Student rocket team competing nationally

By Monica Swapp
The Utah Statesman
February 8, 2008
Shannon Eilers

Media Credit: Tyler Larson
Shannon Eilers holds a new form of airbrakes they will be putting on their rocket for a NASA competition.

The USU launch team will compete for the first time in the NASA-funded University Launch Initiative Rocketeering Challenge on April 19 in Huntsville, Ala.

This is the third year of the competition but the first year USU is able to compete in it, a representative for the USU launch team said.

Only 11 universities in eight states were chosen by NASA to compete in this competition. The students will spend eight months designing, building and launching rockets with the goal of getting them an altitude of one mile, the spokesperson said.

Their goal is to also build a hybrid rocket, using solid fuel and a liquid oxidizer to launch the rocket. The representative said this is a lot safer because, alone, both components are non-explosive.

The winning team will be invited to watch a special launch at Kennedy Space Center in July.

"Being invited to Kennedy Space Center will be quite a perk," said Tony Whitmore, mechanical and aerospace engineering professor at USU.

The team is composed of 18 qualified students based on their experience in engineering, Whitmore said. This launch project is taught as a class, and the students are using it as their senior design project and are required to write a report at the conclusion of the semester.

wind tunnel

Media Credit: Tyler Larson
Eilers and USU professor Tony Whitmore discuss a wind tunnel used to test rocket models.

Whitmore said the USU rocket launch team has a "good leg up" on the competition because of their proposal, research, calculations and test launches so far. The students are doing everything they would need to do to build a large commercial rocket, except this rocket is much smaller, Whitmore said.

The spokesperson said they have built a simulator to predict what will happen to the rocket in flight. This has been very important in helping them make adjustments and prefect the launch.

The hands-on experience and the viable information we have gained will be useful for future employers, the spokesperson said.

"Students will go into the workforce with a sound background because of their training here," Whitmore said.

The Space Dynamics Lab is owned by USU and is involved with the mechanical and aerospace engineering department. Because it is a part of the university, it is aware of many of the projects and research done by students, the representative said.

"Utah State University's Space Dynamics Lab is pleased that NASA has recognized the excellence of the students in Utah State's engineering program and has invited them to participate in the Student Launch Initiative," said Karen Wolfe, public communications manager at the Space Dynamics Lab. "We greatly benefit from this type of program by having access to a student workforce that has gained valuable, hands-on engineering experience. The Space Dynamics Lab, which works on many NASA programs, employs, on average, 90 Utah State students."

The team said the project has really helped them to work together as a group. By pulling in students with a variety of expertise, they have been able to be more effective, the team said.

"We are also doing outreach programs as part of the competition to local organizations like the Boys and Girls Club, spreading the love of rockets to kids," the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said NASA approved of their project in a recent evaluation and that NASA is anxious to see how the competition will play out in April.

"We have a lot to do between now and then, but we can do it," the spokesperson said.

© 2008 – The Utah Statesman