Almost building an engine from hardware store parts

engine

You can build a surprising amount of stuff from parts you can pick up at a hardware store. Sometimes, though, getting a project built from sections of pipe is very, very difficult. That’s the case with [Lou]’s hardware store engine: despite an inordinate amount of cleverness, he just can’t seem to get an engine made from pipe fitting to work and is now asking for some ideas from other ingenious makers.

The engine uses regular oxygen and propane tanks you can pick up at Home Depot with torch heads soldered onto half inch pipe. The fuel and oxygen are mixed in a T fitting until a grill igniter sets the gas mixture ablaze pushing a cylinder down the length of a copper pipe. The cylinder is attached to an aluminum flywheel that also controls the opening and closing of the oxygen and propane valves as well as switching the grill igniter on and off.

Right now, [Lou] can get the engine running, but only for one stroke of the cylinder. He’s having a bit of a problem turning this into a working motor. If you’ve got any idea on how to make [Lou]’s engine work, drop a line in the comments. We’ll throw our two cents in and say he needs a valve on the exhaust, but other suggestions are always welcome.

FUBAR Labs builds a rocket engine

engine

[Graham] over at FUBAR labs took it upon himself to build a rocket engine. This isn’t a simple solid-fuel motor, though: [Graham] went all out and built a liquid-fueled engine that is ignited with a spark plug.

The build started off with a very small ‘igniter’ engine meant to shoot sparks into a larger engine. This engine is fueled with ethanol and air – not the best fuel for a rocket engine by a long shot but save and cheap enough to do a few serious experiments with.

To test out this small engine, [Graham] made a test platform out of aluminum extrusion to remotely control the fuel and oxidizer valves. The valves are controlled by an Arduino and XBee for remote operation and a telemetry downlink for measuring the fluid flow into the engine.

After he had some experience with pressure, plumbing, valves, and engines, [Graham] upgraded his fuel and oxidizer to gaseous oxygen and ethanol. With proper safety protocol in place, [Graham] was able to a series of three 3-second burns less than a minute apart as well as a single burn lasting nearly 5 seconds.

Even though [Graham] eschewed the usual stainless steel construction of rocket engines (his engine is milled out of aluminum), he demonstrated it is possible to build a real liquid-fueled rocket engine at home.

3D printing a rocket engine

Most any rocket engine you’d find on a spacecraft – save for solid or hybrid rockets – use an engine system that’s fairly complex. Because of the intense heat, the fuel is circulated around the chamber before ignition giving a motor its regeneratively cooled nomenclature. This arrangement leads to a few complicated welding and machining processes, but surprisingly these obstacles can be overcome by simply printing a rocket engine on a 3D printer.

The current engine is quite small, but still fueled just like any other proper rocket engine that makes it into Earth orbit. The fuel is propane, the oxidizer is NO2, and the entire device is ignited with an automotive spark plug. Of course this was an expensive proposition; a motor with 12 pounds of thrust cost somewhere in the range of four figures.

Printing a rocket engine has a few advantages over traditional manufacturing techniques. [Rocket Moonlighting] explains that traditional techniques (mills, lathes and other heavy equipment) are bound by labor, material, and time. The costs of printing a rocket engine are only bound by the volume of the finished piece, meaning the most expensive engine per unit of thrust is the one that will fit in your pocket; scaling up means more efficiency for less cost.

There are a few videos up after the break showing the engine in action at full throttle, a few start and restart tests, and a test that involved throttling the engine. It’s an extremely impressive piece of kit, and hopefully [Rocket Moonlighting] will release the CAD source so we can make our own.

EDIT: [RM] tells me his engine cost less than $2000 to make. If just 10 people wanted their own engine from a ‘group buy,’ the price would drop by more than half. If you’d like your own 3D printed rocket engine, you might do well to drop [Rocket Moonlighting] a line.

