Case story

Expansion joints for student-built space rocket

University Space Science



Belman helps promising aeronautic and aerospace student with Expansion Joints for the most powerful student-built space rocket engine in the world!

Being known worldwide for their innovative and extraordinary Expansion Joint solutions for challenging applications requiring a high level of expertise and engineering know-how, Belman are always impressed by talented students from prestigious institutions of higher education studying, researching and developing remarkable projects. In turn, this also means that Belman engineers are always pleased to help these rising stars of engineering with their challenges and share their Expansion Joint knowledge with them. Recently Belman have been doing this again – i.e. helping students by partly sponsoring Expansion Joints designed for -184°C for the coolest student and his team and their impressive ‘Starsailor’ space rocket project in Canada.


The talented student and his team
Belman were amazed by the profile and talent of the student in question and his team. For the past three years, they have been working tirelessly on designing and building the largest student rocket in the world, with the goal of reaching outer space. The student, Oleg Khalimonov from Concordia University in Canada, is currently studying for his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering. He was the founder and has been the team captain for the ‘Starsailor’ project since its launch in 2018. Their goal is to be the first students in the world to send a liquid rocket into space. Until just recently, he was also the propulsion lead, which saw him leading the development of the 35kN kerosene/liquid oxygen rocket engine which ended up breaking the academic record for the most powerful student rocket engine ever built, with their liquid rocket engine topping out at 37kN! More powerful than the first rocket engine SpaceX fired, in other words!

A video of their last test campaign can be found here: https://youtu.be/p44dx-hXuHs


Very impressive space rocket project
Their experimental liquid-propelled rocket engine, Stewart, produced a record-shattering 35kN of thrust. This ‘Hot fire’ test was the culmination of a several-years-long campaign to achieve the full thrust of the flight engine for their upcoming ‘Starsailor’ rocket . The team is aiming to launch the rocket and its onboard scientific experiments to 130km (30km above the Kármán line, which is the border between the atmosphere of the world and the outer space) within the next year. In terms of power, the Stewart engine surpassed the previous student record, and all currently operating rocket engines in Canada. Achieving a full-thrust burn is a key milestone in rocket engine development. It generates critical combustion data, and acts as a true proof of concept for the engine’s design. Now, they plan to move forward with a test of the full rocket, referred to as a ‘Stage test’, in the coming months.
Liquid-propelled rocket engines are typically the most difficult kind to build, with their development usually only undertaken by large companies or government agencies. Student rocket projects of this kind are rare as they require a huge amount of time, incur large development costs and involve a steep learning curve. Of the 50 participating universities across North America, the SCRD was the only team to succeed in developing a rocket and a full-thrust flight engine, doing so using only a fraction of the resources available to some competitors. Participating universities include the University of Michigan, the University of British Columbia, Purdue University and the University of Texas. The SCRD placed first in the Base11 critical design review in February and was the only Canadian team to submit a flight readiness review in June. Those involved in the ‘Starsailor’ rocket project are aiming to launch within the year. The team is exploring launch options around North America, potentially looking to be one of the first spaceshot from Canadian soil in over 50 years. Regardless of their final launch site, ‘Starsailor’ and the Stewart engine have already made their mark on history.


Fast facts about the project:

  • Engine Thrust: 35kN, equivalent to SpaceX’s first ever Kestrel rocket engine
  • Target altitude: 130 km altitude, which is higher than the latest Virgin Galactic passenger flight and Blue Origin passenger flight. Previous student altitude record is USC’s Traveler IV at 103 km
  • Scientific experiment in microfluidics with applications for studying human health in space
  • The Space Concordia Rocketry Division: Space Concordia (SC) is a student space association at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. SC students work above and beyond their studies and dedicate their extra-curricular time to the pursuit of new space technologies.


The problem and need for Expansion Joint
During the development of the ‘Starsailor’ rocket, the students encountered a problem with the plumbing design:: 0.5″ of axial contraction on the liquid oxygen run line in the rocket. It is a very tight envelope, with less than 6″ of workable space. The student therefore contacted Belman to find an optimum solution to absorb these movements. With the launch only a few months away, the students urgently needed help to fix this problem.


The Expansion Joint solution
Due to the critical application, installing the correctly designed high quality Expansion Joint was crucial. The low temperatures meant that correct selection of materials for the Expansion Joint was very important. With extensive experience of liquid gas applications (LNG/LPG) and negative temperature application cases from major Expansion Joint projects, Belman was able to guide the students on material selection for the Expansion Joints. With the tube being 1-1/4″ OD and the thread being 1-1/4″NPT, space for pipe ends proved a challenge. Therefore, the students provided end fittings, which Belman reduced the length of, from the 48mm to 25mm on the straight sections. That saved enough space to fully accommodate the Expansion Joint. The installation point of the Expansion Joints means liquid fuel media at negative temperature, making it possible to put more media in the same tight spot. To avoid the media creating turbulence due to its high speed of around 13m/s, Inner Sleeves were included in the design of the Expansion Joints.


Belman care
“How often in your life do you get the chance to do something that nobody has ever done before? We’re doing the impossible.” – Oleg Khalimonov, Team Captain, SCRD. This sentence certainly piqued the interest of Belman. Especially, as the student told Belman, given that despite the universities attracting many sponsorships, he had to cover the expenses for the Expansion Joints personally. Belman responded as follows: “We can send them for free if we can make an interesting case story out of the project. What do you say?”. To that the student replied: “Oh wow, that’s amazing!!!!!!!! YES, we would love that arrangement!! We can supply fittings no problem; we’ll get started on that ASAP.”
That is what Belman do – they support and help the rising stars in the tech industry. They are the engineers of tomorrow and they are the ones that will move the world on. Belman are very proud that our Expansion Joints are making a difference on the awesome ‘Starsailor’-project!


Belman has done this before
Despite regarding high-end engineering and engineering challenges the most ambitious projects on earth, Belman are amazed at what clever minds can do. Belman find it important to work with students and therefore have worked with several universities in Europe supporting students on their remarkable projects. More recently, we have been supplying the University of Oxford and the University Bundeswehr Munich on awesome projects involving Expansion Joints.