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Rocket science

04 October 2012

On Wednesday (October 3) at Newquay Cornwall Airport, the Bloodhound team tested its hybrid rocket system for the first time.

The 450kg, 4m long by 45.7cm diameter unit is the largest of its kind ever designed in Europe and the biggest to be fired in the UK for 20 years. The test was the most significant milestone to date for this global education programme as it pursues its goal of developing the world’s first 1,000mph, Mach 1.4 racing car. 

During the test, which was streamed live over the Internet, the rocket burned for 10 seconds, generating 14,000lbs of thrust and creating an ear-splitting 185dBA sound level. The report doesn't indicate at what distance this was measured, but one must assume it was a pretty safe one! The data gathered from this brief experiment - enough to fill a telephone directory - is now being closely studied by the Bloodhound engineering team, though initial result are reported as "encouraging".

The complete rocket system comprises a Cosworth CA2010 F1 engine (the sole purpose of which is to drive the oxidiser delivery pump), High Test Peroxide (HTP) oxidiser tank, custom designed gearbox and software and the Falcon Hybrid Rocket designed by 28 year-old, self-trained rocketeer, Daniel Jubb. 

The term ‘hybrid’ relates the fact that the rocket combines solid fuel (a synthetic rubber) with a liquid oxidiser (HTP) reacting with a catalyst (a fine mesh of silver) to produce its power. Although technically demanding, this approach is believed to be the safest and most controllable option, allowing driver Andy Green to shut off the flow of oxidiser and extinguish the rocket, if required.

During the test, the Cosworth F1 engine was run up to 17,500rpm in order to fire HTP into the rocket at the required rate (something close to filling your bath in five seconds) and pressure (just over 40bar)

The rocket system is still at a very early stage in its development and the test was not without risk. Questions the engineers are now looking to answer include: did the system perform as expected? Did the silver catalyst break up under the force of HTP? Did the full size rocket produce the expected amount of power?

The last time a rocket was demonstrated at this early level of maturity was during the Apollo programme! If it is ultimately successful in its speed aspirations, Bloodhound will not only be the fastest craft on four wheels – it will also hold the world’s low altitude speed record, beating the swiftest of military hardware in this regard.

Explaining the decline in trades union membership
Britain’s male-dominated unions are allowing chauvinism to erode their power as more women enter the labour market, according to a study by Nottingham University Business School. The research appears to support the fact that the changing male-female mix in the workplace has underpinned a dramatic decline in union membership.

The researchers determined that many women employees are reluctant to join unions because they perceive them to be sexist. But even more significant is the fact that many men withdraw their membership because they feel threatened by the prospect of greater female involvement. The resulting decline is likely to be halted and reversed only if unions fully recognise and embrace the diversity of workplaces in the 21st century, say the researchers.

Back in 1979, around 53 percent of Britain’s workers were union members, but by 1999 that figure had fallen to just 28 percent. Over the years, a host of reasons have been put forward for this rapid decline but, according to lead researcher Dr Getinet Haile, the principal reason has been a failure to organise workers in new establishments.

“In terms of why unions have struggled in this regard, it’s worth noting that the fall in membership has coincided with a marked rise in women’s share of the labour market," says Dr Haile. "Also worth considering is the long-held and widespread perception — justified or otherwise — of gender discrimination within the union decision-making structure."  What the study clearly demonstrates, says Dr Haile, is that antagonism between the sexes has been a significant factor. "It’s men, not women, who are really at the heart of the problem," he claims.

It is perhaps counter-intuitive to conceive of a male-dominated organisation’s decline having more to do with men than women. However, as Dr Haile reminds us, group competition theory suggests a dominant group becomes more hostile towards a subordinate group if the latter threatens the former’s advantage. He believes it is therefore reasonable to argue that women’s greater presence in the labour market over the past 30 years has intensified antagonism between the sexes.

"Predictably, this results in some women being deterred from joining a male-dominated union, but it also prompts some men to withdraw their membership," says Dr Haile. “These are the men who hold chauvinist views and fear their ‘traditional’ approach is being challenged.

"In short, these are the men who resist change. The harsh truth is that workplace demographics have altered dramatically since the 1970s, whereas union demographics, by comparison, have not. Despite some efforts in the right direction, it seems there’s still a way to go before women are truly accepted into unions and become part of their inner workings."

Les Hunt

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