Saturday, April 19, 2008

University Student Launch Initiative

This was my first time attending this event. The USLI is a NASA-sponsored competition that gives college students an opportunity to launch rockets and payloads. They must design their own rockets and payloads and use off-the-shelf rocket motors. The event this year was held at Bragg Farms in Toney, Alabama, which is about a 30-minute drive from Madison, 20 minutes from Huntsville proper. Explanations will be provided as feasible. I showed up late because I had other chores, so I didn't get to see everyone's launch.

Nope, no kidding. This was a farm.

Utah State's hybrid rocket parachutes safely to Earth. The goal of the launch was to achieve an altitude of one mile (not sure if that was one mile above Alabama's ground level or one mile above sea level). Utah State reached 4,400 feet. Apparently they would have done better, but their automated speed brake opened at around 3,600 feet, thinking it was at 36,000 feet. Given that, they still managed a pretty good flight--nearly a straight-arrow 7-degree flight. How do I know it was 7 degrees? Actually, I don't. However, that's about the same angle the Shuttle flies at, and the vehicle looked like it had that trajectory.

Crowds were better than I thought they'd be--maybe a couple hundred people. However, the organizers (NASA?) didn't consider getting a count. The Student Launch Initiative for junior high and high school students will be next week; they might do so next week.

The weather was decent when the sun was out, but the winds were going steady at about 20-30 miles per hour, and clouds made things quite chilly for those of us wearing t-shirts.

The Ares folks brought their 20-foot (~1:16 scale) Ares I model. You don't realize how big that thing is until you put it next to a car.

The stuff below is the avionics package for Fisk University's entry. In addition to all the avionics, the payload included a rover that was designed to move around on the ground after landing. While the aft end of their rocket nosed in for a perfect "lawn dart" landing, the rest managed to land in such a way as to allow the rover to do its thing. Impressive!

Not surprisingly, Fisk's vehicle was the biggest rocket I saw while I was there.

The Vanderbilt team prepares its rocket for launch.

Here, the Vanderbilt team carries its rocket out to the pad. There was about a 500-foot separation between the crowd and the launch pads. Given the winds, though, that was hardly a guarantee of safety.

Auburn's parachute opened rather close to the ground. This was done on purpose, I was told, so that the teams would not have to go running for miles and miles to pick up their rockets. The Vandy rocket's parachute took quite awhile to open, as it was set to deploy at 500 feet...above sea level. Why does that matter? Because, someone informed me, the plains of northern Alabama are at about 240 feet above sea level.

We had a brief visitation from a UFO, but I was the only one who saw it, and we all know how unreliable I am with shooting my camera...

I can't rightly recall whose rocket this was, but like all the others, it made an impressive roar off the pad. Nobody had issues on the pad, and while I was there, only one rocket "augured in."

Not sure whose rocket this was, but it was pretty. I especially liked the detailed work they put in to making their sensor hookups look "official."

Whose returning vehicle is this? The Shadow knows...

I believe this was the Vandy rocket after it was fetched from the corn field. That Alabama clay does stick well, doesn't it?

This is Auburn's rocket. It was on the pad at the same time as the rocket from Menominee, Wisconsin. However, I was not paying attention to the right pad...

...because the rocket nearby was the one that was launching.

Crowd shots.

We had an entry from the Midwest: Menominee (me-NOM-uh-nee), Wisconsin. They had a pretty sharp looking vehicle and a smooth ballistic flight. However, the winds took it in an unfortunate direction--toward the farm--and the parachute didn't deploy. One of the students reported that they were flying at 170 miles per hour when they cratered into the corn field. The pieces were cast into the back of a pickup truck, and a HAL5 guy and I joined in the post-mortem. The team's altimeters survived with minimal melting/scorching, but they were unable to get any data from them on-site. And did I get any pictures of this? Hell, no. And why not? Because the camera batteries chose that moment to conk out on me. D@MN IT!!!

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