After a year of designing and testing, the rocket from Eastern Washington University’s Rocketry Club and Riverpoint Academy didn’t perform as planned, but that didn’t stop it from turning heads at the competition.
More than 80 teams from five continents competed at the annual four-day Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in Greenriver, Utah, last week, hosted by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association. Expectations were sky-high for the EWU/Riverpoint team coming off its successful launch a year ago.
“Unfortunately the weak spot in our design was the way we had put our fins together and they failed us,” EWU professor Martin Weiser said. “The fins came apart during boost, and as a result, the rocket was unstable and it shredded it.”
The competition is separated into two categories: basic (10,000 feet target apogee) and advanced (10,000 feet minimum apogee). After receiving a third-place honorable mention award in last year’s basic category, the group decided to create a bigger and more powerful rocket for this year’s advanced category.
EWU’s club built its rocket with a dual propellant design, a technique uncommon for student-level engineers and only regularly used in the military for missiles. This ambitious design was used to help meet the advanced category’s requirement that the rocket leave the launch pad at 100 feet per second.
The switch to a dual propellant design forced the team to create a large motor, an O-class at about 4 feet 7 inches tall and 6 inches in diameter. According to EWU senior Logan Novak, the motor was the largest ever at the competition.
EWU senior Wayne Johnson said the judges weren’t too excited about the motor at first. “They asked us a couple of questions about the rocket itself, but most of their concern was about the motor since they said it was the biggest one anybody has ever brought there and they weren’t too stoked about that,” Johnson said. “But after we launched it and the rocket shredded itself, the main judge told us the motor did great, proved him wrong and he was happy.”
The cost of the project, including travel, was about $15,000. The new public fundraising website fundEWU helped raise more than $3,500, including two major contributions from KeyTronic in Spokane Valley and Tri-City Vault in Richland.
Another of their main donors was AGC AeroComposites of Hayden. The company donated pre-preg carbon fiber, worth about $100 per square foot. The donated fiber was “expired” – it expires for U.S. military use after six months, said EWU senior and propellant lead Isaiah Irish.
While EWU’s team was tasked with getting the rocket in the air, Riverpoint Academy – a high school in the Mead School District that focuses on STEM fields – was tasked with the 10-pound payload requirement.
Riverpoint Academy’s team was made up of students Liam Maddox, Aidan Maddox, John Becker, Cameron Joslyn, David Wright, Alex Yoho and Conner Hawkes.
Solar panels in the rocket’s nosecone measured solar radiation data by altitude, a cooling device kept components from melting in the desert heat, and a GoPro camera was set up to live-stream data – though the rocket’s malfunction made it impossible to capture that data.
The competition marked EWU and Riverpoint Academy’s second year of partnership, and the two schools continue to model K-12 outreach at IREC. Weiser said some of the other K-12 schools have contributed as little as a Post-it with students’ names attached to the rocket.
“Riverpoint Academy was great,” Novak said. “They designed a payload that rivaled, or was better than, many of the other colleges there. What they produced far exceeded our expectations.”
However, the Riverpoint Academy students were not able to attend IREC. Instead they were at a different competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
When EWU proposed the idea to Riverpoint Academy two years ago about working on the payload for IREC, Riverpoint Academy teacher Rick Biggerstaff described it as “a dream come true.”
“It’s an incredible relationship,” said Biggerstaff. “It’s exactly how we see K-12 education should flourish, working in the community with these partnerships.”
Weiser also hopes to try and build relationships with other high schools in the area.
“We’re currently in an era of renewed rocket interest with SpaceX, Blue Origin and SpaceShipOne working to get man and woman back into space beyond the International Space Station,” Weiser said. “We’re looking to build and create the future engineers and scientists that are involved in that.”
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