How I got to spend last summer building rockets

Hello, I am Ayush, and I am a robotics and computer engineering student from the Institute of Technology, University of Tartu. Last summer, I had the chance to work in Latvia at the aerospace technology startup Heliocentric Technologies under the SpaceTEM internship programme. I got to work on rockets! I have been obsessed with everything related to space since childhood, and to get this opportunity was a dream come true.

The main mission for Heliocentric Technologies is to become the first Latvian entity to launch a rocket into space, i.e. to the altitude of 100 km (the Karman line). They have a lot of prior experience and expertise in launching weather balloon platforms, and thus their idea is to launch a rocket from a similar platform, reducing the mass and rocket fuel needed.

The year before the internship had been very interesting for me. Studying in Tartu, I had made new friends, struggled with some of the coursework, learned a lot of new stuff, and, of course, survived the Estonian winter.

At the kick-off event for SpaceTEM interns (me in the centre). Image credit: Ventspils University of Applied Sciences

To gain some more experience, I was looking for a summer internship – that is when I found out about SpaceTEM, which is a joint Interreg programme between Estonia and Latvia. A bunch of companies from both of the countries, in addition to major educational institutions such as University of Tartu, University of Lativa, and Ventspils University College, offer various topics for internships related to space sciences, and the best bit is that it’s paid!

I applied to three different institutions, but Heliocentric Technologies was the first one to contact me. From them, I learnt that I had the opportunity to work on a high-altitude stabilization system for rockets. After a few Skype interviews and understanding more about what my goal was, I was happy to say yes.

My first week was a whirlwind of things. I met my fellow students who I would be working and staying with during the summer, and got introduced to an awesome new city and so many new people. I got to visit the Latvian satellite laser ranging station in Riga. Although it wasn’t all smooth sailing, any issues got worked out pretty fast, and very soon I was working on and researching my motive for the summer.

I was working in a workshop, and my mentor for the summer was Andrejs Pukitis. I was regularly impressed by his vast knowledge and resourcefulness. He found ingenious solutions to problems and made the whole summer and work extremely fun. Organizing everything and motivating us continuously was Pauls Irbiņš, the head of the company.

Working in the workshop was a new experience: coming up with new designs and concepts, brainstorming, and having coffee and lunch breaks. I enjoyed working there thoroughly, and, nearing the end of the internship, we were ready to test launch one of the concepts for stabilizing the rocket.

Me at the workshop. Image credit: Siiri Talvistu

With there not being enough air to aerodynamically stabilize the rocket at 15–20 km, the rocket would be spinning instead. To test the concept on the ground, we came up with a design for the launcher in a couple of days and finished fabricating it in just more than a week. Finally, it was the time to launch.

We went into the middle of an airfield and spent half of the day setting up the platform and all the cameras; we had a fair bit of audience, which made everything more exciting, but also a bit more stressful. We also had the wind play spoilsport and had to wait a bit to proceed with the launch. The launch rail was spinning, and with the push of a button we had sparks and ignition.

Unfortunately, the launch didn’t go as planned, and we had a launch failure due to some problems with the launch tube. We rushed back into the hanger to somehow prepare for another launch, and, after some crazy engineering and fixes, we were ready again. We did manage to have a launch this time around, but the trajectory of the rocket got tilted.

I spent the rest of my time improving the design and working on the second iteration of the rocket. When we finally got the launch videos, we were delighted to see that our concept did work, and the rocket was spinning at the correct RPM (rotations per minute) as it was launched.

The launch of the rocket. Video credit: Heliocentric Technologies

Overall, it was an amazing summer of working through different problems with a fair bit of fun involved. There were challenges and hiccups along the way, but with the help of the amazing people I worked with, I was able to come out successful and learn something new almost every day.

I have been keeping up with the progress since the summer, and  I am sure they will achieve their goal of becoming the first Latvians to launch a rocket into space. I would recommend everyone to jump on the opportunities that SpaceTEM provides and experience an amazing summer.

You can apply for the SpaceTEM paid internship until March 31, 2019.
Learn more about the programme. Apply for the internship.

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