Imagine an 8-foot rocket flying over close to two miles straight up into the atmosphere. That’s the goal that Gonzaga Rocketry Club hopes to achieve this year.
Each year Gonzaga’s American Society for Mechanical Engineers chooses a project.This year the club is sticking to the rocketry theme, which has been attempted the last few years.
Last year the engineers missed the deadline to attend the Spaceport America Cup, but this year the club applied and was accepted.
“Last year was a learning experience for us,” said sophomore member Nathan Coats. “This year we have better leadership. I have already learned more this year than I did all of last year.”
While it is early, the energy is palpable as students discuss ideas in one of Herak’s large rooms.
Spaceport America Cup is the world's largest intercollegiate rocket competition. The competition is in New Mexico and will include over 200 teams that come from national and international universities. The Spaceport America Cup is run by billionaire Richard Branson and his company Virgin America.
“This year we need to put our big boy boots on and build the rocket," said Cody Meyer, president of the club. "A lot of it is drive. This year we really want to go, we are tired of saying we would go and then not going.”
Meyer is the head of the propulsion team, one of three teams that operate separately to create three different parts of the rocket. The propulsion team works with the motor to make sure the rocket is transferring all of the thrust it creates into pushing the rocket to its apogee, the highest point the rocket will hit.
The integration team makes sure that all of the components will fit inside the rocket. This team is also responsible for making sure the rocket stays together until certain altitudes when different parts of rocket will detach.
Recovery and avionics were described as the “nervous system of the rocket” by team leader Brennen Watkins. The team works on the electronics that signal parts of the rocket to activate based on the height. Parts of the rockets need to be preserved each time the rocket is launched. In order to save these parts a large parachute is installed. As the rocket plummets from 10,000 feet up these sensors activate a few hundred feet before the rocket would hit the ground to release a parachute.
To build the larger rockets, members of the team have to be certified in certain levels of high-powered rockets.
“The different levels of certification that one can get and they all have to do with the rocket motors that you are able to purchase," said Maya Prouty, club secretary. "The motors are categorized into different classes by impulse. Impulse is the amount of thrust that a motor can produce over a certain period of time.”
Prouty worked with a professor Marty Weiser at Eastern Washington University as well as the Spokane Rocket Club to successfully design, build, launch and recover a rocket. By demonstrating that she could do all of these things, she became certified in level one for high-powered rockets.
“The goal is to become level two certified by the end of January,” Prouty said.
The certifications will allow the club to build the bigger rockets that the competition requires.
Right now the team is working on designing the rocket. They have just ordered several parts and are creating parts including a 3-D printing of a nose-cone. This will transition into testing and building the rocket in the spring in order to prepare for the competition, which takes place after school gets out in June.
While members have their eyes set on the competition in June, there are many prospects that the club may be taking up in the future.
“A lot of the bigger schools make their own motors and we want to do research into that in the future,” Meyer said.
The focus for this year will be launch experiments, successfully launching a rocket and the competition. Returning in the future to conduct an experiment with the high powered rocket is a distinct possibility.
Gonzaga’s American Society for Mechanical Engineers meets in Herak 123 on Thursdays at 6 p.m.