University of Western Ontario: Western rocketry team soars at New Mexico competition

The Western Engineering Rocketry Team blasted off to success during its first appearance at the Spaceport America Cup in New Mexico last month.

The Spaceport America Cup (SA Cup) is an annual international rocket engineering competition that took place in New Mexico from June 21 to 25. Western’s team competed in the 10K consumer-off-the-shelf solid motor category in the intercollegiate rocket engineering competition, the SA Cup’s main event. The team’s rocket was made out of a homemade carbon fibre body and fins with an off-the-shelf motor.

Paul Belvedere, the team lead for the Western Engineering Rocketry Team, said the team has wanted to participate in the SA Cup since they got involved in rocketry. Western’s particular rocket has been in the design and production stages since the club was formed in 2016. The current team is a mix of new students that joined this year and seasoned members.

“An international competition where teams from around the world are able to not only compete, but also inspire each other in a common passion, is something we all wanted to experience,” said Belvedere. “By successfully launching at the Cup, we want to bring recognition to the Canadian rocketry industry and inspire young minds like our own to push the boundaries of our education and apply it to something that we are proud of.”

The event was sponsored by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) and partnered with Spaceport America. It is the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and competition, with this year having a record 150 teams compete from six different continents. At least 12 Canadian teams were represented during the five-day competition, including Western University, the University of Waterloo, the University of Windsor, and Carleton University.

To build a high-powered rocket, the team must focus on four subsystems: propulsion, avionics, recovery and aerostructure. Each subsystem requires a large amount of research and calculations to create/purchase the needed parts to perform effectively. Field testing the rocket is also replaced with computer simulations because of federal laws and restrictions under the Aeronautics Act.

To prepare for the SA Cup, the Western Rocketry team needed to go through an extensive amount of administrative work to get the rocket over the border into New Mexico. At the event, there are rigorous safety inspections at multiple stages. Some teams don’t even make it to the launch pad for a variety of safety reasons.

According to the flight data gathered after the launch, Western’s rocket reached a top speed of Mach 0.927, or the equivalent of 1,145km/h, and reached a max altitude of 12,700 ft. The rocket landed successful with negligible damage. Overall, Western ranked in the top 50 teams at this year’s contest, finishing 41st out of the 93 teams that made it to the launch pad. Belvedere said his team performed at an “impressive level” given that it was the team’s first launch.

“Speaking with other teams and seeing their rockets was an invaluable experience, giving us inspiration for next year,” said Belvedere.

For next year’s competition, the team will look into making the rocket easier to assemble, making it less of a burden and allow it to get through safety checks quicker. They are also looking into new simulation software for better calculations and implementing an interior camera for better video footage.

After this year’s appearance and performance, Belvedere encourages other engineering students at Western to join the team. “Whether you are a rocketry hobbyist or simply have a passing interest, we encourage you to push the boundaries of your field of study,” said Belvedere. “You never know where you may find your passion.”

The University of Sydney from Australia took home the top prize. Ecole de Technologie Superieure in Montreal was the highest ranked Canadian team coming in seventh.