Project Caelus - High School Students on a Journey to Space

We develop sustainable methods of aerospace engineering in rocket engine design and production while promoting STEM amongst the community.

Photo of Lisa Raj Singh
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Eligibility: Please confirm you meet all the following criteria

  • You are aged between 14 - 18 as of August 1, 2020
  • You live in the United States or its territories
  • You are not employed by, or directly related (grand parents, parents or siblings) to a current General Motors (GM) or Ashoka employee
  • You have been working on this project for at least three months
  • You consent to us possibly featuring your work on social media
  • You confirm you have the rights to use and share any content uploaded on this entry form

Eligibility: Date of Birth

July 22, 2003

What gender do you identify with?

  • Female

Help us stay in touch!

Virginia: Fairfax County (20151) +15712134755

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

https://www.facebook.com/projectcaelus https://www.instagram.com/project.caelus/ @project.caelus Contact us at outreach@projectcaelus.org

Date You Started Your Project Started

11/27/2018

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Established (successfully passed early phases, have a plan for the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Although the raw emissions from a single rocket launch is insignificant relative to the average daily CO2 output of all the cars in America, the manufacturing and fuel production processes taken by aerospace companies can be largely damaging to the environment. We aim to minimize the environmentally harmful inefficiencies in the often overlooked sector of business in aerospace through developing sustainable means of rocket engine production.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

There are multiple ways to save costs, overall energy consumption, and reduce emissions in the aerospace industry. At Project Caelus, we take all three of these points to heart as a model for how design timelines and philosophies can be shaped in the aerospace industry to better accommodate for a better future for an explosive industry and also our planet. The primary method of reducing detrimental environmental impact is to use an efficient fuel with eco-friendly manufacturing and expenditure means. For these two reasons, we chose ethanol as our fuel and nitrous oxide as our oxidizer. Ethanol’s manufacturing process is more eco-friendly than pollutive kerosene, which must be industrially refined to remove impurities. Since growing the plants required for ethanol extraction absorbs CO2, burning ethanol is considered carbon neutral. Our design approach to our first engine vouches for simplicity without using exotic materials that may contribute to environmental harm (for example: using an eco-friendly O-ring material and ablative system). We avoid utilizing toxic monopropellants such as hydrazine or UDMH, and are instead in the process of researching eco-friendly alternatives.

3. Using STEM as a force of good: Please specify how are you using STEM to solve for an environmental challenge you are passionate about.

To be environmentally responsible, the environment must be a consideration at every step of the design process, not just an after-thought. In addition to how we’re considering the environment as mentioned above (low facility power requirements, simple manufacturing methods, and eco-friendly propellants and materials), we’ve planned ahead for a greener future, much as a parallel to SpaceX’s and Blue Origin’s approach: to use methane. The manufacturing process utilizing methane consumes CO2 and removes it from the atmosphere. Since it is intended to be used on Mars as well, the production of methane may mostly be on Mars and thus only half the fuel required for a round-trip to Mars will be done on Earth. Additionally, the extraction process of natural gas is much greener than fracking or other methods used to extract other hydrocarbon fuels. Common substances like RP-1, as mentioned before, is harmful for the environment since its refinement from kerosene is industrial and burning results in un-decomposable exhaust products. Alternatively, the exhaust product of methane is primarily water vapor. Essentially, STEM research is crucial to guiding our project along a sustainable path.

4. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

When Jason was in seventh grade, his history teacher showed him the film “October Sky”, a film portraying the journey of an uneducated boy in the 1950s with humble origins inspired to pursue rocketry upon seeing Sputnik fly over his town. Jason had grown up drawing cartoon rockets and watching cold war documentaries but never quite knew what he wanted to do with his love of space until that moment. Inspired by the film and encouraged by the community of nerdy friends at school, he founded Project Caelus, dedicating his high school years to developing his own liquid rocket with the most passionate group of people he has ever known. Caelus was founded and will continue, years after we’ve graduated, to change the narrative to show that we changemakers are never too young to pursue something as complex as rocketry, and contribute to the revival of America’s love for space in our own way.

5. Video (Keep it simple, a video made on a hand-held phone is great): Please upload a 1-minute video to YouTube that answers the following “I am stepping up to be a Changemaker because...”

This video outlines our goals and conveys why we aspire to become Changemakers. The complete video with proper credits to footage and music is linked here: youtube.com/watch?v=baIx5ctYsaI

6. Please highlight the key activities you have carried out to bring your project to life.

Frankly speaking, our first step was the most important, obvious, yet difficult to do: learn how to build a rocket engine. We cranked out hours of research, as well as reaching out to aerospace experts for feedback and assistance. Next, we design and prototype. Something usually goes wrong here and it’s back to the drawing board. Repeat. In other aspects, we filed for tax-exemption, recruited sponsors, and launched various outreach initiatives; all crucial steps to bringing our project to life.

7. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

We are the first of our kind: the first high schoolers to build, test and send a liquid-fueled rocket engine to space. Although to most this may sound impossible, we have made tangible progress, are in contact with NASA engineers, and collegiate level teams to receive feedback on our work. Most importantly, we don’t follow a step-by-step cookie cutter guide as most rocketry teams do. In no terms are we saying we don’t need help (we definitely do), however, we experiment, explore various sources, and fail - but try again. Think of us as modern day Wright brothers - except there are 26 of us.

8. Impact: In the last three months, please detail the impact your project has made?

With COVID-19 containing students in their households with limited learning resources, Project Caelus took this opportunity to give back to the community via a free tutoring service. Through Caelus Computing, we offer one-on-one tutoring lessons in computer science, math, and science to 150+ 3-10th graders over an 8-week period. Earlier in the year, we hosted an event teaching under-privileged elementary students aerospace concepts. Third-grader Max caught onto Newton’s 3rd Law through balloon rockets faster than we did in high school physics! Project Caelus has also made headway on the design progress with propulsion. We have designed the injector, nozzle, and plumbing which will be used to propel our first Aphlex 1B, a 1.5 kN rocket that is targeted to reach 1.5 km high. We have additionally finalized the design for our test stand which will be used to test our engine.

9. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

Our next immediate goal is to complete our cold flow test, a test that checks the piping system of the rocket engine using pressurized water instead of actual propellants. This allows us to safely check that the plumbing of the rocket works correctly and gain accurate measurements of pressure drops. After the cold flow, we will prepare a hotfire test - testing the engine with actual propellant, providing an accurate measurement of our rocket’s thrust. Our Outreach Lead, Lisa Raj Singh is exploring expanding Caelus Computing through partnerships with other student organizations and changemakers. We are also looking into hiring a board of directors in order to better coordinate our effort and have a source of expert advice.

10. Please share how you have influenced other young people to get involved in your project and/or care about environmental sustainability.

A few days ago, team member Sophia Troshynski taught her student Sidharth about ecosystems while observing a worm under a microscope! At Techstravaganza, an activities fair for young students, we demonstrated differences between typical and eco-friendly rocket engines using models. Photos of both are attached! In addition to teaching about environmental sustainability through Caelus Computing and STEM workshops, our yearly recruitment process allows new high school students to get involved.

11. Please share ideas of how you can partner with other changemakers to make a difference?

In the field of aerospace, we have been working with changemakers from the Stanford Student Space Initiative, Georgia Institute of Technology Yellow Jacket Space Program, Purdue Propulsion Lab, and the USC Rocket Propulsion Lab. We also worked alongside Sewa International and Allgirlithm to launch Caelus Computing. We would absolutely love to partner with other changemakers, and would appreciate Ashoka’s guidance in connecting us to a network of passionate individuals and groups.

12. How would you engage others who have never heard about your project to get their buy-in?

In our past experiences from knocking door-to-door pitching to companies, schools, and parents, we know our project seems unrealistic. Unattainable even. This is why we keep things tangible: we explain our work through hands-on methods such as 3D printed rocket models. We appeal to the notion that science should not be “big words” put on a pedestal but a wondrous exploration attainable for everyone. We are living proof of this: if a bunch of high school students can do it, so can you.

13. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100
  • Donations between $100-$1k

References

Vincent Chen (Father of Jason Chen, Project Lead), 7032005230, taitchen@gmail.com Dr. Artis from Virginia Tech: hartis@vt.edu Mr. Culbertson from Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology: rhculbertson@fcps.edu We may be able to gain their phone numbers if necessary, but currently do not have them.

Are you employed, or directly related (grand-parents, parents, sibling) to a GM or Ashoka employee?

  • No

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • Asian (for example: Chinese, Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Pakistani) (9)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Communities of color

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • Ashoka page or contact
  • Word of mouth

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Attachments (3)

Project Caelus Outreach Plan.docx

This is the document shared with other non-profits we partner with in order to outline our past projects, budget, and goals for the outreach aspect to our team. We've included our plan for involving members of the community in our projects in a detailed fashion in this document.

Project Caelus Presentation.pptx

This presentation serves as a great introductory visual for our goals and progress thus far.

Project Caelus Business Plan.docx

This document is shared with businesses and corporations who are potential sponsors for our team. This document focuses on engineering details, a detailed budget, and sponsor benefits.

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Spam
Photo of Antonio
Team

Hello Project Caelus Team! The commitment and professionalism you display is beyond impressive. One of my favorite aspects of your project is the outreach to your community via free tutoring and the teaching of STEM topics. Those same students you tutor may become members of the team in future years. With that, I believe it is crucial for the team to document as much as possible. Documenting ensures that the future team can carry on the legacy. Recruitment of new members is also important. Keep up the fantastic work!

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