CSU rocketeers win honorable mention at Spaceport America Cup

One of two teams to successfully launch in the full-liquid category

A convoy of four cars packed with Colorado State University rocketeers, a custom hand-built rocket and rocket fuel journeyed 14 hours from Fort Collins, Colo. to rural Southern New Mexico and stopped in the middle of a barren desert in 99 degree heat.

Another rental car with a slow-leak in the front wheel squeaked in next to it and out walked Anthony Marchese, the faculty advisor to the rocketeers, director of the Engines and Energy Conversion Laboratory at the Colorado State University Energy Institute and professor of mechanical engineering.

No, this isn’t the scene from a modern revisionist western. This is the site of the 2018 Spaceport America Cup.

The cup took place June 19th – 23rd in Las Cruces, New Mexico and was put on by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association and the Spaceport America crew. Thousands of students and their faculty advisors from over 70 institutions around the world gathered, just like the CSU team, to see how their rockets stacked up and find out if they would even launch.

The remote, hot, dusty location is one of two places in the U.S. that allows experimental rockets to be launched into space (generally defined as over 60 miles in altitude). Rocketeers launched solid, liquid, and hybrid rockets to target altitudes of 10,000 and 30,000 feet.

The 2018 CSU Rocket Team on campus.

CSU’s team, made up of Austin Funke, Chris Sawyer, Cole Mickey, Colum Ashlin, Dani Fassold, Eric Lufkin, Evan Feldmann, Iman Babazadeh, James Beitner, Nate Keisling and Team Captain Taylor Morton, were running on very little sleep and adrenaline the day of the competition. They were planning on launching a liquid rocket and a lot could go wrong very quickly. And in fact, just a month before the competition during the team’s test launch, their rocket had exploded. Since then they’d been troubleshooting.

“We went to bed at 1:30 am and woke up at 3:00 am to start fueling and left our hotel by 4:45 am,” said Babazadeh.

The team had planned to launch their ARIES IV rocket at 6:00 am, but ended up doing so at 2:00 pm.

The team in front of ARIES IV.

Still, despite little sleep, and a significantly smaller budget than other teams, CSU successfully launched their liquid fuel rocket in the competitions hybrid rocket category. They were one of only two teams to do so, which made them the first to successful launch in the hybrid rockets category in the history of the competition, which has been ongoing since 2006.

Preparing for launch.
“It was an emotional arc for 10 seconds,” said Sawyer, adding that he felt “relieved, excited and amazed,” watching the launch.
“Holding your breath for the entire countdown. And seeing it go and successfully launch. Everyone was ecstatic,” said Fassold, one of two women on the team. “But as soon as we saw the parachute come out of the rocket, that signaled recovery.” Fassold hand made the rocket’s parachute out of rip stop nylon and was part of a sub-team that worked on recovery.

The competition was streamed online, so many of the team members parents were watching as CSU’s rocket blasted off to 3,900 feet.

AIRES IV during launch.

The team says they are proud that they had a successful launch and that they were able to build many of the parts themselves. The team won honorable mention at Spaceport America’s Cup, and won awards at CSU during the Senior Design Engineering Showcase known as “E-Days” as well as a NASA Space Grant.

“We are really thankful for the community that supported us the whole year,” said Fassold. Expert advisors included mechanical engineering assistant professor Stephen Guzik, mechanical engineering professor Anthony Marchese, local rocket expert Wranosky, and CSU Energy Institute graduate student, ARIES III leader and team mentor Babazadeh.

“Most teams in the competition are content to build a rocket with a commercial-off-the-shelf solid rocket motor, and a handful of teams build hybrid rocket motors, but the CSU team was one of only three teams to even attempt to build a liquid rocket engine,” said Marchese. “In fact, virtually everything on the ARIES IV rocket was designed and built by the students from scratch.”

Learn more about the team on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RamRocketry/