Thursday, January 4, 2024

Through hands-on learning, UTSA students in Aeronautics and Rocket Club launch to new heights

Through hands-on learning, UTSA students in Aeronautics and Rocket Club launch to new heights

MAY 4, 2023 — The Aeronautics and Rocket Club at UTSA (ARC) will participate in its second Spaceport America Cup, a competition taking place in Southern New Mexico from June 19 to June 24. With over 150 institutions participating in the event, UTSA's ARC will stand out as one of the few teams flying a hybrid propulsion system rocket in contrast to more than 130 teams that will fly solid propulsion system rockets.

The team has been working enthusiastically for months on the rocket, named Linda. It has been a challenging task for them, as constructing a hybrid rocket comes with its own complexities. The team is incorporating the extensive plumbing needed to deal with the liquid propellant  stages, which would not have been required for a solid propulsion system. Vent procedures, electronic ground support and instrumentation are also more complex.

ARC President Haven Russell says the experience has been educational and challenging. He encourages students to "try not to shy away from a challenge.”

“We want the club to be a melting pot of ideas, people and knowledge.”

The team has spent months working on their hybrid rocket named Linda. They also built a launch trailer for the rocket.

Tapping his leadership skills, innovative vision and mechanical engineering knowledge, Russell keeps the team motivated and encourages it to push boundaries. For example, in addition to building the rocket for the Spaceport America competition, the team decided to construct a 30-foot mobile launch trailer. They finished its construction within two months, an effort that will give the club a medium to test rocket propulsion system static thrusts in the future.

Although a young UTSA student organization, ARC has been making its way to the skies since its formation. It has consistently grown, from securing invitations to the 2020 NASA Student Launch competition for the first time in UTSA's history to participating twice in the world's largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and competition: the Spaceport America Cup. The club has shown considerable progress and has provided passionate Roadrunners with a platform to apply their classroom knowledge, equipping them with competitive skills to launch successful careers.

ARC's growth directly reflects UTSA's commitment to experiential learning. Along with classroom-to-career learning opportunities, UTSA provides its students with technical resources to test their classroom knowledge in a real-world environment.

"At UTSA, we have the state-of-the-art, the best-advanced technology to use,” said Nathaly Amaya, a UTSA chemical engineering student and ARC's public relations officer.

From metal and regular 3D printers, laser spectroscopy and chemical propulsion labs to creative spaces with tools for working on complex projects, UTSA students have the support they need to bring their complex ideas to life. Additionally, the club receives constant support and guidance from faculty members such as Daniel Pineda, an assistant professor in the UTSA Department of Mechanical Engineering.

Building rockets is an expensive passion that requires significant funding. Apart from the UTSA funds that ARC receives, it also accepts private donations from faculty and community members.

To compete at this year's Spaceport competition, the students have raised $6,621 out of their $10,000 goal through a crowdfunding campaign. Donors receive certain rewards, like name engravings on the rocket and other perks.

"We definitely always want to give back, and we think that is important," said Amaya, who shared her vision to attract corporate sponsors in the future.

Since UTSA alumnus Erick Castillon ’19 formed ARC in 2016, the club has welcomed members from all academic backgrounds.

"We want the club to be a melting pot of ideas, people and knowledge," said Russell. "I try really hard to make the organization as multifaceted as possible, to appeal to as many different majors as possible."

ARC holds STEM nights at schools, where the students display their projects and provide simplified explanations to kids to spark an interest to come to UTSA and join the club. They have also successfully collaborated with other teams like the Robotics and Automation Society at UTSA and at events such as the Monster Mash Pumpkin Smash. At the latter, the team trained a group of about 35 engineering and non-engineering-related participants how to design and launch rockets.

"We teach you everything. Just show up, and we will show you what you need to do,” said Amaya.

Although there is a paid membership fee, ARC uses that funding entirely to benefit its members by providing them the means and resources to attain L1 certification. This expertise enables the students to fly high power rockets and authorizes them to purchase high-level equipment.

The club also has strict protocols to ensure that hazardous materials are handled safely by students with the proper certifications.

⇒ Learn more about the Aeronautics and Rocket Club on RowdyLink or Linktree.

Students who join ARC work on research-heavy projects, compete in major competitions and develop skills that will make them stand out in the job market.

Castillon is an example of that. After graduating from UTSA, he went on to join NASA and currently works there as a systems engineer.

Syeda Amal Hassan Naqvi

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