Rocket explodes after multiple attempts

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The Department of Mechanical Engineering is building — and will be entering — its rocket in the eighth Intercollegiate Rocket Competition, held June 20-22 in Green River, Utah.

“This is probably one of the coolest things the engineering department has ever done,” said Aaron Albrecht, a junior studying mechanical engineering and the lead student engineer for the group.

The group ran a test on their half-scale rocket May 18. The rocket exploded after the group tried to start it multiple times.

“The last two tests have been pretty successful with the rocket fuel burning, so this was really unexpected. We just have to crack down and test again,” said Nyssa Ramirez, a senior studying mechanical engineering and member of the propulsion team.

The team must have a successful launch by May 31 in order to go to the competition in June.

“I don’t think you learn as much when it works perfectly because you’re not thinking about everything that is going on. With rockets, there are so many variables,” Nyssa Ramirez said.

Albrecht said the team started planning and designing during Fall  2012, after they received department approval.

Albrecht said this started when a group of senior students noticed that the school had a lack of opportunities regarding entering design competitions.

“The Basic Category is to launch and recover a rocket with 10-lb payload closest to 10,000 feet above ground level,” according to www.soundingrocket.org.

Albrecht said the rocket must also stay in one piece upon landing.

“To qualify, your rocket has to reach a minimum of 5,000 feet. It’s kind of a big feat. It’s like real rocket science,” Albrecht said.

Albrecht also said the group found this competition and went to the department to present its plan.

The department granted the group a budget of $2,400 for the competition.

“To give you some context, one of the schools we’re competing against — their budget starts at $10,000 a year, and that’s just the beginning. They actually get more funding based on sponsorships and participation,” Albrecht said. “We’re not allowed to get sponsorships or [do] fund raising, so we’ve been capped out.”

Albrecht said they began designing as soon as they were approved and they have been working on it ever since, testing the rocket, analyzing problems, and fixing their craft when needed.

Nyssa Ramirez said the group began to manufacture and build their rocket, Tonitruous, in Winter 2013.

Albrecht said they’ve split up the work into four teams. He said their propulsion team is responsible for the ignition system, the structure team builds the actual rocket, the recovery team ensures the rocket stays in one piece and the outreach team visits and motivates students in the surrounding area, to get them excited about science and engineering.

Some team members said they have enjoyed applying what they’ve learned in class to the rocket.

“It’s a brand new project so it’s a big learning curve for everyone involved. We are scrambling to learn a lot of the basics; how rockets work and why things need to be done certain ways. That’s kind of a big problem, but it’s also a big part of the fun,” said Jordan Peterson, a junior studying mechanical engineering and a member of the propulsion team.

Thomas Cooley, a freshman studying mechanical engineering and a member of the structure team, said he enjoyed designing and manufacturing pieces for the rocket.

“It was cool to see the parts that I had designed be manufactured. It came out really close to how I thought it would,” Cooley said.

Enzo Ramirez, a senior studying mechanical engineering and co-lead for the propulsion team, said he’s enjoyed seeing the improvement of the team overall.

“My favorite part has been seeing the growth and the interest from the students and seeing how this is becoming something more,” Enzo Ramirez said.

Albrecht said that if everything goes well, the engineering students want to be able to enter the advanced part of the competition as well. He also said they want to have the underclassmen enter the basic competition, which is the one they’re entering now, and then have the upperclassmen enter the advanced division.

Enzo Ramirez said the group has already come up with some ideas for reasons the rocket would’ve exploded. He said the groups hopes to rebuild and be able to do another test this Saturday.

Enzo Ramirez said creating this rocket gives students experience and prepares them to find employment after graduation.

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