When it comes to one of West Virginia University’s newest student organizations, the sky truly is the limit.
The WVU Rocketry Club was founded in 2013 by Timothy Fritz, a mechanical engineering major from Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, who realized that there were a large number of students on campus interested in the subject.
“In our first year, we started with some small goals as we got acclimated to working together and learning about rocketry,” said Fritz. After completing those goals, including building a rocket that would reach more than 5,000 feet at the speed of sound, the group got more serious about the possibility of competing at national events.
To build competition-level rockets, the Club works with Joe Pscolka, a level-three certified rocketeer with the Tripoli Rocketry Association. Club members spend two weekends a month perfecting the fins, nose cones and body structures for the rockets in Pscolka’s shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
The Club tested their work in late April at a test motor firing that was required before their next competition. The goal of the test firing was to better understand how the motors would perform in a live blast. The Club learned that the graphite nozzles on the rocket did not withstand the heat associated with the blast as predicted, and now must change their design to incorporate a more heat-resistant material.
In preparation for the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition, scheduled for Greenriver, Utah, in June, the Club will continue to analyze the data from their test firing to understand what altitude the rocket reached carrying its payload. The goal of the competition is to launch and recover a rocket with a 10-pound payload closest to 10,000 feet above ground level.
“There is a whole educational side to the rocketry club, which makes it so much more than just a club that’s fun to be a part of,” said Jay Wilhelm, research assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and advisor to the club, noting the experience students gain from being involved with the club. Students can also now gain credit for their interest in rocketry.
“Last year, we were able to turn the rocketry club into an independent study for five students,” said Wilhelm. “Now, we look forward to hosting a full elective that will open up the club to even more people that will help design and build the rockets the club uses, while gaining knowledge that will be invaluable to their learning experience.”
The Club is also very involved in outreach, teaching fellow students, community members and children about rocketry. This spring, the Club was involved in NASA’s Space Science Day at West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon and an end-of-the-year rocket project for South Middle School in Morgantown. Second graders in Huntington also helped the team build a payload for their rocket, which they can use to gain more points at competition in June.
“We hope to teach people that rockets aren’t a scary, foreign subject,” said Fritz. “They’re a great way to combine science, math and engineering, all while having fun and watching your work shoot off into the sky.”