North Seattle College Rocketry Club soars to new heights

NSC Rocketry Club, Warren Brown, NSC President and Joe Barrientos

Students in the North Seattle College (NSC) Rocketry Club will compete in the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition, the world’s largest rocket competition for colleges and universities, on June 20–24 in Las Cruces, New Mexico. 

The Rocketry Club will represent North Seattle College as one of only three community colleges in the world and the only community college from Washington to participate in the international competition. The students will compete against more than 100 schools from six different continents.

"Whatever happens in New Mexico, I feel like the North Seattle Rocketry Club has already succeeded because we have created and are now leaving behind a legacy, said Olivia Petry, NSC Rocketry Club President.

It has not been without challenges. The Rocketry Club commenced Project Aquila in 2016 by building their first rocket as a proof of concept two-stage rocket using a 3-D printer from NSC’s Computer Aided Design and Construction lab. After three months of construction, the first fully functional “Aquila” tore through the sky in its first test flight in Mansfield, WA reaching 13,400 ft. and over 1,000 miles per hour. Unfortunately, a critical recovery system failure led to its unimpeded descent, and the rocket was destroyed.

“We were demoralized, but we realized that we only failed if we stopped right then,” said Chance Campbell, a mechanical engineering student and vice president of the club.  “Destroying the second rocket was a powerful learning experience. It taught us to take our work a lot more seriously.”

The students rallied to design and build another rocket from scratch in less than a month. The third rocket weighs 52 pounds, measures 96.5 inches long by six inches in diameter, and carries an inert steel payload weighing 8.8 pounds. (See video of the successful test launch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSLwcNckFKU.)

The real test will come when the students launch their rocket in New Mexico later this month. For full points, the rocket must reach a target altitude of precisely 10,000 feet above ground level.

Participation in the competition yields more than just a love of rockets; it teaches students how to solve real-world problems under the pressures of cost, schedule, and technical risk, all which they will likely face later in their careers.

To support the project, some club members applied for and received $2,000 NASA space grants. NSC provided access to its machine shop for students to build the rocket. The Rocketry Club also used online crowdfunding and raised over $1,800.

The club has also had to battle the clock, as they have dedicated all their spare time on weekends, evenings, and between classes and exams to Project Aquila.

The club is one of 40-plus student clubs at NSC that builds high-powered rockets and telemetry packages, and helps students attain a level 1 certification in rocketry.

The Rocketry Club was formed in 2012 by Tracy Furutani, NSC Engineering Physics III Instructor.

Through Furutani’s relationship with the University of Washington (UW) Earth and Space Sciences Department, NSC is a member of the Washington NASA Space Grant Consortium, a group of colleges and universities that promote Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) education in the context of rocketry through NASA support.

NASA awards $2,000 scholarships to a current STEM student at NSC who will continue on to another institution to complete a four-year STEM degree.

NSC has also partnered with the UW to offer a “Space and Space Travel” introductory rocketry class. Under the agreement, UW supplies a co-instructor and lab equipment.

All add to the strength of NSC’s science programs, which expose students to hands-on learning that is applicable in the workforce.  

“We used the full engineering design cycle, through testing, auditing, and redesign, and that experience is rarely found at the community college level,” said Tom Pflibsen, an aerospace engineering student.

No matter the outcome of the competition, students in the club are proud of the example and legacy their project has created.

“It’s one of hard work, of never giving up, of supporting those around you,” said Petry. “And one of chasing after a dream no matter how impossible it seems."

About the Competition
The IREC has been annually held since 2006, but gained international status in 2011, when schools from Canada and Brazil joined. The
Experimental Education Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA), is a non-profit organization founded in 2003 for the purpose of fostering and promoting engineering knowledge and experience in the field of rocketry. ESRA hosts the IREC for teams from across the USA and around the world. 2017 IREC will be held Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport located in southern New Mexico. This year marks the first year that ESRA's IREC will be the flagship activity of a new annual event called the Spaceport America Cup (SA Cup).

Posted on: June 15th, 2017 at 09:43:27

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