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Mechanical Separation

May 2017 - June 2018


The rockets made in NU AIAA are typically separated using a controlled blast of black powder. While the blast charges do work, they can be potentially damaging to sensitive electronics within the rocket. As such, the goal of this project was to design a method of non-chemical rocket separation to minimize the potential to damage sensitive internal equipment.

My Role:

As a member of this project, I helped design the mechanical separation technology and provided design input for the overall rocket design. I modeled some aspects of the electronics bay, facilitated group discussions when working through the design process, and helped construct the rocket as needed. (Most construction was done by younger members with less design experience so they could learn more about rocket design.)

Project Results:

The separation method used 3 compressed springs to force the rocket section to separate. Our design process mostly focused on determining what fastening method would work best at keeping the springs compressed until the desired time. We debated between a mechanical latch and a permanent electromagnet, and agreed that an electromagnet would simplify the design significantly. Once we finalized the prototype design, we improved its durability with more robust materials and installed it into a rocket for a test launch. We successfully launched the rocket to an apogee of ~780 feet, where the mechanical separation system worked flawlessly to deploy the rocket's drogue parachute. The main parachute separated via black powder as a backup at ~600 feet altitude. Neither the rocket nor the separation system sustained any damage during flight or recovery.

Skills Learned:

  • Refined modeling skills in SolidWorks

  • Became familiar with the use of the club's desktop CNC

  • Strengthened knowledge of Laser Cutter and 3D Printing techniques

  • Mentored and taught newer members good design practice and fabrication techniques


©2018 by David Siegel