Students from Gunston’s Science and Engineering Club’s TARC Project (The American Rocketry Challenge) travelled to Price, Md. last weekend to participate in the Maryland Delaware Rocketry Association’s Red Glare Event.
A successful rocket launch is all about controlling pyrotechnics and teamwork. A rocket will launch and keep speeding upward as long as the force pushing it (thrust) is greater than the forces pulling it down (gravity and drag). In its simplest form, a rocket is a chamber enclosing a gas under pressure with a small opening at one end to allow the gas to escape, providing the thrust the rocket needs to overcome gravity and drag. There are four major systems in a full scale rocket; the structural system, the payload system, the guidance system, and the propulsion system.
“Model rockets lack guidance systems and depend on fins for stability,” explains Dr. Ken Wilson, physics department chair.
Under the guidance of Dr. Wilson, Dr. Mariah Goodall, and the leadership of the “Rocket Tsar” Josh Sanford ’21, students met at the school on Saturdays to work in teams to design, simulate, construct, and test their rockets (which had to be made without using kits, according to contest rules).
“A big part of the team work is the senior students teaching the newbies how to build rockets to compete in TARC. Josh the Rocket Tsar coordinated meetings and helped teams when needed,” explained Dr. Wilson.
He continued, “Last year’s contest was suspended by the organizers due to the pandemic. So we were especially eager to get started this fall so we could use the rockets that were almost finished last year.”
TARC Rockets are ultimately evaluated on how close they come to a specific altitude target and time of flight target while keeping its payload of one egg safe. Official qualifying flights must be recorded by an independent observer and turned into TARC by May 17. If Gunston’s TARC team qualifies, they’ll advance to the national finals in June. There are currently four teams, each led by a TARC veteran;
In Thrust We Trust Team: Charlie Shrifrin ’21, Zack Anderson ’21, Ava Duvall ’22, Connor Reichardt ’21, and Josh Sanford ’21. Beowulf: Owen Santora ’21, Robert Crow ’22, Colin Hallmark ’24, and Josh Nuessle ’24. Rocket Man: Oliver White ’23, Paige Kroncke ’23, Matthew Sharpless ’22, Kate Kroncke ’23, Damian Rene ’23, and Jaxon Booth ’24. Austin Powers: Ethan Nuessle ’21 and Kate Porter ’24.
Practicing first at Gunston, the teams launched five rockets initially before the Red Glare event.
“One TARC rocket had flown previously, Oliver’s Austin Powers team, and it flew well but landed in a tree. It was the very first flight for Charlie’s Freebird (In Trust We Thrust), Ethan’s Rocket Man, and Owen’s Beowulf. Freebird flew perfectly and the others had minor issues that were easy to address before going to Red Glare. The fifth rocket, Ethan’s 6-footer, had flown before, but Ethan had to replace the fins which caused an instability,” said Dr. Wilson.
Once at Red Glare, In Thrust We Trust once again flew well. “Charlie [Shifrin] had a sensitive altimeter aboard and his two flights closely bracketed the altitude goal of 800 feet, so he is very pleased and looks forward to fine tuning before we organize a series of official qualifying flights in the next few weeks. We did not have altitude data from Beowulf [Owen Santora] and Austin Powers’s [Ethan Nuessle] rocket’s first flights at Gunston that morning, so we decided to just have fun at Red Glare and put in double size motors, specially designed to release a trail of black smoke. Owen’s flew perfectly and Ethan’s had one problem that caused a separation between the two halves of the rocket as it returned to Earth. It was actually the first rocket Owen ever helped build or launch. Ethan’s rocket needs a fix and then he is optimistic about tuning its performance to match the competition goals,” adds Dr. Wilson.
“I have been involved with the rocketry program since my freshman year, so four years now,” explains Charlie Shifrin ’21. “My favorite part, aside from launching, is building them as we often have to overcome many design challenges and it makes the launch that much more rewarding. I absolutely plan to continue with rocketry into college and I will be studying parts of it as I plan on majoring in aerospace engineering. The part I find most interesting about building rockets is how we can take something as powerful as a rocket motor and use it for a precise and controlled flight.”
Next up? Students will launch their TARC rockets at Gunston over and over to fine tune them for the upcoming June competition.