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Canford School test fires a rocket motor

By mbarber  |  Posted: May 01, 2013

  • Canford School become the first school to test fire a hybrid rocket motor

  • : l/r Laura Andrews – Canford pupil; David Lowe – Cobham; Carolynne and David Campbell-Knight; Jon London – Racer; Steve Excell – Canford School Physics teacher

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CANFORD School near Wimborne has made global science history by becoming the first school in the world to test fire a 1000lbf hybrid rocket motor.

The event was part of the school's inaugural 'It really IS rocket science' event, a day of Physics, Engineering and Chemistry for pupils from schools in Poole, Bournemouth and the surrounding areas.

The event was hosted by resident mad scientist Steve Excell from Canford's Physics Department with assistance from David Lowe, Cobham engineer and STEMNET coordinator Jan Peters. The event funding came from various sources including The Institute of Physics.

Speed-racer Carolynne Campbell-Knight brought her team: husband and engineer David Knight, and driver-in-training John London who also runs Out of This World learning. With them came their latest evolution of the rocket powered racing car 'Knight's Arrow'. A self-confessed rocket science fanatic, Carolynne has built and raced various cars over the years which make Lewis Hamilton's F1 racer seem pedestrian, being ten times as powerful as Hamilton's championship winning cars and reaching 100mph in less than half a second, and the team are aiming for 0-400mph in less than half a mile!

Pupils from five local schools - Poole High, Bournemouth School, Oakmead, The Bourne Academy and West Moors - came along to enjoy the afternoon, which began with a lecture by Carolynne Knight on rocket science in Canford's Gisborough Hall, before moving out into the school grounds for science displays, some explosive Physics and Chemistry demonstrations, missile making competitions, and the chance to see some Greenpower Formula24 electric racing cars: one built by the Canford School and another by the Bourne Academy, both under direction by Steve from Canford.

The visiting schools had been busy building their own model rocket cars in advance of the day with sparks literally flying as they raced down the Canford track. Congratulations go to winners of the rocket car races: Bournemouth School (KS3), The Bourne Academy (GCSE), and Bournemouth School (Advanced level engineering category). The Make-a-missile competition was won by a girl from Poole High School.

The highlight was the exciting test firing of a 'military-spec' hybrid rocket motor. Burning eco-friendly biodiesel with an exhaust velocity of 25000 miles per hour and 1000 lb of thrust, this was the largest ever fired at an educational establishment anywhere in the world. Sixth Form Physics students from Canford installed their home built datalogging kit and experiments onto the test rig of the rocket and now plan to report their findings to all visiting schools for teaching purposes. Carolynne was pleased with the results of the 'hugely successful test' and the pupils' data will inform the next evolution of engineering built into the motors of Knight's Arrow in the future. "We have some real, useable, data from this test and from the pupils' experiments," Carolynne said after the test. The winners of the KS3 rocket races from Bournemouth School ignited the rocket. Two Canford sixth formers, Will Hauser and Laura Andrews, who had impressed Carolynne on an earlier visit to the school, opened the taps to unleash the full force of the rocket.

Also during the day, the final assessment for the Guinness World Records officially took place, with Canford hoping to declare ownership of the world's largest working Newton's cradle as a result. This was designed by pupils and unveiled at last year's Speech Day but had yet to be verified officially for Guinness. Weighing in at approximately 2½ tons, with balls nearly 90kg each, you'd need a very large desk for this executive toy!

Carolynne was delighted with the enthusiasm for science and engineering from all those involved in the day's events.

"I would like to thank the fantastic staff and pupils at Canford for having the vision to bring the practical, cutting edge engineering into the school and sharing it with the local community."

Steve Excell from Canford's Physics department, who masterminded the event, commented:"The whole idea of the day was to inspire the next generation of scientists. All the cool gadgets you see on television and in the movies; from teleporters, hover cars, Iron-Man rocket suits, Batmobiles. These are everyday real-life things for us 'geeks'. Being a science geek is great fun and a very exciting and rewarding thing to do with your lives, but it takes a great deal of nous and hard work. This country is desperately short of good scientists and engineers, and if we light the spark of inspiration in just one pupil today then it will have been a very worthwhile adventure."

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