Student Rocket Teams Take Up NASA Launch Challenge

The North Carolina State Wolfpack Team works on their rocket. Photo Credit: ATKOutreach

Over 500 engineering, math, and science students from middle schools, high schools, and colleges from 29 states are participating in NASA’s 2012 Student Launch Projects Flight Challenge – an annual competition challenging their problem-solving skills and giving them real-world experience to complement the science, mathematics, and engineering lessons they study in the classroom. 

“Just as NASA partners with innovative companies such as ATK to pursue the nation’s space exploration mission, these young rocketeers pool their talent and ingenuity to solve complex engineering problems and fly sophisticated machines,” said Tammy Rowan, manager of Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office. 

Students prepare rockets for launch at NASA's Student Launch Initiative. Photo Credit: NASA

Organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, the 500+ students make up for a record 57 teams this year.  Fifteen middle and high school teams will participate in the non-competitive Student Launch Initiative, while 42 college and university teams will compete in the University Student Launch Initiative – which features a $5,000 first-place award provided by ATK Aerospace Systems. 

“This competition is extremely important to ATK to mentor and train our future workforce,” said Charlie Precourt, a former NASA astronaut (STS-71, STS-84, STS-91) and ATK general manager and vice president of Space Launch Systems.  “ATK is proud to enter our fifth year as a partner with NASA on this initiative to engage the next generation.  The competition grows in impact each year.” 

Each team will build a rocket, complete with a working science or engineering payload – which the team must design, install and activate during the launch and come as close as possible to reaching an altitude of 1 mile. 

Same as in the classroom, students must “show their work” with detailed preliminary and post-launch reports, as well as maintain a public website for their adventure.  In addition, each team must also develop educational engagement projects for schools and youth organizations in their communities – as one of NASA’s primary goals has always been to inspire the imaginations and career passions of future explorers. 

The North Carolina State Wolfpack Team works on their rocket. Photo Credit: ATKOutreach

The teams will converge at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in April, where NASA engineers will put the students’ creations through the same kind of rigorous reviews and safety inspections applied to the nation’s space launch vehicles.  Their launch date is April 21, 2012, operating onboard payloads and waiting for chutes to open, signaling a safe return to Earth. 

A variety of awards for engineering skill and ingenuity, team spirit and vehicle design will be handed out – including a pair of TDS2000 Series oscilloscopes, which are sophisticated tools for studying the change in flow of electrical voltage or current.  They will be will be presented to the two school teams that earn the “Best Payload” and “Best Science Mission Directorate Challenge Payload” honors. 

Another rocket launches as more wait their turn. Photo Credit: ATKOutreach

NASA held the first student launch event in 2000-01. In response to its growing popularity, NASA expanded it in 2006, creating one division for colleges and universities and another, non-competitive division for middle schools and high schools. 

The NASA Student Launch Projects are sponsored collaboratively by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Science Mission Directorate and Office of Education Flight Projects.


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