There is a rush of adrenaline that Bainbridge High School Rocket Team members feel before every test launch.
By the time they load their 3-foot-long projectile onto the launch rail, they already have spent hours in the lab calculating the physics of the flight, running computer simulations and tweaking their design. The team knows what should happen when the rocket lifts off, but there always is a twinge of uncertainty on launch day.
“You can run the simulations as much as you want, but there are so many variables in the real world,” team member William Carpenter said.
When the rocket streaks skyward and everything goes to plan, the tension turns to elation.
“We see that rocket launch off the rail, it’s perfectly straight, it flies right, and it’s just beautiful,” fellow team member Greg Shea said.
The Bainbridge High School Rocket Team experienced many of those moments in its inaugural season this school year. Physics teacher Enrique Chee organized the six-member squad last fall to compete in the national Team America Rocketry Challenge. The competition is designed to show students how math and science can be applied to real-world challenges, with thrilling results.
“The whole premise of this is to expose kids to what engineering is all about,” Chee said.
Chee used a $2,000 grant from the Bainbridge Schools Foundation to buy materials for the rocket team and incorporate rocketry into his Advanced Placement physics class. He also purchased simulation software that allows students to model rocket flights in the classroom.
The Bainbridge group was among more than 700 teams from 44 states registered for TARC this season. Each year, TARC challenges teams to design, build and fly a rocket that will meet an extremely specific set of objectives.
For this year’s competition, teams needed to launch a rocket to an altitude of 750 feet and drop it back to earth using a 15-inch parachute, all within 48 to 50 seconds. As a twist, the rocket was required to carry a payload of one chicken egg, resting on its side. Teams were instructed to land the fragile “astronaut” without any cracks.
“The egg adds a real human element,” Carpenter said.
The team used the simulation software and more than 20 live test flights to fine-tune their rocket for the competition. An understanding of physics was critical to perfecting the design, Carpenter said. If the rocket needed to fly higher, the team looked for ways to shave off mass and reduce drag. When it overshot the target altitude, they switched nose materials to add drag and slow its ascent.
The team’s final rocket design measures about 2.5 inches in diameter and stands 35 inches tall. The egg rests in a cushioned compartment near the nose. A solid fuel rocket motor propels the rocket off a launch rail.
At a predetermined height, a small black powder charge detonates, detaching the rocket’s nose from the base. The sections then parachute back to the ground. An electronic altimeter records the altitude of the flight.
Each spring, TARC selects 100 teams for the national finals based on their scores in independently judged qualifying flights. The Bainbridge team met the qualifying score for national competition during its trial flights in Sequim but missed the cut for the final 100.
Chee said the first season was a success. They plan to hold a final launch party in May in Sequim.
“As a team, they did really well for our first year doing this,” he said.
All of this year’s rocket team members are seniors and the experience will stick with them as they move on to college.
Carpenter was already an avid rocket hobbyist before helping start the team and will attend Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Though he’s launched larger rockets in other clubs, Carpenter said the tough standards of the TARC competition presented a different challenge.
“I’ve never done anything this exact,” he said.
Shea will attend Duke University and said his experience on the rocket team could sway his choice of majors.
“This has definitely piqued my interest in aerospace engineering,” he said.
Italian exchange student Ivan Gentile appreciated both the scientific and social aspects of the team. He said Italian schools don’t offer many hands-on science programs.
“I found it really interesting, and I enjoy my teammates,” Gentile said. “It’s neat to have these opportunities you really don’t have in Italy.”
Chee will need to assemble an entirely new rocket team for next season. The success of this year’s group should make recruiting a new team easy, he said.
“Interest isn’t an issue any longer,” Chee said
Read more: http://www.kitsapsun.com/news/2013/apr/15/education-spotlight-rockets-help-launch-students/#ixzz2RKI1xIX7
Follow us: @KitsapSun on Twitter | KitsapNews on Facebook