There is nothing quite as thrilling as a rocket launch and what better way to get started then with a rocket program while in college. Nico Montoya, the current TRC president, has shared how to start your own rocket club. Learn why the hardest part of starting a rocket club had nothing to do with rocket science. If you want more information about the club, check out their Online Portfolio
, Facebook Page
. You can email them at tritonrocket[at]gmail.com and follow them on Twitter
Starting a University rocket program
Triton Rocket Club (TRC) was originally started by 4 undergraduate students in October 2011. Even though I was not one of the founders, I have been building and launching rockets since 7th grade. When I heard that a rocket program was being started at UCSD, I was excited and happy to jump on board. Besides a few formalities, such as having a unique cause for the creation of a student organization, starting an organization on campus is not very difficult. The real challenge was creating an infrastructure from scratch, promoting it for sponsorship, and making it credible to companies as a pre-professional group.
Triton Rocket Club accomplishments
When we started, each member had a different level of experience with rockets. We began by putting together a solid rocket kit so that everyone could get immediate hands-on experience, learn about rocketry in an active way while allowing us to find out where each member’s strengths were. “Frankenstein”, as we named it, was launched successfully, in February 2012 and reached about half a mile in 7 seconds. Next we began the design and construction of a 25 foot tall liquid rocket fueled by Liquid Oxygen and Alcohol which is currently under development. In the fall of 2012, we started a Solid Rocket Team as a part of the club with the purpose of introducing new members to the basics of rocketry. With this solid rocket, dubbed Triteia, we decided we wanted to build everything entirely from scratch, including the fuel of the solid rocket engine. Triteia was powered by a Potassium Nitrate/Sugar/Corn Syrup mixture, more commonly known as “candy propellant”. The body was made of plastic, cardboard, fiberglass, and balsa wood. Our knowledge of fiber glassing from prior rockets came in handy as we were able to turn flimsy cardboard and balsa wood into a sturdy 8 foot rocket structure. Initially, we created a K450 (designates power level and average thrust in Newtons) candy propellant engine for a static fire to test our ability to build a rocket engine and acquire data on its thrust over time, which was successfully fired in February 2013.
We then built a motor for flight which we then attached to the rocket body and launched in early June 2013.
Safety and liability issues and how to deal with them
Because we are an official organization of UCSD, we are insured through the university so our club is not directly at fault for any accidents. Despite this liability security, we take many precautionary measures on our own, especially when dealing with fuel to ensure the safety of all our members. When we launch rockets, it is usually through an official organization and launch site which has their own separate set of procedures as well. If there is ever a time where safety is an issue and we are off-campus then liability forms need to be signed. We take this aspect of the club seriously and set safety as a priority to prevent any physical accidents.
The importance of promotion
As Corporate Relations Officer, I was responsible for soliciting companies for support and sponsorship through money, materials, tours, and internships for our club. This was a difficult job since I first had to find contacts that would be willing to give me five minutes of their time and then had to promote our club by showing them that we were worth their time. This caused me to improve my networking skills as well as developing a thicker skin since there were many rejections, some that were even embarrassing. Despite this, we were able to arrange for the club a tour of Boeing’s Space Satellite branch as well as getting various forms of sponsorship from West Systems, thePortfolium.com, Solidworks, Aerocon Systems, National Instruments. It has been no easy task in asking for help, especially from our own university administration with budget cuts happening every year.
Managing a student rocket program
We get real world experience in that no one is there to hold our hand to make sure we succeed. At times it is difficult to venture with no visual support. Being independent, fully run by students, is a challenge, but when we accomplish something it instills a sense of pride and teamwork in all of us. Teamwork and communication are the key components of making our club successful. Departmentalization seems to work, especially as the number of members grow. The splitting up of tasks, division of labor, having smaller teams work on specific aspects of the rocket such as propulsion, avionics, structure, and recovery has shown the best way to stay on schedule. Besides our phones, we communicate through Facebook groups, email, Google Drive, Dropbox in order to ensure things are documented and organized.
Advice for stating your own rocket program
Do it! It will be well-worth the time and effort, and it is a more than satisfying way to spend your free time. The major obstacle I have to tackle is finding a suitable amount of funding and support so that we can do worthwhile projects and accomplish noteworthy goals as college students. Another hurdle for the club’s officers is keeping everyone enthusiastic and committed to our cause because without people, there is no club. To do this, I have to clearly set reasonable short-term and long-term goals to define a sense of purpose for our members and keep them coming back for more. For the short term, I focus on the actual “build days” of constructing the rocket and learning the technical aspects of the science behind it. For the long term, I focus on having every member in this club get an internship and full-time job offer as a result of their real world and hands-on experience they get from our club. Overall, running a rocket program definitely has its large set of obstacles which cannot be easily overlooked, but from my experience with this club, being able to get students excited and committed about rockets and deciding to go into the STEM fields as a career has made it all worthwhile. Guest Author Bio:
Nico is currently entering his 3rd year at UC San Diego majoring in Mechanical Engineering and working as an intern at Northrop Grumman – Aerospace Systems. He has also held internships at JPL-NASA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography and has been a part of the UCSD Microgravity NASA Research Team. He has been with the Triton Rocket Club at UCSD since it has started, participating as a member his first year, Corporate Relations Officer and Project Manager of the Solid Rocket Team his 2nd year, and President of the club in his third year of involvement.