USU students win NASA Launch Project Challenge

HUNTSVILLE, Ala.– After a school-years’ worth of work, culminating in dozens of rocket launches into the skies over Alabama, NASA declared Utah State University in Logan the winner of the 2011-2012 University Student Launch Project rocketry challenge – a program designed to inspire the next generation of engineers, scientists and explorers. This is the fourth time in the past five years Utah State has won the competition. 

This year’s challenge culminated with a launch event April 22 at Bragg Farms in Toney, Ala., outside of Huntsville, home to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. NASA judges evaluate each team’s rocket design documents, flight data, website and final written report from the students to help determine a winner. 

In a record year for entries, Utah State beat out 40 other colleges and universities to win the $5,000 top prize, provided by ATK Aerospace Group in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Space Cowboys from Mississippi State University in Starkville and the Vanderbilt Aerospace Club from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., won the awards for second and third place, respectively. 

The University of Louisville in Kentucky won the Rookie Award, and Florida A&M University in Tallahassee won the Altitude Award for launching the rocket reaching the altitude closest to one mile or 5,280 feet above ground level. The Diamondbacks Rocket Team came within 10 feet of the mark, reaching 5,270 feet — the closest any team has come in the 11-year history of the event. 

The NASA Student Launch Projects task student teams to design, build and test-fly sophisticated, reusable rockets capable of carrying working science payloads to an altitude of one mile and return them safely to Earth. Teams also must design and operate the science payloads, maintain websites to document the experience and devise local educational engagement campaigns to share their enthusiasm for rocketry. The challenge also seeks to inspire younger students to pursue technical learning fields, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

“These students are seeing practical applications for the whole spectrum of their mathematics, science and technical class work,” said Tammy Rowan, manager of Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office, which manages the rocketry challenge. “They’re managing complex science and technology research and conducting aerospace and engineering projects from drawing board to launch pad. These teams are performing exceptional engineering, rocket science and theoretical research.” 

The project is sponsored by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, Science Mission Directorate and the Office of Education, all at NASA Headquarters in Washington. ATK provides corporate sponsorship. The National Association of Rocketry provides technical review and launch support. 

A series of preliminary awards were given at the annual banquet the night before the launch event. Besides the top prize, Utah State also took home the Best Vehicle Design award for the most creative, innovative and safety-conscious rocket. Vanderbilt University earned two awards: Best Payload Design for the most creative and innovative payload experiment and the Education Engagement Award for educational outreach efforts. Mississippi State took home the Science Mission Directorate Payload Award and the University of Florida in Gainesville won the Project Review Award for their reviews and formal presentations. 

Besides winning the Rookie Award, the University of Louisville finished in fifth place and won Best Web Design. 

All rocket teams also submit votes for peer awards. This year’s Best-Looking Rocket went to Alabama A&M University in Huntsville and Best Team Spirit to the University of Hawaii – Windward Community College of Kaneohe. 

Hundreds of flight enthusiasts flocked to the launch site at Bragg Farms to cheer the student rocketeers. More than 56,000 viewers also watched live via the streaming video service UStream. Archived launch-day coverage is available at: 

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