Rocket club readies for upcoming flights

As spring starts to make its way back, so has rocketry competition all across the state of Iowa. The rocket club has been working closely with adviser Zeb Nicholson to create a rocket that is successful in competition.

Senior Sean Radke, a Senior in the Rocket Club said, “I have been involved in rocket club since my sophomore year, 10th grade, so this is my third year on the team.” 

Radke said the club has attended two competitions in person, with the TARC (The American Rocketry Challenge) as the main focus. 

To compete, the team gets a set of rules around the start of the school year and then sequentially builds a rocket that’s about two feet tall for the competition. They fly the rocket at the soccer field near UNI and then submit the results to the TARC website. The objective for this launch is to take a cardboard plastic rocket with a raw egg inside to 850 feet and bring it down without breaking it. If the results are in the top 100, the team gets invited to attend another competition just outside of Washington D.C., where they get judged in person.

At the Washington event, each team gets a location to build a rocket, get evaluated and then launch. The timing and height of the launch determines the scoring.

Radke said, “Currently, the rocket club has three teams all working on this competition, and each one is at varying levels of preparedness. We don’t need to submit a qualifying flight until around April 1, so there is definitely time until then to get ready.” 

The rocket club is also focused on a collaboration with NASA SLI (Student Launch Initiative).

Radke said, “We submitted a proposal at the start of the year, followed by a PDR (Preliminary Design Review) and then a CDR (Critical Design Review). The CDR gave us permission to build the rocket and test it. We flew our rocket twice successfully, but our parachute had some issues so we will need to re-fly to prove it works.”

The rocket for this mission will go up about one mile in the air, and when it comes back, it will deploy a drone from inside the rocket.

Radke said the FRR (Flight Readiness Review) is due March 6 and is on schedule. “Afterward, we will be finishing our payload and submitting some more documents to NASA. It concludes with us going down to Huntsville, Ala., and launching with the people we have been teleconferencing with over the past few months.” 

Radke said the club’s testing for the NASA mission has been going well so far and has helped them know where to focus efforts. “For NASA SLI, our rocket has been completed and flown twice. Both flights were successful. Developing our payload is the bulk of the work left. While we have a complete design in CAD and a completed design in person, we have found improvements that need to be made and code that needs complete. We are a majority of the way there.”

Nicholson said that rocket club members learn problem solving in real time for real outcomes. “It’s really the stress and how are they going to overcome the things that don’t go right because that’s what’s going to happen.” 

According to Nicholson, the club is divided into teams focusing on these two missions. “We have had our underclassmen working on the egg rocket. Lots of research going on. Google is amazing. They look at past designs because this isn’t the first year this competition has happened and they do a lot of computer simulations.”

With the start of March starting this week, the underclassmen will test out the egg rocket further to make sure that they have the most successful rocket for the category of their competition. 

For the NASA mission, the club has already flown a 50 percent-sized rocket in December that was about 4 feet. Tall, and about two to three weeks ago also flew a full-scale rocket.”

Nicholson said this rocket showed “really good success and is ready for the competition.”

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