Spring is coming and the rockets are flying

Team Pink prepared their entry in last year's Team America Rocketry Challenge. This year almost one third of the Tarc participants are female, including seven all-girl teams. Source: AIAA

The signs of Spring are everywhere: the Sun rises earlier each day, birds start singing, plants start growing… and rockets start launching. Spring is the season for educational rocket programs. 

Amateur rocketry gives students at all levels a hands-on experience that goes far beyond the classroom. Students must combine science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with a healthy dose of teamwork. The experience inspires kids to pursue careers in the sciences while the skills they learn can lead them into careers in the aerospace industry.

The 2015 rocket season actually started last year when middle and high school teams across France, the United States, and the United Kingdom entered their national rocket contests. The Planète Sciences Rocketry Challenge, Team America Rocketry Challenge, and the UK Aerospace Youth Rocketry Challenge share the same rules: student teams design and build a model rocket that lifts a raw egg 800 feet (244 meters in France) and land it safely within 46-48 seconds. 

After a series of regional qualifiers, Tarc announced the 100 finalists that will converge on an open field in Virginia this May to compete for $60,000 in prizes and scholarships. The field of competitors will include a team of homeschoolers from Connecticut as well as the US Virgin Islands team that met President Obama at the White House Science Fair. With a population of 2,805 (and home of the largest yogurt plant in North America) the village of Minster, Ohio, will return for the 6th year in row - with 3 teams

French qualifying rounds are underway now in preparation for the national finals in May. British qualifications take place in May in advance of the national finals in early June. The American, British, and French champions will travel to the Paris Air Show at the end of June to compete in the International Rocketry Challenge.

One of the rockets launching from an Alabama farm during Nasa's Student Launch educational rocketry contest. Credit: Nasa/MSFC

For the American teams competing in Tarc, there’s an extra incentive. Nasa often invites top-placing TARC teams to compete in the space agency’s Student Launch educational launch contest. This 8-month program is even more intense than Tarc. Student Launch requires teams to present their designs to the space agency’s own engineers in a series of reviews modeled on Nasa’s engineering design lifecycle:

  • Preliminary Design Review
  • Critical Design Review
  • Flight Readiness Review
  • Launch Readiness Review
  • Post Launch Assessment Review

Why so rigorous? The rocket they design isn’t flying an egg 800 feet. It must carry a scientific payload 5,280 feet (1.6 kilometers). The rocket’s design, its performance, and the science the students use it for all go into each team’s evaluation. Another difference from the Tarc competition? The middle and high school teams launch their rockets side-by-side with teams from undergraduate engineering schools. 

Last weekend the 8 teams of teen rocketeers joined 32 college rocket teams at Bragg Farms near the Marshall Space Flight Center. Despite weather conditions that scrubbed the Friday launches, the weekend was filled with rocket plumes rising into the Alabama skies. You can see video from the event from MSFC’s uStream page as well as from local TV station WAFF. Pennsylvania’s Spring Grove High School took first place as their rocket came within 11 feet of the mile-high altitude target. (Manufacturingnet spoke with them before the launch)

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