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Experimental Rocketry team prepares to compete in international competition

A photo of WVU's rocket lifting off at the 2016 competition.

 WVUER's rocket lifts off the pad during the 2016 IREC in Green River, Utah.

West Virginia University’s Experimental Rocketry team is gearing up to compete at Spaceport America Cup. The event is designed around IREC—the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition—for student rocketry teams from all over the country and around the world. More than 110 teams from colleges and universities in 11 countries will be launching solid, liquid, and hybrid rockets to target altitudes of 10,000 and 30,000 feet. WVUER will send eight members to compete at the event, which will be held at the Spaceport America Campus near Las Cruces, New Mexico, June 20-24.

WVUER was tasked with creating a student-researched and designed solid rocket motor that can propel a rocket carrying a minimum of 8.8 pounds of payload 10,000 feet into the sky. To reach the altitude threshold the team designed, built and tested their own solid rocket motor and crafted a seven inch diameter, 12-foot long rocket body out of fiberglass. The rocket will be scored on a variety of criteria, including flight altitude and craftsmanship.

“The altitude the rocket reaches is a major component of the score but the quality of the design and construction is scored as well,“ said WVUER President Tim Bear, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major from Carlisle, Pennsylvania. “Many of the components needed to build the rocket can be bought off the shelf and assembled as is but that will result in a significantly lower score.”

In an attempt to achieve the maximum score possible, the team has built every component of the rocket from scratch except for the parachutes and safety-critical electronics. The rockets carry parachutes that deploy to slow their descent and ensure a safe landing. If the rocket is damaged upon landing points are deducted.

The team will also be scored on a technical paper that details test data from the rocket’s motor as well as several progress reports they have submitted throughout the year. Prior to lift off, the team must also present a poster presentation to the judges explaining the rocket’s features and how the mechanics of the motor work.

“Last year at the IREC, which was only our third year in existence as a club and our second year competing, we placed ninth out of 44 teams in our category and second out of the U.S. teams,” said Bear. “Each year, we have been growing in membership, budget and skill level, which has allowed us to tackle more complex projects and to do more testing on our rockets prior to competing.“

The team will be traveling to Price, Maryland, in April to undergo the first test flight of their newly crafted rocket at a Tripoli Rocketry Association event. The team has relied solely on simulations to gauge how effective the rockets mechanics are, so the test flight will allow them to make adjustments and improve the overall quality of the rocket before heading to New Mexico.

“WVUER has put a lot more time and effort into prepping for the IREC so I’m confident that we can perform even better than last year,” said Bear. “I think we have a real shot at winning and we are looking forward to showing the world what WVU can do.”



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