Rutgers' Rocket Propulsion Lab begins its launch
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Rutgers Rocket Propulsion Laboratory (RRPL), recognized as one of the largest projects by the New Jersey Space Grant Consortium (NJSGC), is creating history as the first club to pioneer rocket launching at Rutgers.
The history of the RRPL started in August 2017 when the soon-to-be founding members participated in the Bayer Alka-Rocket Challenge. The competition challenged participants to design a rocket that would launch using the chemical reaction of Alka-Seltzer.
Teams compete for a chance to earn up to $30,000 and the title of highest launch of an effervescent tablet in the Guinness World Records, according to Bayer’s official website.
The competition is what paved the way for the RRPL. Through its work and determination, the group was able to present itself to the University and become an official branch of the Rutgers chapter of the AIAA in the following fall of 2017.
Despite common belief, the RRPL does not just consist of engineering students. Members from all majors come together to help create, build and market the rocket launches.
“You absolutely don’t have to be limited just because of your major. A lot of the manufacturing aspect is absolutely hands-on stuff and that could be anyone,” said Chad McClelland, a School of Engineering junior.
Students with no science or math background are encouraged to join because many of the skills are gained through experience. New members are constantly learning through the training process that requires hands-on experience.
New members work closely with team members, having direct involvement in projects. The team is currently on the search for art and graphic design students interested in helping brand the RRPL.
Every year, the team works to compete at the Spaceport America Cup, the largest collegiate aerospace competition in the world. More than 110 teams from all over the world travel to Mexico to compete and launch rockets at the target heights of between 10,000 and 30,000 feet, according to the Spaceport America Cup site.
Outside of competing at the Spaceport America Cup, the RRPL is now looking forward to developing more complex rockets that are capable of higher altitudes.
“Our goal is instead of focusing on Spaceport and getting that one rocket built, we want to focus on our high altitude launches and the technologies that come from those will just make our Spaceport rocket all that much more better,” said Alexander Sanducu, a student in the School of Graduate Studies.
The team is preparing for its highest launch to date, which is an altitude of 100,000 feet. With only 10 teams in the U.S. working to launch at an altitude higher than the competition altitude of 30,000 feet, the RRPL is working toward being one of the few. And it plans to do so by improving and developing upon its research.
In order to reach that goal, the RRPL is currently in the process of earning its Level 3 certification. With a higher-level certification, the team members are able to legally purchase higher level motors.
Higher-level motors are more powerful and complex, making its goal of reaching a 100,000-foot launch that much more possible. Just in October 2018, members of the lab completed a professional motor development course in Wyoming, allowing them to start building their own rocket motors.
As the last original founding member remains, the team is working hard to preserve this momentum. Creating a central body of information, the team aims to set the foundation for future generations of the RRPL. The team members hope to maintain the same level of drive and ambition the team originally started with.
“It took us two years to get here for better or for worse. They shouldn’t have to take another two years to get right here. They should pick up where we left off,” Sanducu said.
Having conquered the many obstacles that come with the early stages of building and maintaining a club, the RRPL hopes to only grow from here.
Despite being active for only two years, the RRPL has managed to really build a name for itself in the aerospace community.
“It’s been incredible to see people come together on something that’s ambitious and much, much larger than ourselves,” said Matthew Lesiw, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.
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