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Rocket Team Wins International Flight Contest

SOCORRO, N.M. July 12, 2013 – A New Mexico Tech team of mechanical engineering students won top prizes at the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition in Green River, Utah, in June.

The Scepter 1 rocket performed the best among more than 20 teams and brought home the top prize in the advanced catetory. Scepter is an acronym for Scientific Cargo and Experimental Payload Transportation and Exploration Rocket.

Team leader Andrew Godsil said, “This was our first year in the competition and, doing as well as we did was especially gratifying.”

The team competed in both the basic and advanced divisions, taking first place in the advanced. They also won the Save Your Bacon Award – for offering assistance to other teams. For a video from the competition, click here.

The team came together through the Senior Design Clinic in the Mechanical Engineering Department. Other team members are Joel Runnels, Jon Alger, Jared Alberts, Stephanie Wilvert, Adrian Blair, Miguel Alguirre, William Valliant, Wyatt McBeth and Isaiah Ware. The Techies flew Scepter to 10,376 feet altitude in the basic competition, within 4 percent of the target of 10,000 feet.

They switched out the motor for the advanced competition and flew to 20,755 feet, well short of their target of 25,000 feet.

rocket-godsil-heinrich-DSC 2298“We didn’t do quite so well at hitting the target,” Godsil said. “We’re still analyzing data to figure out why it happened.”

However, that height not only was good enough to win, but also set the record for the highest flight in the history of the competition.

Andrew Godsil (right) explains the rocket team's project to Sen. Martin Heinrich during a campus visit earlier this year.

 About two dozen teams competed from across the country and from Canada, Turkey, India and Brazil. The competition also included a 20-minute presentation with 10 minutes of Q-and-A.

 “The biggest portion was team preparedness,” Godsil said. “Both mornings, we were ready to fly before the judges arrived at the launch pad. We were more prepared than the other teams. The most important thing is that we had many opportunities for test flights. That gave us a leg up.”

The team began design work in August 2012 and eventually tested Scepter a handful of times during the spring 2013 semester.

The Scepter rocket stands 11-feet, 6-inches tall and has a diameter of 5.5 inches. The rocket weighs 84 pounds, including a 10-pound payload. The motor and solid propellant provide 1,100 pounds of thrust and reached Mach 1.4 – a bit more than 1,000 miles per hour.

The rocket’s boost phase lasts about six seconds, then it continues its climb for another 25 seconds. Scepter free-falls to about 1,500 feet; at that point, the onboard electronics, along with an altimeter, deploys the parachutes.

The competition also served as a test flight for data loggers that the team designed from scratch. Team member Joel Runnels designed a new data acquisition and electronics package.

“Joel did such a fantastic job that it generated a lot of interest at the competition,” Godsil said. “They suggested that they may want to make his electronics and data acquisition package available to other teams.”

The team will do more testing on the rocket and the new electronics during the fall 2013 semester.

The Tech team launched Scepter both days at 8 a.m., then spent the rest of the day interacting with other teams.

“We were able to recover our rocket quickly and that gave us the opportunity to meet other teams,” Godsil said. “We had spare parts for everything. Five other teams wouldn’t have been able to fly without our help. We just wanted to see them compete.”

“That was very impressive,” professor Dr. Warren Ostergren said. “They had the maturity and integrity to try to help out other teams. That reflects on the type of student we have here at Tech. They are students who are serious, but also considerate. It’s such a gesture of good will and we couldn’t be prouder of them.”

During the summer of 2012, Ostergren and Dr. Keith Miller, who teaches the Junior Design Clinic, gave Godsil their blessing to apply for a grant from the New Mexico Space Grant Consortium, which is funded by NASA. The team won a $5,000 grant to pursue their rocketry work.

“They had an idea; Andrew researched the competition; they did a proposal and got funded,” Ostergren said. “That’s unique for a design team to take that much initiative from the beginning. What’s really been unique is how organized, how progressive and how hard-working they’ve been.”

The team found a local rocket hobbyist, Doug Gerard, who provided advice, guidance and equipment. Gerard has a launch set up that includes several cameras, which he graciously allowed the students to use for initial test flights.

“He was extremely important in aiding us with the recovery system,” Godsil said. “His suggestions were monumental in our success.”

The team lost three members to graduation this year and is looking forward to adding at least three new juniors to the team this fall.

Godsil said they may try to develop a new rocket motor and consider other design elements during the next cycle.

“Since we have a rocket that we know functions well, that gives us leverage to explore different designs and manufacturing process in the future,” he said.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech