River City Rocketry Preps for Annual NASA Student Launch Competition

March 9, 2018

River City Rocketry brings home First Place from NASA Student Launch Competition.The River City Rocketry Team recently qualified again to participate in the annual NASA Student Launch event, which the team won last year. The team will compete this year in Huntsville, Alabama on April 7th, with preliminary events scheduled for flight readiness scheduled for late-March. While the rocket team has suffered a few setbacks with one of their test rockets exploding, team co-captains Maria Exeler and Gabriel Collins, both senior in the department of Mechanical Engineering, have worked to maintain that momentum this year, working against the odds to elevate spirits and focusing on failure as a positive.

Speaking to both co-captains, it’s easy to understand how much of this event is a labor of love. For both Exeler and Collins, who have both served on the rocket team for at least two years, the opportunity to work on this project is enough of a reward. In either case, each co-captain spends hours of their evening working on their rocket, whether that involved fabricating parts with a 3D printer or getting parts specially machined, or in the several hundred page proposal documents that enumerate each constitute component of the rocket for pre-review purposes. It’s that latter point that proves the most daunting, a grueling series of two-three hundred word documents that elaborates on each aspect of the rocket, from the logistics of flight, to safety protocols.

“We submitted it in September and our first big document in November. It’s a preliminary design review. Basically it’s here is our plan for our design right now. It was a 250 page document that detailed all the design systems. It’s one of the most attractive parts of the competition. A lot of the time, when you’re working through the document, it hits on key points of the documentation. It helps you with the design process,” says Exeler.

Recently, the team experienced a setback, when their rocket exploded during one of their test flights. Perseverant, the team took that as an opportunity to rededicate their efforts to winning the competition. With each element of the design set into individual units, the group as a whole work towards a friendly competition with the drive that has helped them place in almost every event that they’ve participated in and win last year, but that they hope inspires future students to engage in engineering.  

Collins explains, “Being able to continue on the team is a very critical part of the team. I think we’ve reached 3500 kids, it’s part of what we do. With last years CATO (Catastrophic Event at Take Over) and everything else, it’s prepared the team this expectation that whatever happens, you’re never going to give up. Just keep rebuilding to win this competition.”