April 08, 2004

More Students and Rockets Stuff

The Team America Rocket Challenge (TARC) requires that each participating team of students make a qualification flight. The top 100 teams are invited to the finals to be held in Virginia in May. You can check the links to see details, suffice it to say that this is not an easy contest, but the prizes are great (grants, scholarships, and educational opportunities sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association and NASA).

A key point is that the students are entirely responsible for the design, construction, prep, flight and recovery of the rocket. Teachers and mentors are for advice only. No hands-on by adults is allowed.

Last year, the team of high school students I mentored barely missed the finals, coming in 111th out of over 900 teams entered from across the US.

This year's contest is even bigger, and the team is even more determined to make the finals. There’s only one student left from last year, and they’ve been working hard. They built two rockets, one a clone of last year’s design, and the second incorporates some ‘advanced’ technology like fiberglass fins and better aerodynamics. They’ve been running lots of computer simulations on their designs, and have flown both rockets at least a half dozen times on practice flights (pictures here). Their egg protection system is flawless so far, not a single crack yet.

Last Sunday they tried to make their qualifying flight. The wind was terrible, I was surprised that they were allowed to launch. Their first official attempt worked perfectly and went over 1000’, but the target altitude is 1250’. They went with a smaller upper-stage motor, and misjudged on the low side. They next decided to try the other rocket on a practice flight, then choose between the two for their final qualification flight.

1175’. Beautiful, but unofficial. They hustled to turn the rocket around to make another flight before the range closed for the day, and somewhere in the rush a mistake was made. On their final flight, only one motor ignited in the booster stage (it’s a three-motor cluster) and the badly underpowered rocket tipped horizontal off the rod and then the upper-stage motor ignited. The rocket then flew into the ground under power and pretty much disassembled itself. The eggs survived!

So this week they’re rebuilding. The teacher is headed out of town because of a family emergency, so on Saturday morning I’ll meet the students at their school and haul the crew up to Frederick, Maryland so they can make another, hopefully better, attempt.

Keep your fingers crossed for them.

Posted by Ted at April 8, 2004 01:43 PM
Category: Rocketry
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