Rocket team flies high in Alabama

The UC Davis SpaceED rocket team has returned from the NASA Student Launch Projects competition in Huntsville, Alabama. They didn’t bring back prizes on their first trip to the competition — but they did bring back some great experiences, despite a few obstacles. Here’s a report from team coordinator Daniel Berman.

Watch a video of the launch on the team’s Facebook page.


We were pleased with our experience in Alabama. Getting there proved to be quite the challenge with our flights from Chicago being cancelled and having to spend a night in Houston. When we did finally arrive we had missed the introductory meetings and United lost our baggage that contained our payload electronics for about a day.

These setbacks aside however, Alabama was a great experience. Although we were very pleased with the way our rocket turned out, seeing the capabilities of the schools who have well established USLI teams gave us many ideas and inspiration for the future. Both on the SLI (high school rocket competition) and USLI (university rocket competition) side, teams came with a wide range of creative features and payloads including various energy management/airbrake systems. We saw teams with interesting payloads such as the study of the effects of acceleration on capsaicin (the chemical that makes chilli peppers hot), and models designed to study methods of controlling fluid slosh in micro gravity environments.

UC Davis SpaceED rocket team preparing to launch, April 21

UC Davis SpaceED rocket team preparing to launch, April 21

Due to weather conditions our launch was postponed until Sunday, April 21. This made things a bit more difficult for our team since we had to catch an early flight back to California and therefore didn’t have as much time as we would’ve liked to prepare for our launch. Regardless, our rocket was the first launch of the day and had a picture perfect flight and successful recovery (video posted on our Facebook page). Unfortunately, our final altitude turned out higher than our simulations predicted (5670 feet versus our goal of 5280 feet)  thus technically invalidating our flight per the NASA rulebook (cannot exceed 5600 feet).

For a first year team however, and especially with all difficulty we faced just making it to competition, we were happy just to successfully arrive and launch. The entire competition was a huge learning experiences for everyone involved and I am confident UC Davis will be continue to have a presence within high powered rocketry for years to come.

For next year it is not yet clear whether the team will continue with this particular NASA competition or pursue other rocketry opportunities. Although NASA USLI has been a great learning experience there seems to be other opportunities that are both closer to home and offer the potential for more impressive challenges. Preliminary discussion has begun about the possibility of building a rocket that can travel to 100,000 feet (high enough to see ‘black sky’ and the curvature of the earth). These are the decisions the team will be making in the coming weeks/months and at this point it is too early to say exactly what the next step for the team will be.

The team still has one more report to present to NASA before the final completion of the competition. This report, due in early May, will summarize our experience, lessons learned, and most importantly analyze the data collected by our payload system.

Finally the team would like to thank Dr. Susan Ustin and the California Space Grant Consortium for generously funding our travel expenses. Without this support we could have not afforded to bring many of our most important members to competition.

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