Rocketry team attends nationals for the first time

May 28, 2019 — by Jessica Wang

During sophomore year of 2017, junior Katherine Lu started the Rocketry Club with the intent of building rockets to compete in Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), a national student rocketry competition.

After recruiting her friends into the club, meetings were first held in the homes of different students who volunteered to host, where students learned the basics of model rocketry and assembled pre-made models.

Within a year, the weekly meetings held on Sunday moved to the engineering room, where club members built and assembled rockets, under the guidance of mentor Reed Kingston, and occasionally drove to launch areas as far as Sacramento to fly the built rockets.

Although the team failed to qualify for nationals in the first year, this season, with fewer and more committed members, they used old parts of previous rockets and actively focused on achieving a nationals-qualifying flight.

On May 18, rocketry team members juniors Adrienne Chan, Lu, Brandon Nguyen, Katherine Peng, Ivy Qian and Jessica Wang participated in the Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) national competition in Manassas, Va., having qualified for the first time.

The theme and rules for national qualifying flights change annually to present students with new challenges. This year, requirements for rocket designs were themed around Saturn V, or Apollo 11 (for the 50th anniversary of the moon landing), including dimensions, time and altitude scaled down for student rockets: teams had to fly three raw eggs in a capsule to an altitude of 856 feet and return with a three parachute deployment between 43-46 seconds. Scores were calculated by the deviation from the optimal height and time, the best score being zero.

Although the SHS team scored a four on its qualifying flight, at nationals the team scored 68.88 in the first round of flights. The first-round score was not low enough to place in the top 42 teams out of 101 and move on to the second and final round.

Before flying, the team referenced a simulation software to make adjustments to the original qualifying rocket, adding weight and drag to fit the lower air pressure and high humidity in Virginia and avoid overshooting the target height, according to Chan.

“I think, since it was our first time at nationals as well as our first time flying in such different conditions, we overcompensated for their effects on the rocket,” Lu said.

Qian additionally speculated that a possibly unbalanced ballast caused the rocket to tilt.

Lu also notes that since there were very few practice launches during the season due to fires during the fall and rain at the beginning of the year, there was no way of knowing how accurate the simulations were in regard to test flights.

“Next year, we will definitely try to get more flights in by contacting other teams that we met at nationals who had their own launch sites,” Lu said. “And we will start early and try to experience as many different conditions as possible.”