Next month, a team of Missouri University of Science and Technology students will attempt to launch a two-stage rocket in a competition sponsored by NASA.
The University Student Launch Initiative takes place April 15-18 in Huntsville, Ala. About 22 teams from around the country are expected to compete.
The main objective of the teams is to send a reusable launch vehicle that is carrying some kind of scientific payload a distance of one mile into the air. The Federal Aviation Administration has to clear air space prior to launches.
The S&T strategy is very ambitious this year. “We are attempting to analyze the effects of inducing a stabilizing spin on a rocket through the use of angled fins,” says chief engineer Steve Berg, a senior in aerospace engineering from Wentzville, Mo.
The Missouri S&T rocket is 8-feet tall on the launch pad. The booster stage has conventional fins. The booster takes the second stage, which has angular fins, to about 1,000 feet, and then the second stage is deployed on its own to the 5,280-foot mark.
Each team must test its rocket and undergo design reviews and flight readiness reviews before launching at the competition. The teams must also produce a written report and give an oral presentation to judges. The main factors in determining a winner of the competition, though, are the flight itself, the altitude and the recovery of the vehicle.
The S&T rocket, Zephyrus, will carry several electronic instruments during the competition. Timers are used for staging and altimeters are used for recovery. Pressure transducers will take measurements at several locations on the rocket during flight.
The team has put a significant amount of time into troubleshooting things that could go wrong. “Some rockets blow up on the launch pad,” Berg says. “Some rockets lose their fins during flight, some have altimeters that fail to release the parachutes, and some lose their parachutes altogether.”