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How to convert an internal combustion engine to run from steam power

We had no idea that what’s needed to convert an internal combustion engine to steam power is actually rather trivial. [David Nash] shows us how it’s done by performing the alterations on the engine of a string trimmer. These are the tools used to cut down vegetation around obstacles in your yard. The source of the engine doesn’t really matter as long as it’s a 2-cycle motor.

This engine had one spark plug which is threaded into the top of the block. [David] removed this and attached his replacement hardware. For now he’s using compressed air for development, but will connected the final version to a boiler.

There are only a couple of important parts between the engine and the boiler. There’s an in-line oil reservoir to help combat the corrosive nature of the steam. There is also a check valve. In the video after the break [David] shows the hunk of a ball-point pen that he uses to actuate the check valve. It’s really just a spacer that the piston pushes up to open the valve. This will be replaced with a metal rod in the final version.

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Firing rocket engines in the wrong direction — this is only a test

LVL1 has a new rocketeering group. This rocket engine testing platform is the first project to come out of the fledgling club. The purpose of the tool is to gather empirical data from model rocket engines. Having reliable numbers on thrust over time will allow the team to get their designs right before the physical build even starts.

The rig uses a pine base, with a PVC frame, threaded bolts, and a PVC cuff for mounting the engine in place. It is set to fire up in the air, directing the thrust down onto a scale. The flex sensor in the scale is monitored by an Arduino, and should be able to hold up to the 5000 pounds grams of thrust max which this type of engines can put out. The data is pushed via USB to a laptop computer where it is stored in a spreadsheet.

Calibration would be an issue here. But as long as they’re always using the same strain sensor the numbers will be accurate enough relative to each other.

LVL1 has a rocketeers group, is not working on ICBMs.

We’re very familiar with the Louisville Hackerspace LVL1 here at Hackaday. From their GLaDOS-inspired sentient overlord, an evil box to filter the Internet, and a friggin’ moat, LVL1 is the closest we’ve got to a mad scientist heard cackling from a wind-swept castle on a stormy night. It turns out they also have a rocketry program. Now we’re just waiting for confirmation of their subterranean complex of missile silos.

The rocketery-oriented part of LVL1 spawned from a University of Louisville’s group. The goal of the group is to compete in the NASA University Student Launch Initiative, dedicated to competing against other teams to launch a scientific payload to 1 mile AGL. At the competition last May, the team placed 5th out of 42 teams and won the award for best website. We can’t wait to see what they come up with next year.

Even though the team is out of school for the summer, they’re still cooking up a few rocketry hacks. They’ve built a test stand to measure the thrust of off-the-shelf motors, kitbashed a few Estes Baby Berthas (very awesome and very easy if you have a laser cutter), and are starting a pulse jet project.

We’re assuming the LVL1 Rocketeers group is just a front for their yet to be unveiled moon-based “laser” project, but you can check out a few videos from the ULSI competition after the break.

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Test firing the largest amateur-built liquid fuel rocket engine

Last April, we caught wind of a very impressive rocket engine being built by Copenhagen Suborbitals. That engine was on the test pad this weekend, and the video is incredible (skip to 20:30 for the actual test). The Copenhagen Suborbitals team pulled off a successful test firing of their 65 kilo Newton alcohol and liquid Oxygen-fueled rocket.

When last we saw the TM65 engine, it was sitting on the design floor of the Copenhagen Suborbitals workspace. The plan was to fire the engine using alcohol fuel and LOX pressurized by Helium, but that plan was changed to use Nitrogen as the pressurant. The static test was an immensely successful demonstration of the engine, but unfortunately the chamber pressure (and therefore thrust) was a little low meaning the team will be moving back to Helium for the next test.

Thanks to the very successful test of the TM65, Copenhagen Suborbitals may be launching their HEAT booster later this year possibly carrying their new space capsule. Even if it’s only a crash test dummy that will make the ride into space, we can’t wait for the video of the flight.

Check out a few more (abridged) videos of the TM65 test firing after the break.

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