Rocket Dynamics Team competes in international competition



BYU-Idaho’s Rocket Dynamics Team will participate in the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition June 24-27 in Green River, Utah.

The competition is organized by Experimental Sounding Rocket Association, ESRA, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promote rocketry.

Tommy Cooley, president of the Rocket Dynamics Team and a ­junior studying mechanical engineering, said in last year’s competition BYU-I placed fifth among 22 schools, including international schools from Canada, Turkey and Brazil.

Cooley said last year BYU-I beat MIT and Purdue.

Forty eight institutions are enrolled in the competition so far, including some from India and Egypt, according to ESRA.

The BYU-I team belongs to the basic category, which launches 10-pound rockets 10,000 feet above the ground, according to ESRA. A perfect launch and landing counts toward the team’s points.

The first rocket was named Tonitrus, which is Latin for “thunder,” according to BYU-I’s website. It crashed and disappeared in its first launch. The team had the help of a bomb sniffing dog from the police department, but they could never find the rocket.

Cooley said the second rocket, called Tonitrus II, was damaged in one of the tests because the parachute failed to work in time.

Lauren Ji, a junior studying mechanical engineering, said the team is rebuilding and improving some of the features of Tonitrus II so they can use it in the competition. 

Professor Russel Daines created the Rocket Dynamics Team Fall Semester 2012, when BYU-I alumnus Schyler Porter and three other students informed him they wanted to build rockets, according to the BYU-I website. Daines then took them to Utah State University, where they learned the basic principles.

Aaron Albrecht, a BYU-I alumnus, said he was thinking about creating something related to rocketry when he received a flyer for the first meeting of the team. He was vice president of the team in 2012 and president in 2013.

“Even though I had very limited time between homework and family, I really looked forward to working on the rocket,” Albrecht said.

Abrecht said he has been interested in aerospace since he was a kid.

“My grandfather had been an airline technician and my father had a small airplane we would fly in,” Albrecht said. “As I got older, my interest in aerospace broadened from airplanes to rockets and space crafts.”

Students from different majors work on the team. Cooley said they are mostly mechanical engineering majors, but there are also electrical and computer engineering, chemistry, physics and graphic design majors.

“As vice president and president, I enjoyed seeing it all come together,” Albrecht said. “Not everyone had the opportunity to see the overall project in the same way. It was also very fun to organize and coordinate all the work being done.”

The students are divided into six teams: Avionics, Payload, Propulsion, Recovery and Structure. Each one is responsible for a different task, according to the Rocket Dynamics Team Web page.

“In April 2014, I became the propulsion team lead,” Albrecht said. “I actually enjoyed relinquishing some of the administrative duties and focusing on some more of the technical details of the rocket motor. Solving hard problems with no clear answers was a great experience.”

For the competition, the Rocket Dynamics Team is working on a pay load that will balance the center of gravity of the rocket and prevent it from having more problems when it is falling down.

Cooley said that after the launch, when the rocket loses its fuel, the gravity center changes and it can make an unstable landing. He said he hopes a better payload will make the landing smoother.

“The most challenging, and most rewarding, thing about working on the rocket was solving hard problems that didn’t have an answer in the back of the book or a teacher that could walk us through it,” Albrecht said. “We had to come up with solutions all on our own.”

Albrecht is now employed at SpaceX and works as a rocket test engineer now.

“It’s a dream come true,” Albretcht said.

The team has a Facebook page, BYU-I Rocket Dynamics, with videos of their tests and pictures of their meetings.

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