This project was inspired by NASA's Skycrane, which successfully lowered the Perseverance rover onto the Martian surface. We recognized the challenges associated with extracting a habitat from atop the Starship lander, such as potential imbalances that could tip the vehicle and the risk of damaging the habitat due to rocket plumes during future launches. To address these concerns, we devised a solution that mitigates these issues.

What it does

The HexaRocket system is a rocket-powered crane designed to extract a martian/lunar habitat and reposition it as far away from the Starship as possible. The system comprises three main components: an air-pressure decoupler, a 6-arm rocket-powered flying vehicle, and a crane. Initially folded within the Starship nose cone, the system unfolds using hinges. The air-pressure decoupler launches the crane to an altitude of 60 meters, factoring in a safety margin of three times the height of the Rutherford rocket engine's plume, to prevent damaging the Starship. Once at the desired altitude, the rocket engines ignite, allowing the vehicle to slowly descend to the target site and lower the habitat. The crane holds the habitat with four tethers and rotates it into a horizontal position before setting it down. Finally, the system lands safely next to the habitat.

How we built it

To build the HexaRocket system, we first calculated the necessary thrust to lift the entire system using rocket engines, applying a safety factor of two. We then researched existing engines compatible with our requirements, such as using RP-1 as fuel and minimizing dry mass to save weight. We ultimately selected Rocket Lab's Rutherford engine for its size and weight. We attached five engines to each arm of the HexaRocket to achieve the required acceleration. We optimized the fuel expenditure and selected carbon fiber as the material for its strength and ability to handle the necessary loads. We also employed machine learning to optimize trajectories for fuel expenditure and simulated the entire flight. To better visualize the concept, we created a full 3D model with animations.

Challenges we ran into

Our primary challenge was adhering to the strict maximum mass allowed for the system. This necessitated optimizing fuel usage and selecting materials strong enough to withstand the load.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

This project was one of the most mathematically challenging undertakings we've tackled. We spent hours deriving necessary formulas and deepening our understanding of the mathematical concepts behind our design. We take pride in our ability to apply this knowledge to enhance the HexaRocket system.

What we learned

We not only learned how to generate innovative ideas, but also how to bring them to life. Additionally, we gained a fundamental understanding of rocket science

What's next for HexaRocket

As we acknowledge the limitations of our current design, we have identified several areas for improvement in the HexaRocket system. At present, the system can only traverse 100 meters horizontally, and we aim to enhance this capability by further optimizing fuel expenditure. Additionally, we plan to address the mechanical design aspects of the HexaRocket system, which we couldn't fully explore due to time constraints. By refining these elements, we aspire to create a more efficient and robust solution for future applications.

Share this project: