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Experimental Rocketry team gears up to defend title in international competition

A photo of a rocket test firing.

WVU's Experimental Rocketry Team recently test-fired their rockets in preparation for next June's competition.

West Virginia University’s Experimental Rocketry team is preparing to defend their first-place title in the 10,000-foot launch category at the 2018 Spaceport America Cup, the world's largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and competition.


The event hosts student rocketry teams from all over the world to launch solid, liquid and hybrid rockets to target altitudes of 10,000 and 30,000 feet while carrying a minimum of 8.8 pounds of payload. For the first time, the team will compete in both categories at the event, which will be held at the Spaceport America Campus near Las Cruces, New Mexico, June 19-23.

“WVUER has never competed in the 30,000-foot launch competition so this will be a new experience for us,” said team President Casey Wilson, a mechanical and aerospace engineering major from Wheeling. “We are extremely excited to showcase all of the talents that the engineering students at WVU bring to the table.”

To prepare for their debut in the category, the 27-member team modified last year’s winning design, which featured a 12-foot long fiberglass rocket body, to include larger fins and a nosecone to make the rocket more aerodynamic. They also equipped their rocket with a much larger and more powerful motor to reach the higher altitude.

“Last week the team conducted a static test of the motor to measure the amount of force it could generate,” said Wilson. “We are happy to report that this is the first time a new design has worked flawlessly on the first try. Our motor produced around 1,000 pounds of thrust for eight seconds and is roughly four times more powerful than our previous designs.”

This is the first time WVUER has conducted a motor test before the springsemester, a strategy that Wilson believes will give the team a winning edge at next year’s competition.

“We are going above and beyond to stringently test all of our equipment,” said Wilson. “In the past we would fire an experimental motor once to ensure it worked and then fly it. Now we are planning on multiple tests to improve the fidelity of the motor.”

Over spring break, the team will travel to the KLOUDBusters Rocket Pasture in Argonia, Kansas, to test launch both of their rockets.

”We have designed the larger rocket to go to 36,000 feet since overshooting the target generally garners the best results,” said Wilson. “We are hopeful that it will reach at least 30,000 feet during the test but we are prepared to modify the motor and rocket if necessary.”

While the altitude that the rockets reach is a major component of the judging process, the team will also be scored on a technical paper that details test data from the rockets’ motors as well as several progress reports they have to submit throughout the year. Additionally the team will present a poster presentation to the judges explaining their rocket’s features and how the mechanics of the motors work prior to lift off.

“Although we won last year we were still short of our target altitude by 400 feet so we have redesigned the rocket’s to reach that extra height,” said Wilson. “There is still a lot of work to be done but we have put a substantial amount of work into fine tuning both of our rockets and we are very hopeful that we could leave next year’s competition as winners once again.”

The team is sponsored by the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, NASA West Virginia Space Grant Consortium and NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Facility.



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