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Russ College rocket team competes in international competition

Colleen Carow and Anna Hartenbach | Jul 5, 2018
AIAA Rocket Team
The Astrocats pose with their rocket, “The Big One.” Front row, from L-R: Tessa Berger, Travis Moleski, Mitchell Brightman, Alex Polacek, Archie Scott III, Jeremy Browne. Back row, from L-R: Dylan Denner, David Ogden, J.C. KramlPhotos by: Dylan Denner

Russ College rocket team competes in international competition

Colleen Carow and Anna Hartenbach | Jul 5, 2018
The Astrocats pose with their rocket, “The Big One.” Front row, from L-R: Tessa Berger, Travis Moleski, Mitchell Brightman, Alex Polacek, Archie Scott III, Jeremy Browne. Back row, from L-R: Dylan Denner, David Ogden, J.C. Kraml
The Astrocats pose with their rocket, “The Big One.” Front row, from L-R: Tessa Berger, Travis Moleski, Mitchell Brightman, Alex Polacek, Archie Scott III, Jeremy Browne. Back row, from L-R: Dylan Denner, David Ogden, J.C. Kraml Photos by: Dylan Denner

The Russ College Astrocats rocket design team boosted themselves to New Mexico earlier this month to launch some Bobcat payload into the southwestern skies. 

Joining more than 1,500 students from more than 100 universities around the globe, the undergraduate crew participated for the second time in the Spaceport America Cup, held June 19-23 in Las Cruces. It’s the world’s largest intercollegiate engineering conference and competition, for which the Astrocats began preparing in fall 2017. 

While thermal expansion in the severe desert temps caused an in-flight failure, all was not lost, said Dylan Denner, team president and a rising senior who is a double major in applied mathematics and computer engineering.

“The team faced challenges with organization and set-backs, but throughout the year there were many accomplishments that will place the team in a great position to succeed in the future,” Denner said.

The competition judged rockets on four criteria: overall design competency, construction quality, strategic designs exhibited by their work, and correctness and timeliness. The Astrocats competed in solid propulsion, aiming to use a commercial solid-propellant motor to attempt to reach an altitude of 10,000 feet. Securing a camera onboard, they’d aimed to record the flight from a stationary viewpoint and use the footage to promote the team.

Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Jay Wilhelm, the team’s adviser, said he was impressed with the students’ ability to come together as a team, their ingenuity to work through problems, and ability to create a complicated avionics system for the rocket.

“Taking themselves and their rocket 1,500 above ground level, successfully passing safety checkouts and launching are no minor feats – 40 percent of the teams there failed to launch,” Wilhelm said.

Denner compared leading the team’s missions for the past two years to the group’s side adventures hiking the Organ Mountains in New Mexico – better together.

“It was inspiring to be surrounded by a phenomenal group of people. It was more rewarding to compete and grow as a team than as an individuals,” Denner said.

The team comprised Denner; mechanical engineering undergraduates Tessa Berger, Mitchell Brightman, Jeremy Browne, (James) J.C. Kraml, Travis Moleski, Alex Polacek and Archie Scott III; and alumnus David Ogden, MS ’18.