s so much more to be explored and to discovered.

The universe is immense you can see here, and expanding this is a real photo. Each of those lights is a galaxy and each galaxy has hundreds of billions of stars and each star has a solar system and each solar system has planets and we are just one planet in one solar system.

That just tells you how vast the universe is and how much more there is to be explored. So exploration and discovery should be part of life. Make them apart of yours. Thank you.

Watch Johann Kailey-Steiner at TED here

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