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Student Spotlight continued
the engine consumes about 15 pounds per second of the fuel and oxidizer propellants combined, with the combustion chamber operating at about 200 pounds per square inch of pressure.
The test stand would need to remotely, reliably, and safely control the engine for a test run (Figure 1), while monitoring and storing results of each firing for later analysis.
Controlled by Real-World Science
After some initial investigation, the team targeted AutomationDirect products for the PLC platform, with the AutomationDirect website’s features assisting in this decision. Online product selection guides quickly helped the team focus on the Productivity2000 micro-modular PLC platform as it had plenty
of computing power, I/O options, and
configuration flexibility.
Figure 1: Picture of rocket test stand venting tanks after a hot  re.
The rocket engine, shown here attached to the test stand, must be controlled to carefully combine and ignite liquid oxygen and kerosene while monitoring results.
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Break Room
Brain Teasers
Test stand automation operates valves and actu- ators, monitors sensors, initiates ignition, and pro- vides various safety shutdown functions. The last item is critical because a properly designed control system can recognize instrumented problems within millisec- onds and act to drive the system to a safe state. No personnel were ever expected to be anywhere near the engine in operation, but the team also needed to protect the equipment from damage.
Because the team was learning so many disci- plines at once, there was a great desire to avoid re-inventing the wheel. They already knew that PLCs and other industrial devices like control valves and sensors could do the job if they selected the right parts and programmed them properly. Here’s how the team specified the required hardware
and software.
Selection of the Productivity2000 was reinforced by the wealth of online product documents, support information, and training videos. Even though none of the team members had ever programmed or even heard of a PLC prior to this project, many members were familiar with other contemporary languages such as C++ and Python.
Using the free software and online tutorials, the team quickly discovered how to configure and scale inputs and outputs, and create the ladder logic nec- essary to achieve control. This gave them plenty of confidence they could meet their goals. The team was very excited for the hands-on opportunity to work with real-world products and systems, which isn’t always possible at university. However, they needed to be mindful about incorporating the “minimum via- ble product”, engineering-speak for keeping it simple and economical.
Student Spotlight | Issue 43
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