Saturday, April 18, 2009

Student Rocket Launches

The NASA Student Launch Initiative and University Student Launch Initiative were combined this year, making for a lot of rocket launches in a short time. I actually think it worked out better this year. The number of launches kept the event moving along, and the number of people there kept the attention levels up.

Part of the "midway," which included a couple of groups selling food and beverages and ATK and NASA, which both had a presence as sponsors. A scale model of the Space Shuttle can be seen in the background.

The Ares "Wheel of Fortune," which includes questions about old and new NASA rockets. Prizes awarded to the smart few.
My buddy Kristina Hendrix, the Ares Projects' exhibits guru.
Many of the students' rockets had very sporty paint jobs.

One of the rockets heading off into the wild cloudy yonder. Taking photographs of rockets in motion is very difficult because unlike a Space Shuttle launch, these rockets are off the pad as soon as their motor kicks off.

A closeup of the Fisk University rocket.

Boy Scout Troop 143's entry from Giddings, TX. Their design was unique in that they had hollow, tube-shaped fins at the back end. The flight went fine, but the rocket landed a little hard because the main 'chute didn't deploy.

The entry from Enloe High School (, Raleigh, NC. I liked this rocket because it has a large, "hammerhead" section forward, rather like Ares I. Their rocket flew last, and the flight looked good. Didn't hear how their experiment did, though.

Another launch goes up. There were 32 team launches in all. It would probably be of benefit for me to learn how to use the high-speed photography settings on my camera for next year.

Here's a closeup of Vandy's UAV. The carbon-fiber airplane had wings and a tail section that were supposed to unfold upon being jettisoned from the rocket.

I'm pleased this photo came out. This is a "sun dog," a relatively rare condtion where ice crystals in the upper atmosphere create a halo effect around the sun.

This was pretty cool. The entry from the Washignton County, WI 4H Club ( looks like it has jet engines attached. However, these turbines were not used to provide thrust, but to take in air to generate electricity. The underside of the rocket included a heat sink to see if it could generate electricity through temperature differences between the rocket motor and the end of the heat sink (fins fitted outside the rocket).

(Unknown entry's) Main parachute deployment.

An up-close view of the Troop 143 rocket (

This was a festive event, so this gentleman decided to wear a very festive chapeau.

At least one group had a sponsor...

Orion Propulsion President Tim Pickens was in attendance. He was trolling for technicians and engineers. He picked a good crowd for it. Lots of very smart young people at this event.

Harding University ( had perhaps the most technically ambitious entry. They flew a hybrid rocket, using nitrous oxide and HTPB (industrial rubber) for fuel. Their payload included a spectrometer "to map the chemical species of the plume," as one young lady on the team proudly told me. Unlike the other straight-solid motors, which make more of a hissing sound while firing, a hybrid is more of a loud growl. Hybrids also have less thrust than the other solids, but burn longer.

Up close and personal with a returning rocket. I believe this is Fisk University's rocket, "Obama I."

A team prepares a rocket for launch. The launch pads were at least 500 feet from the crowd.

Another school, Madison West High School from Madison, WI (, built a two-stage rocket that worked perfectly. Very impressive!
I know I pick on the public school system a lot, but it's darn nice to know that there are bright kids who are having their intellects challenged and nourished in this country. The investigator in me wants to know what their teachers and mentors are doing to help make this happen.
In all, this event went very well. I participated in the design reviews and flight readiness review for one of the schools--Krueger Middle School from San Antonio, TX ( but was slow getting to Toney, so I missed their launch. Bad Bart! BAD!! Their experiment was measuring ozone at different levels of the atmosphere. They plan to contact the Weather Channel to verify what their ozone levels were at the time of flight. I'm sorry I missed their flight, but I look forward to working with SLI/USLI again in the future. Any excuse to see fire and smoke!

1 comment:

Marc said...

Harding had the most technically ambitious rocket???? Because they flew a hybrid???? I know there was one rocket there that had an active attitude control system as well as a very sophisticated air brake system to target the one mile altitude goal. If you don't believe me check it out