By: Reece Cabanas
Correspondent/Chief Distribution Officer
On Feb. 24 students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s (ERAU) Prescott Campus attempted to launch a two-stage amateur rocket.
The team, led by sophomores Matthew Boban and Robert Hagen, flew their rocket from the Tripoli Phoenix launch site at Aguila, Ariz.
The goals of the team were to test staging mechanisms and electronics on a smaller-scale prototype rocket.
For this launch, they predicted an altitude of at least 7,000 feet above ground level (AGL).
Ultimately, the final two-stage rocket will fly to an estimated 12,000 feet AGL using the applied knowledge gained from these smaller launches.
The current 3-inch diameter airframe will be upgraded to a 4-inch diameter.
For experimental sounding rockets two-stages are commonplace, such as the Terrier Black Brant and Nike Black Brant.
These types of launch vehicles can push small payloads to sub-orbital altitudes at a lower cost than the much larger Falcon 9 or Delta IV. They also prove to be more cost-effective overall.
The first stage serves to boost the forward section of the rocket up before being discarded and igniting the second stage.
By discarding the weight of the first stage, a greater velocity can be achieved to push the payload portion of a rocket higher with less propellant.
During the February launch, winds aloft caused the rocket to gradually arc over from its original trajectory.
Though the first stage was nominal, the second stage did not ignite due to the 10-degree maximum angle limitation that was programmed.
When the second stage was ready to ignite, electronics prevented a secondary burn as the rocket was at a 22-degree angle relative to its vertical axis.
“There’s that general nervousness all rocketeers have before flight,” says team lead Matthew Boban. “I was confident the rocket would perform as intended, but it was a little more nerve-wrecking than your standard high-powered flight due to the complexity of the rocket itself.”
“We spent a lot of time checking and double checking, so we were sure everything would work as they [sic] should,” Boban also adds.
“I was most worried of the potential loss our electronics, due to their high cost.” With a project of this scope, it was only reasonable for the team to make sure all systems were nominal before mounting the rocket on the pad.
Over the past few years, rocketry on campus has grown significantly. On-campus organizations such as Eagle Aerospace and Eagle Space Flight Team have seen considerable increase in membership when compared to previous years.
The Rocket Development Lab, located in Building 59 alongside the Eagle Works Advanced Vehicle Lab, has become the main hub for anything rocketry related on campus, serving as a workplace for creativity, growth, and mentorship.
It is also worth noting that Eagle Aerospace, the on-campus organization this team operates under, is a local National Association of Rocketry (NAR) chapter.
Both NAR and the Tripoli Rocketry Association, whose Phoenix chapter hosted the launch, are FAA compliant and offer memberships as well as insurance for all things amateur rocketry.
The team is readying for a second attempt from the Aguila launch site during the weekend of March 24, with final checks occurring the week leading up to the date.
Boban states, “I have increased confidence next flight will work just as well, if not better.”