49er Rocketry Team soars to fifth at NASA contest

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A team of Lee College of Engineering students demonstrated the strength of their advanced rocketry and engineering skills by placing fifth in the 2017 NASA Student Launch competition.

The 49er Rocketry Team competed against 50 schools in the contest, held at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This year, the Lee College team vied in the Unknown Fragile Material Protection, Vertical Landing, Precise Altitude Control Challenge. This required the team to design a payload chamber with an interior volume of 3.5 inches in diameter and 6 inches in height that could hold a single object or a number of objects with a combined maximum weight of 4 ounces.

For 2017, the payload consisted of five 2-inch clay pigeons; the 49ers’ competition flight, which was nearly perfect, resulted in two of the objects breaking upon landing.

Student John Borek was the team’s captain. The other members were Alexander Sutton, Benjamin Cobb, Nathan Lui, Hudson Reynolds, Wesley Howard, Sean Green, Nathan Newbrough, Kyle Moore, John Hill and Jess Laprad.

“Our launch was beautiful,” Borek said. “We reached an altitude of 5,403 feet with perfect recovery. Although we reached 120 feet above our target altitude, broke two of the five payloads, and did not land vertically, we identified the reasons behind the failures. Overall, we are grateful for everything we learned and the opportunity that we had.”

Karen Thorsett-Hill, associate professor of mechanical engineering and engineering science; Chris Vermillion, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and engineering science; Jerry Dahlberg; and Brian Couch; were team mentors.

“As co-advisors of this year's team, Chris Vermillion and I are so proud of them and the terrific leadership displayed by John Borek,” Thorsett-Hill said. “What a great way for these seniors to end the year. As anyone who has been to the competition can attest, this team brings a lot of positive national recognition to our engineering program. It's pretty amazing when Charlie Precourt, an astronaut, space shuttle commander and now vice president of propulsion systems for Orbital ATK spends over 20 minutes with our team intrigued by their landing system.”

Vermillion added, “Given the number of competing teams, I am very happy with the results, along with the overall dedication and enthusiasm that was displayed by the entire team throughout the process. The team put together a great product and learned a lot in the process. I look forward to continued success of the team in the years to come.”

The University of Louisville won the NASA, Orbital ATK Rocketry Challenge. Vanderbilt University placed second, followed by Cornell and the University of Huntsville, Alabama.