• Apollon Bairaktaridis

ASAT - A Team of Young Students Mastering Rocketry and Aeronautics

George Efrem, mechanical engineer: As the need to create something important overwhelms us we tend to develop that obsession to overcome any difficulties we have.

Photo: asat.gr

(*The following interview was conducted in Greek. It has been translated to English by the author)

The Aristotle Space & Aeronautics Team is a research team created in 2015 by 12 students of the Aristotle University in Thessaloniki, Greece. Through their main two projects in the fields of Rocketry and Aeronautics, they participated in the past in competitions, where they earned recognition through their hard work. They continue to compete today internationally.

Today I find myself in the lucky position to interview three ambitious students who are members of ASAT

Q: Would you please introduce yourself to the audience and tell us how you joined ASAT?

A: My name is Petros Dimitrentsis, I am studying mechanical engineering in the AUTh (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece). I am also the vice-president of the team and Rocketry Project Leader. My responsibilities are in logistics and operation topics, thus managing upcoming meetings and leading the rocketry project. I was really into aerospace-engineering since high school and when I started my studies, I applied directly for ASAT.

My name is George Efrem, I am currently in my third year of studying mechanical engineering. I represent ASAT as the President but also the Aeronautics Project Leader. As a President I am partly responsible for the team´s public image and as a project leader I am engaged with the management of Aeronautics. While in my second year of studying, ASAT won my interest and I applied for the Structural engineer position, because I wanted to learn how aircrafts are designed and constructed.

My name is Athina Poupa, I am studying economics and I am the Marketing Manager of the team. My tasks consist of securing ASAT’s image in social media, to companies and to sponsors. I joined ASAT last August without having any knowledge of aerospace engineering.

Q: You participated in the Air Cargo Challenge in the years 2017 and 2019 and you earned the best placement among the Greek teams and the second best among all participating teams of the Balkans. Could you explain us what this Challenge was about?

A: The Air Cargo Challenge is an international competition, that is held every two years, where aircraft are designed. The exact technological conditions are unique for every competition, but the main goal remains the same. An aircraft should carry as much cargo as possible, while also following a specific flight plan. It is important that the aircraft is functioning through a given motor and a propeller, and that it should be fitted and disassembled in a box with specified dimensions.

Q: How could you describe the designing but also flight process of your aircraft?

A: First of all, we have to decide what exact function we want to give to the UAV. After that, the main work on the project is starting. We can split the designing and process into four big phases. Beginning with the aerodynamic mission assessment we have to deal with factors like weight and velocity. The next stage is the conceptual design, which is about determining the initial sizing, the materials, the mass, and the CG position of the aircraft. Continuing with the preliminary design amongst other things we confirm the stability, the performance and controllability of the UAV by utilizing high functioning tools. Finally, we have the detailed design, where the test flights and optimization studies take place.

Q: What is behind your success in this competition?

A: I think we have to consider the collected knowledge and experience from the former students that participated in the past with ASAT in previous competitions. It is a big advantage that ASAT takes care of transmitting knowledge and experience from one generation of students to another. That transmission is achieved through reporting every aspect of their work and that shows in the accomplishments of ASAT in competitions.

Q: What was the process back in 2019 of launching those two rockets?

A: Of course, before the launch we ran several tests that included mock-up tests, meaning that every factor was checked for their correct functionality. The first step is to find an agreement with the authorities and the fire brigade for the right place for testing a launch. It is also important to assemble the rocket in the right order, to prepare its systems and then it can be positioned to its track. After that, the rocket is launched electronically through a countdown as you know from NASA. During the flight, its parachutes deploy, and the rocket can land and recover safely. It is in our interest to let every rocket launch several times. We also designed a high-power rocket last year, called Hyperion. It has a size of 2.5 meters (8,25 feet), can reach a flying height of 3 km (10.000 feet) and its speed is almost comparable to the speed of sound.

Q: What can you tell us about the upcoming international competition you want to participate in?

A: It is organized by SAC (Spaceport America Cup) and only the best teams are allowed to participate, which makes us happy to be qualified for it. We designed a Rocket called Selene (meaning “moon” in Greek) and we want to reach 10,000 feet. This rocket has new and fresh characteristics, like a live data telemetry between the rocket and the ground station and a new CO2 parachute ejection mechanism. Its mission will be to measure the radiation results in different heights. Finally, this new rocket design is a great achievement for the team and ASAT aims for the podium in SAC.

Q: That sounds amazing. I want also to ask you if ASAT already has other plans for the future?

A: Yes indeed, we are currently designing a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) that will function through solar energy. It will function in a unique mission by predicting and also identifying wildfires.

Q: Do you believe this innovation will solve the big problems caused by wildfires every year in Greece?

A: Only one UAV could cover just one specific area. The production of more UAVs would not stop the wildfires but limit them significantly as we could achieve full surveillance over forest areas.

Q: We notice that Greece is well-presented in the international stage. ASAT is a good example for Aerospace as well as the Plaisiobots for Robotics, as they won the gold medal in the World Robotic Olympiad. What do you think is the reason for this cross-disciplinary success? Was there a mentality change in Greece that led to all of this?

A: In general, the facilities in Greece for scientists are good as well as the transmission of knowledge to the students, but the absence of opportunities for a good internship is also an existing problem. The need to create something important overwhelms us and since we are also working passionately, we tend to develop that obsession to overcome any difficulties. By giving our best version we sacrifice a lot and that is where those results are coming from. Another factor is knowledge in general, as well as knowledge specific to science are much more available nowadays than they used to be in the past.

Q: Which opportunities appeared through all of that?

A: We are collaborating with dominant enterprises that are settled in Greece and of course we are getting recognition for our professionalism. Through ASAT all of us improved our technical know-how and enriched our network of contacts with professors that might provide an opportunity for a position in a laboratory. The people are also aware that we achieved everything through discipline and that we learned also to act as professionals.

Q: Do you think you can use your position to find a permanent job in the branch of aerospace?

A: I think ASAT suits very well for the ones who are occupied in ASAT as they keep in touch with a lot of people, but also for us engineers it makes the difference, because we can set ourselves apart from other people that are just focusing on their studies.

Q: I have one last question for you. Would you recommend other students to join ASAT?

A: Of course, we would. All of us developed communications skills, learned how to guide a team, and how to work in a team and how to manage possible crises. But as we have already collaborated with plenty of companies, we also have an advantage because they know us already and what we are capable of.

The Millennial Agora would like to thank the representatives of the ASAT for their participation in this interview.

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