The first liquid rocket engine in the Central American region was developed in 2019 by a Purdue student, according to his findings from the International Astronautical Federation and the Italian Space Agency.
Roy Ramirez, a junior in the College of Engineering, chose to build the device in Central America.
“The point of doing it back home in Costa Rica is so (people) can actually do it with off-the-shelf components,” Ramirez said. “It’s to encourage Costa Rican people to dream a little bigger.”
Ramirez said that there are two main types of rocket propellant: solid and liquid. Most rockets use solid fuel. The engine he made, called the P-5, has a liquid propellant.
“A liquid one is more complicated. It’s stored in a liquid state in tanks. There’s a piping system, pumps, sensors, an injector to mix propellants, measure temperature, pressure, flow rates,” Ramirez said. “You use liquid rocket engines when you need control.”
What made the development more challenging was the fact that he had to use the resources back home. The theoretical work took about 1 1/2 years, which included all of the calculations. This was done at Purdue, in Costa Rica and in France.
He conducted some tests at Purdue’s High Pressure Combustion Laboratory at Maurice J. Zucrow Labs, said Silas Miram, a former graduate research assistant who helped Ramirez with obtaining measuring tools and gave him advice.
The actual assembly was in Costa Rica. Ramirez’s whole idea was to make it from cheaper components so everyone could understand what it takes to do a project like this in Costa Rica without the state-of-the-art laboratories and expensive components.
What also made it challenging was that most engineers are not knowledgeable about areas beyond their fields, he said. They design the model but hire people to manufacture it. Roy had to do a lot of the programming and financial study on his own since it was an almost entirely independent project.
He collected information for the parts he needed through a market study. He obtained 300 quotes from 48 manufacturing companies in 16 different countries for the manufacturing. He compared his options to make sure that he could get the items he needed for a low cost while retaining good quality.
Ramirez said that the most valuable lessons he learned didn’t come from actually building the rocket engine, they came from seeing the different perspectives needed to develop the engine, such as the manufacturing and financial aspects.
“The P-5 was not meant to be a powerful engine, but rather a way to understand what are the financial, manufacturing and technical implications of building the simplest device that can still be categorized as a liquid rocket engine,” Ramirez said.
Currently, Ramirez is trying to establish a collaboration between Purdue, France and Costa Rica to expand propulsion education in Costa Rica.
“I am very proud of the work he has done,” said Tyson McFall, Roy’s academic adviser at Purdue. “Taking on individual projects shows that our students have a passion that extends beyond the classroom.”