The Cockrell School of Engineering’s Texas Rocket Engineering Lab (TREL) is one step closer to the edge of space following the successful liquid hot-fire test of their liquid bi-propellant rocket, Halycon. This milestone moves TREL toward their goal of becoming the first-ever student team to design, build and launch a liquid-propellant rocket to the Karman Line.

For nearly two years, TREL members have been designing and fabricating components for an industrial-scale rocket for their team’s entry in the Base 11 Space Challenge, a collegiate race to be the first student-led team to design, build, launch and recover a liquid-fueled, single-stage rocket to an altitude of 100 kilometers by Dec. 30, 2021. The challenge, which boasts a grand prize of $1 million, would propel UT rocket engineering for years to come. The goal of TREL’s first liquid hot-fire test was to ensure the successful ignition of propellants.

"This hot-fire test was the result of my team working crazy hard the past two years,” said Grace Elphingstone, engine test co-lead and mechanical engineering major. “It was so exciting to hit this milestone, but I think the real product of this experience was us becoming better engineers. I'm so proud of how much we've grown.”

First established as part of the Firefly@UT engineering education program in 2018, TREL’s team has now expanded to over 200 students from a variety of disciplines across the university. Although much of Halycon’s construction has been at TREL’s 2,000-square-foot fabrication lab at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus, the liquid hot-fire test was conducted at Briggs TX at the Firefly facility.

“Hot-firing Halcyon was the culmination of years of our sub-teams’ hard work and dedication,” said Chasen Zimmer, propulsion system engineer and aerospace engineering major. “Tackling hundreds of individual problems for one moment of performance is what rocketry is all about. We can’t wait for the ultimate testament of TREL’s hard work: a fully integrated Halcyon rocket.”

In the coming months, the team hopes to demonstrate ignition reliability across multiple tests in addition to ramping up power and burn duration. Throughout the tests, they will be gathering valuable data on thrust, efficiency and heat transfer, aiding in the design of the flight-weight engine which will, ultimately, propel Halcyon to space.