Altitude (ft)

Max Speed

This year BristolSEDS were back at Machrihanish with a bigger (and some would say better although that’s a controversial claim) team. After learning plenty of lessons last year in both NRC and Mach22, the team wanted to mature the Albatross design significantly.

The idea was simple (I mean its only rocket science right?!)… a 1.2m wing span fixed-wing drone shall be the payload to a 2.4m tall rocket powered by a Cesaroni 4 grain L1115 solid rocket motor. This motor was not to be mucked around with, coming in at an unburnt weight of just over 4.4kg and an impulse of 5015Ns it was quite the spectacular sight to set off!

So, how did we do it? Over the course of around 8 months, the team were hard at work. They were split into two main sub-teams – Launch Vehicle (the rocket) and Payload (the drone). Within these teams, roles included:

  • Project Management
  • Aerodynamics
  • Electronics
  • Structures
  • Mechanisms
  • Recovery
The team then set about coming up with initial designs and then started to rapid prototype models. Soon an initial mock-up of the drone was CADed up and our payload structures lead spent many a late night going the extra mile to animate the wing opening mechanism. Meanwhile, our launch vehicle lead set about going about the manufacture of the rocket’s structural parts the hard way (as if rocket science wasn’t hard enough right?)… instead of buying body tubes off the shelf from an external manufacturer, we decided to lay up fibreglass tubes ourselves! This also included the construction of our own curing oven (big shout out to the Cox Rocket Manufacturing Company and co… aka Jacob alongside his mum and dad in the garden!)


So the team’s busy at work and the launch is now less than a week around the corner so what is the current stage of the project? Being painted last minute in student halls of course!

Soon enough came the day we had to pack the car and we did our best to not forget anything this time around, wow did we do this you ask? Pack literally everything is the answer! That’s right, we filled Jake’s 5 door from top to bottom with the seats down, anything that a budding rocketeer could possibly need to launch a high-powered rocket in the Scottish Highlands!

The day of the launch started early, for some of us much sooner than others! After a quick breakfast, the team drove down to the workshop and got hard to work at preparing the launch vehicle and payload. After a successful ejection charge test, the correct quantity of Pyrodex was found to separate the avionics bay from the payload and motor bays, thus deploying the drogue and main parachutes. Finishing touches were made and the team lined up in the first launch window of the day… or at least that was what was supposed to happen!

Instead, what history came to discover was the world’s most perfectly (I reckon as the PM!) time launch campaign of 2023. After deciding to aim for the 2nd launch window of the day, an emergency flight cancelled our NOTAM, stopping us from flying, so instead we were in the third and final window of the day. Due to delays in earlier teams, it turned out that when it became our turn up next, there was less than 5 minutes left in the window. Hence, when one of the UKRA range safety officers turned to myself and Jacob and said “the moment you see a parachute, run to the pad!” … and so we did! Unfortunately, we didn’t get any photos running to the pad, we did, however, get this gem of Jacob running from the pad!

So, how did the launch go you ask? In one word: Beautifully

Oh yes, and we recovered it too!

Not bad going for a bunch of students, reckon we can call ourselves rocket scientists now! Sadly the drone was lost to the Scottish Highlands after it drifted out of sight on its emergency parachute. But we aren’t sad about that you know… it gets to live out its life a free drone, a happy drone, a Scottish drone – AYE ME LADDY! (oh yeah… and it has an Irn-bru rocket to keep it company in the wilderness too!) Anyway, enough of a rant, onto next year with a fresh team, could you be next?