Club goes to NASA to launch rocket

By Sammy Roth

The Rocketry Club travelled to Huntsville, Alabama to launch the rocket which the National Aeronautic and Space Administration commissioned them to build last October.

The club spent over four days at the NASA facility in Huntsville for NASA’s Student Launch Initiative, leaving April 15 and returning April 19. They were accompanied by math teacher Jacob Hazard and science teacher Karen Hutchison.

“We had a blast,” club member Ian Cinnamon ’10 said. “Pun intended.”

Cinnamon, who was primarily responsible for designing the rocket, said the launch was a success. The rocket reached an altitude of nearly 6,000 feet, beating the club’s goal of one mile.

“I was pretty nervous,” Cinnamon said. “One hundred different things had to work as planned in order for the flight to be a success. But the flight was near perfect, I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

NASA had given the club a $3,700 grant to build the rocket as part of the SLI. The club qualified to submit their rocket proposal to the SLI after placing 13th out of over 700 teams at the Team America Rocketry Challenge last May in The Plains, Virginia. The proposal, which was written by Cinnamon, was one of 14 accepted for the initiative from high schools and colleges across the country.

The successful launch did not come without surprises, Spencer Gordon ’10 said. The rocket was supposed to deploy a drogue parachute at its highest altitude, which would begin to slow its descent, and then later on deploy a larger parachute that would slow it considerably more.

The large parachute did not deploy. Fortunately, Gordon said, the club misjudged the effect of the drogue parachute, which slowed the rocket enough to ensure that it landed intact.

“Two wrongs made a right,” Gordon said.

The high speed with which the rocket launched was also unexpected. Because the club underestimated the power of the engine, Richard Liu ’10 said, the rocket took off at 532 miles per hour, by far the fastest launch of any participating team.

“We put a huge engine on a tiny rocket. It was beyond cool,” Liu said.

The club also carried out a biological experiment during the launch. The rocket contained a payload of live bacteria in an attempt to determine the effect of extreme altitude, acceleration and gravity on the bacteria. The club used small light-emitting diodes and wireless cameras built in to the rocket to record and send images of the bacteria during the launch.

The bactera they tested were lactococcus lactis, which is used in the production of many dairy products.

Liu said that their analysis, which they will complete this weekend, could help NASA because astronauts often take dairy products into space.

When they were not preparing the rocket, the club spent much of their time in Huntsville touring the NASA facilities. They had a chance to see scientists working on projects such as plasma propulsion rocket engines and the next generation of NASA rockets.

Between touring NASA and launching the rocket, Liu said that going to Huntsville was worth missing parts of four days of school.

“It was a great experience to learn more about the technical aspects of rocketry, to learn more about NASA and professional space programs, and a great opportunity for us to show teamwork and accomplish our goals,” Liu said.

By virtue of having participated in the SLI this year, the club is already qualified to submit a proposal next year. Gordon said that the club hopes to accomplish even more next year.

“I’m really excited to go back next year with a bigger and better rocket,” he said.