Oct. 25, 2023

Schulich rocket team has a blast at national competition

Student Organization for Aerospace Research epitomizes value of experiential learning
The Student Organization for Aerospace Research transports its rocket at a recent launch. Submitted

The old saying goes, “It’s not rocket science,” but for one University of Calgary club, it actually is.

The Student Organization for Aerospace Research (SOAR) has been launching rockets everywhere from the coolest temperatures in Canada to the heat of New Mexico since 2015.

Most recently, the Schulich School of Engineering team took part in Launch Canada 2023 in Timmins, Ont., a competition aimed at designing and building a hybrid rocket.

While the team fell just short of the podium by placing fourth in their category, it was an experience the 26 UCalgary students say they won’t soon forget.

Learning valuable lessons

The team’s goal was to design and build their own rocket fuelled by nitrous oxide and a solid paraffin wax fuel. They would then set their own altitude target and launch, trying to get as close to the predicted height of 12,000 feet as possible.

Team captain Ben Hewitt says they had to work fast and smart throughout the competition and had to troubleshoot a variety of problems. The biggest hurdle, he says, was a main engine valve failure that, on three separate occasions, prevented the team from launching their rocket.

While disappointing, Hewitt says he was still impressed with the team's resolve and will provide them with some valuable lessons for the next competition.

“The team performed better than I have ever seen,” says the fourth-year Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering student. “It was some of the most fast-paced engineering I have ever seen and I think, if we had been given another two hours, we could have launched at competition.”

Hewitt says there was also a lengthy deliberation about whether the Schulich team should have finished third thanks to how well they performed and how well-engineered their ground systems were.

Building for the future

After the competition, Hewitt and the team returned home and continued working on other rocket projects that SOAR has become known for since its inception in 2015.

The team has a goal of being the first Canadian team to launch a two-stage hybrid rocket up to 30,000 feet.

Hewitt says the team has also successfully received certification for a hybrid motor, which is the first for a student team in Canada and the first in five years for any motor in the country. His hope is to start using it in flights during the first few months of 2024.

The hands-on experience the SOAR team gets through its steady stream of projects and competitions is what he says appeals to many of his teammates.

“I would say the experience we get from SOAR far exceeds anything school could possibly give us,” Hewitt says. “We use concepts that are taught in class, and we ultimately get to teach ourselves a wide range of concepts through hybrid rocketry.”

He has also been busy with recruitment with the new school year underway, growing the team to 90 members, including seven core teams and eight undergrad streams. The student team is also looking to add sponsors to meet its goals and perform better at competitions.

“I truly believe SOAR is training the best engineers in Alberta,” Hewitt says.

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