Aerospike nozzles, which use a series of “exhaust pipes” arranged around a bowl-shaped spike to simultaneously fire exhaust from an engine and serve as the propellant for a rocket, are smaller and less complex than their bell-nozzle counterpart, which uses one large bell-shaped “exhaust pipe” to direct the flow of gases from the engine and create a propellant (see above right). So far, aerospike nozzles have not been widely tested and, therefore, have not been incorporated into working rockets. Whitmore has received $750,000 in funding for research on this nozzle and is working to do more analytical and experimental work with them in order to show that they are ready to be included in propulsion systems. Part of this analysis is now being researched by the Chimaera rocket team.
Whitmore thoroughly enjoys rocket research and working with the Chimaera team. Before coming to Utah State University in 2005, he worked for NASA as a propulsion engineer for over 25 years. “I have set up my class to run like a systems engineering team at NASA,” said Whitmore. “The students oversee each other, beginning with a chief engineer and filtering down through a systems engineer and all of the smaller specialized teams. I am happy to see stereotypes dissolve in this system because our two lead engineers this year are women, and they are doing a great job.” With two USLI victories under his belt, Whitmore and his team have fun learning, designing, and working together. “In what other field do you get to tinker with and launch live rockets?”
The Chimaera team’s centrifugal turbine jet engine is funded through NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate (ESMD) program, and they plan to submit the end product to NASA upon completion. “The engineering students at USU and their work are so well-received all over the nation,” said Whitmore. “When it comes to rockets and aerospace, Utah is quickly becoming nationally recognized as a key player in the industry.”