Student Space Systems has designed and built multiple engines with the final goal of using Rainier on Phase IV: Cascade to reach the Kármán line. Our first engine, GORE Mk. 1 showed that the club is capable of creating and testing an engine safely by beginning with a hybrid rocket motor. Fuji showed us that making a liquid engine was complex and not always capable of being done right the first time. Even though it was never made it’s still an important step in our development. Molehill is the first liquid engine to bring our designs to a reality and implements many of the same, yet scaled down, designs as Rainier. Finally Rainier brings us to the cutting edge of our club, our largest engine ever that is tasked to take our rocket to space.

Hybrid Engines

A hybrid rocket motor is a complex rocket engine that uses two phases of reactants, a solid fuel and a gaseous/liquid oxidizer, to produce powerful, efficient propulsion.


Our first generation hybrid rocket engine, GORE Mk.1, reacts gaseous N2O and O2 at 800 psi with paraffin wax as fuel. N2O is a non-toxic gas which does not ignite spontaneously under normal conditions. It may intensify fires, so to preserve safety, we use it in a controlled, well-ventilated environment at all times. The paraffin wax we use is similar in composition to candle wax and is safe to handle. We chose these propellants according to various criteria including, but not limited to, price, spontaneity, safety, and availability of documentation.

We used NASA-sponsored Rocket Propulsion Analysis software to predict the theoretical behavior of our engine. After conducting thermal analysis of the engine, we decided to coat the inside of Mk.1’s combustion chamber with a layer of zirconium oxide.

GORE Mk.1 is the most powerful hybrid motor produced by the University of Illinois with a total impulse output of 3400 lbf*s (15,000 N*s) and a maximum thrust output of 1250 lbf (5.5 kN). We are aiming for a 4 second engine fire.

Cold flow tests during the the 2015-2016 year were successful and hot fire tests in the summer of 2016 have proven successful as well. More testing will be conducted into the 2016-2017 school year. Video of our engine testing can be found in the Gallery section of this website.

Liquid Engines

Our move to liquid engines is about more than just choosing a sustainable, powerful technology. We also view liquid propulsion as an opportunity to demonstrate the increasing accessibility of aerospace technology in the world and to emulate the current state of rocket propulsion in industry.


Fuji is a NOX/Ethanol engine that leverages DMLS additive manufacturing technology to be primarily constructed out of Inconel 718. V1 is designed to generate 1,000 lbf (4.4 kN) of thrust. It will use film cooling technology and is intended to give SSS experience with simpler liquid propulsion systems before advancing our technology for future engines. As this was our first liquid engine, there were many issues in our design. Because of this Fuji lives on only as a theoretical design and a learning experience to improve later engines.

Tacoma (Previously Rainer)

Rainier expands on the initial designs presented in Fuji. The engine more than doubles the thrust of Rainier, coming in at 3,300 lbf (15.5 kN) of thrust. Rainier boasts a battery powered turbo-pump, thrust vectoring control, and a novel ignition system never before used in conventional engines. Design of Tacoma has been in progress from Spring 2017 and plans to continue for the following few years. The engine was initially planned to use Nitrous Oxide and Kerosene but has since changed to a LOX/Kerosene design to improve safety, efficiency, and over all design quality due to the additional resources present on Kerolox designs. While this extended our timeline it also allowed for us to improve our designs without a significant increase in time due to the experience gained from the initial design.


The Molehill engine is our smallest engine ever, coming in at around 80 lbf of thrust. This engine is used as training experience so our Propulsion Department can learn how to manufacture, design, and test an engine. Our current goal is to develop and test this engine as quickly as possible in order to minimize the time and resources being diverted away from development of Rainier. Also take a look at our Proposal for this new engine attached below.

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