NASA's Student Launch Challenge Looking For Next Generation Of Engineers
February 6, 2014

NASA’s Student Launch Challenge Looking For Next Generation Of Engineers

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

Students from several universities are taking part in a NASA event by designing and launching innovative rockets.

NASA said its Student Launch Challenge will include 26 colleges and universities from 16 states and Puerto Rico. The event, being held May 15 - 17 at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Tooele County, Utah, is another way the space agency is gearing up the next generation of engineers.

"This new engineering competition ties participating students' work to NASA's pursuit of new, more demanding missions," William Gerstenmaier, NASA's associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said in a statement. "Giving these students exposure to building and launching model rockets to 20,000 feet allows them to recognize the challenges in pushing new limits."

During the challenge, student teams will be asked to go through rigorous launch readiness reviews before launching their rockets. NASA said the challenge was inspired by the space agency’s mission to build, test and fly the new Space Launch System, which is the agency’s next flagship rocket.

Students will be required to build their vehicles with a parachute-based recovery system and provide three payloads capable of delivering data that could help shape future NASA missions. One mandatory payload for all students to equip their rockets with is a landing hazard detection system, which will include a camera and customized software to transmit real-time information about surface conditions.

Teams will be able to select the other two payload systems on the rocket from a list of options that support NASA spacecraft development strategies. Some of these payloads include studying how liquids move in microgravity and studying the environmental effects of supersonic flight on vehicle paints and coatings.

The students will be required to predict the maximum flight altitude of their vehicle based on the research needs of their payloads. According to the rules, no rockets are allowed to fly higher than 20,000 feet. The team that comes closest to this altitude without breaching the threshold will receive the altitude award. Last year, students were asked to keep their rockets below 5,280 feet, or 1 mile.

NASA will be judging teams on a successful launch and payload development, as well as thoroughness of supporting documentation. The winning team will receive a $5,000 prize, which is being offered by ATK Aerospace Group of Promontory, Utah.

Last year, students from Aerospace Club of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN took home the top prize for this challenge. Alabama A&M University in Huntsville took home the Altitude Award for coming the closest to the 1-mile mark without going over.