SLIDESHOW: U of L rocket team awarded second place in NASA's high-powered rocketry competition
The news was announced Monday in a press release distributed by NASA.
The competition, called the Student Launch Challenge, took place in Toney, Alabama, on April 10-11. It was the culmination of an 8-month commitment, requiring teams of middle, high school and college students to design, build and launch high-powered rockets and launch systems that are able to achieve certain pre-determined criteria.
Specifically, U of L's team had to design an automated system that would grab a payload, insert it into the rocket, angle the rocket for launch, insert the rocket motor, then launch the rocket to reach an altitude of 3,000 feet above ground level.
Gregg Blincoe, a senior at U of L, said that his team's rocket was 11 feet tall, weighed 42.9 pounds, and was six inches in diameter.
"We flew it on a commercially bought Cesaroni L935 rocket motor, and three independent recovery sections," he said. "It had a custom made vortex-ring parachute. It's pretty cool."
Blincoe said his team decided not to build the rocket with store-bought parachute systems.
"We hand-stitched, hand designed all of our own recovery systems this year," he said.
Emily Robison, another team member who has since graduated from U of L, says the day of the launch in April was a rewarding -- but unnerving -- experience.
"Everything really builds up to it," she said. "It's not like other competition teams where, if you don't do well at one competition, you've got the next one. This is a full-year commitment and this is a make-it-or-break-it day, really. We had launches and everything go well, but there's still just a lot of anticipation, because if everything goes wrong, then pretty much everything you've put together and worked for that year kind of goes down the drain."
"We've got to prepare a rocket for launch," she added. "And if one charge doesn't go off, the rocket could come down really fast, without a parachute or anything...you've got a 40-pound object hurtling down at you."
But whether you're launching a homemade rocket for a student competition, or a Delta IV Heavy rocket bearing the Orion space capsule, there can always be delays. Such was the case for the members of Rivercity Rocketry.
"We ended up going a little later in the evening," Blincoe said. "We had some issues with the payload arm that we had on our ground station that is supposed to pick a payload off the ground and load it autonomously into our launch vehicle. That was kind of the only thing holding us back from the launch throughout the entire day. We would go out to the ground station -- the rocket -- and try to debug whatever the problem was. Then when NASA was ready to launch the rockets off, we had to run our way back out of the vicinity of the other rockets, and then once those launched off, run back, try to debug it, debug it, debut it."
"We finally got it working with the manual override," he said.
Robison says the launch is a moment she'll never forget.
"You can feel it," she said. "You're a pretty good distance away from it, but, I don't know, just the insane amount of power behind those motors. They burn for, I don't know, less than six seconds. It's a really quick burn time and a lot of power to get that thing up as high as we're wanting it to. It's a really, really neat experience."
And it's neat for another reason as well, according to Blincoe. Blincoe said his team was one of the few teams among the 20 in the university division to go above and beyond the competition requirements to design a rocket system with a payload that ejects from the rocket mid-flight, then returns safely to the ground via an independent recovery system.
"We were one of the few universities that tried to take on that challenge," he said.
And Robison says she's pleased with the result.
"We had, probably, I would say, the best flight that we've had all year," she said. "So it was really rewarding just to see everything happen the way that we wanted it to. Everything just worked out about as perfectly as we could have asked for. So that was definitely really rewarding seeing everything that we put all of our efforts into this year just really coming to pay off -- and getting to have fun for once with it."
"I guess it proves that we're more than just a club that does things for fun," she said. "We're really serious and we're competitive with this. The fact that we can say that we're the second best team in the nation to be able to put together projects like this is pretty awesome and it just really gives us a lot more credibility than we would have otherwise."
"What we're doing is really good work."
For more information on Rivercity Rocketry, click HERE.
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