West Virginia University’s Experimental Rocketry team captured first place in the 10,000-foot launch category at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition during the Spaceport America Cup, held near Las Cruces, New Mexico, June 20-24.
The competition challenges teams of college students to design, build and launch solid-, liquid- or hybrid-fuel rockets to a targeted altitude. More than 100 teams from around the world competed in the event, which is run by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association.
The six-member team from WVU crafted a 12-foot long fiberglass rocket – emblazoned with the words “Wild and Wonderful” – that performed exceptionally well, soaring to an altitude of more than 9,600 feet while carrying nearly nine pounds of payload.
“Our key to success was all of the preparation we did for the competition,” said Cameron Hale, a petroleum and natural gas engineering major from Blaine, Kentucky, and WVUERC vice president. “This was actually the first year that we had the time and budget to test fly the rocket before the competition so we knew that all of the individual systems of the rocket worked ahead of time.”
In April, the team traveled to Price, Maryland, for a test flight at a Tripoli Rocketry Association event where their rocket successfully flew to an altitude of 9,100 feet.
“After the test flight we ran simulations to compare our test site with the one in New Mexico, taking into consideration the temperature, altitude and wind in the desert,” Hale said. “The results showed us reaching a much higher altitude under those conditions so we actually decided not to make any changes to our rocket, which proved to be the right decision.”
Prior to launch, the team was scored on a poster presentation that explained the rocket’s specifications as well as various technical papers and progress reports that were submitted throughout the year.
“While flying the rocket is by far one of best parts of the competition, there is so much more that we are scored on,” said Hale. “We have to do well in every portion of the competition to even be considered for a win.”
The team received top scores in all aspects of the competition, beating out 24 teams in their category for the victory.
“This year’s competition was one of the toughest yet with more than 94 teams registering for the event overall,” Hale said. “We were competing against some of the best teams in the world, so taking home first in our category is an unbelievable honor! Seeing all this year’s hard work payoff is one of the best feelings in the world.”
Team members joining Hale in New Mexico were mechanical and aerospace engineering majors Matt Hines (Buffalo, WVU Honors College), Austin Hodges (Millsboro, Delaware, Honors College), Zach Maddams (Claymont, Delaware, Honors College) and Kevin Nadler (Southbury, Connecticut), and chemical engineering major Nick Haynes (Princeton, Honors College).
This is the second year WVU has fielded a team in the competition.
The team was sponsored by the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, the WVU Student Government Association, NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium, NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Facility, Aurora Flight Sciences, Pscolka Woodworks, Reid and Tonya Elattrache, Jim Bordas and the Fritzinger family.