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Student Applies White Noise to Rocket Science

UAH aerospace engineering graduate student John Bennewitz, left, and senior aerospace student Jake Cranford with their combustion instability frequency test stand at Johnson Research Center on the UAH campus.

UAH aerospace engineering graduate student John Bennewitz, left, and senior aerospace student Jake Cranford with their combustion instability frequency test stand at Johnson Research Center on the UAH campus.

Photo by Mike Mercier / UAH

A graduate student at the University of Alabama in Huntsville has created a novel approach to the problems of combustion instability — a condition that can destroy a rocket engine — by broadcasting white noise.

Esoteric as the solution may sound, it has attracted the attention of innovative developer SpaceX.

The California company invited graduate student John Bennewitz, a Von Braun Propulsion Scholar at the UAH Propulsion Research Center, to lecture on his research for the firm’s scientists in late September.

Studying under professor Robert Frederick and coordinating his efforts with senior aerospace student Jake Cranford, Bennewitz began looking for a solution to the instability that’s caused by constant changes in the release of heat, sound and propellant flow. He theorized that white noise might neutralize some of the instability.

While he developed the broadcast system, using a piezoelectric speaker, Cranford shared work on the liquid rocket engine.

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