Notre Dame Rocketry Team claims multiple awards at NASA Student Launch competition

Author: Nina Welding

Rocketry Members

The Notre Dame Rocketry Team (NDRT) had a banner year, evidenced by the multiple awards members received at the end of the nine-month 2021 NASA Student Launch competition.

Their virtual season was celebrated during an online ceremony, at which Notre Dame received awards in five divisions of the competition. The team took:

  • Third place in the Launch Division
  • First place in the Safety Division
  • Second place in the Altitude Division
  • Third place in Educational Outreach
  • Third place in Team Spirit

The annual NASA Student Launch program challenges middle school, high school and university students nationwide to design, build, fly and land a high-powered amateur rocket between 3,500 and 5,500 feet above the ground.

Student teams are asked to predict their rocket’s altitude months in advance of launch day using rocketry principles and computer simulations. They tailor their altitude to maximize the return of scientific value from their payload in the same way that NASA teams target specific altitudes for their missions.

“We are a completely volunteer team,” said mechanical engineer Brooke Mumma, a 2021 graduate and the NDRT project manager. “But we approached the challenge the same way working engineers do — going through the design cycle from concept to construction, testing and iteration. Different sub-teams worked together to integrate all of the complex subs-ystems into our rocket.”

This year, the payload mission for college teams was a lander that deploys from the rocket during descent. The vehicle had to land upright or contain a system to upright itself, leveling within 5 degrees of vertical and taking a 360-degree panoramic image of the location, which was transmitted back to the team.

Some of the sub-systems designed to accomplish the challenge, Mumma said, included a recovery system, which was capable of returning all the parts of the rocket to the team, and an apogee control system, designed to help reach the target height of 5,300 feet.

“Being part of the NDRT for the last four years helped me to become a better engineer,” Mumma said. “I developed strengths in designing for manufacturing, creating thorough documentation, learning how to interface with an interdisciplinary team and many other skills that you don’t always get in a classroom.”

For the last 20 years, NASA’s Student Launch program has provided a realistic experience for students that resembles the operational lifecycle NASA and industry engineers use when developing and operating new hardware.

Aleksandar Jemcov, research associate professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering, has served as NDRT adviser since 2014.

“The NDRT team has grown from a small club to a serious 56-member organization with officers, team leaders and a team captain,” he said. “I have witnessed a profound change in the team’s approach to safety, design, outreach, marketing, financial and engineering stewardship of their activities. Students benefit from the truly collaborative environment where all technical, financial and leadership challenges must be resolved through everyone’s contributions.”

Another significant benefit to the Student Launch competition, Jemcov said, is that a third-party professional organization (NASA) judges each team’s solutions and strategies. The feedback given to the teams helps students learn from their successes and failures.

Originally published by the College of Engineering on June 23, 2021.