UND Rocket Team Launches With Competition Payload

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UND Rocket Team Launches With Competition Payload

By Tim Young, Associate Professor, Physics and Astrophysics

It’s a long drive to Huntsville, Alabama but for UND’s rocket team, called Frozen Fury, it was well worth it. Last weekend, April 17, 2011, Frozen Fury competed against 29 other universities in launching a rocket to 5,280 feet in altitude. The competition is sponsored by NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and ATK.

NASA University Student Launch Initiative, or USLI, is a competition that challenges university-level students to design, build and launch a reusable rocket with a scientific or engineering payload to one mile above ground level, or AGL. The project engages students in scientific research and real-world engineering processes with NASA engineers.


“Our UND rocket team has been working hard all semester long to achieve the goals set out by the competition”, said Tim Young, faculty advisor for the team. The team is made up of 11 students from various majors including mechanical and electrical engineering, physics and astrophysics, space studies and math. Seven of the students made the long trip. What made the trip worth it? The team had a perfectly successful flight. This is not the case in last year’s competition; the team’s 2010 rocket airframe had a failure and resulted in a shredded rocket. This year the team used carbon fiber and the rocket held together. “We had to redeem ourselves from last year’s competition and we did”, said Stephanie Corbett a junior majoring in mechanical engineer and co-lead on the team. Last year UND did win “Best Looking Rocket” that award given before last year’s devastating flight!

The team had elected to build a payload specified by NASA engineers. It is called the SMD, space mission directorate payload. A payload is cargo that is being transported. The team had to measure temperature, pressure, humidity, irradiance, and Ultraviolet radiation throughout the flight and 10 minutes while on the ground. In addition the payload had to take 2 pictures on the decent and several in the 10 minutes on the ground. Not only that but the pictures had to orient themselves with the sky at the top and ground at the bottom.

The team had a unique design, “We went with simplicity and a design that would work”, said Robert, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering. The payload was able to spin on a horizontal axis when on the ground with one end weighted so that it always had sky and land in the picture. The payload peered through a clear acrylic section of the airframe tube. After the launch the pictures and SMD data proved to be just to be what was needed.

A lot of effort went making the rocket work correctly. A scale rocket was launched in February and a full scale rocket was launched in April before the trip to Huntsville. But this is just the rocket part of the project. The students had to do a lot more, developing a website, engaging learners in outreach, and participating in fundraising activities. The team has a website that has a blog and tweets on it that documented the team’s progress. Several outreach events took place.

One of the highlights was meeting and mentoring the Montpelier High School, ND students in their own rocket competition called Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC). In their contest they had to launch an egg 750 ft up and bring it down safely in 45 seconds. The Montpelier team came to visit UND in February to get some guidance from the USLI team. They took their expertise to an extreme and received a score of 3. The goal was to get as close to 0 as possible. They are going to Virginia in May to compete against the top 100 teams in the nation. USLI team member Ben Storhaug, a junior in mechanical engineering, became an expert in RockSim, an Apogee rockets software program, and helped the TARC team move their simulated rocket into a usable tool for hitting all the marks required in the contest.

Other outreach activities included three presentations at Physics Day, the Astronomy and Astrophysics Colloquium, and a Space Studies lecture appearance.

A Challenging Build

The payload was a challenge posing several issues that needed to be resolved. Getting the sensors to work in harmony with the camera would have been ideal but needed more time, so the team opted to collect the data on separate units. This along with downloading the pictures and data live through telemetry was going beyond the payload minimum requirements and makes the system very complicated.

“I liked the student’s decisions as a team to achieve the goals of the NASA officials and not make the system too complicated," said Young. "The more complicated the payload the more chances there are that something will go wrong. They did it as a team, tested and tested until it worked”.

One sensor in particular posed its own special problem. The Ultraviolet radiation sensor was hard to calibrate or even get a reading from. These sensors are detecting the radiation in the UV part of the spectrum most of which is more dangerous then what we get on the ground. Depending on the day the UV levels are different. To get a standard and strong reading a known source is important. One of the most common UV sources that are standard is tanning beds. In a daring move the team decided to place the rocket payload in a tanning bed and measure the radiation levels and compare to standards. “It was the first time I was in a tanning salon” said Zach Schiller, a junior majoring in electrical engineering and head of the payload configuration and design.

Launch Day

The day of launch was as perfect as one could get 3-5 mph winds, no clouds, and 75 degrees F. The goal of the day for the NASA organizers was to launch 50 rockets, 29 university teams and 21 high school teams. All teams had safety inspections and personal to ensure setting up the launch pad and rocket in preparation for launch.

A highlight was UNDs march to the launch area. One of the team members, Nicole Thom, a graduate student in space studies, led the way musically by playing the bagpipes. Behind her was the rest of the team carrying the rocket. People lined the way and snapped pictures of the progression. “It was the best entrance we have ever seen” said director, Julie Cliff of NASA MSFC. After the successful flight the rocket the team was interview by NASA and specifically wanted the piper in the background. If she was next to the team during the interview the pipes would be the only thing heard. As team spirit everyone wore plaid shirts in recognition of North Dakota and Scotland.

"Last year we had Hawaiian shirts and they were a big success, this year we had to raise the stakes and this really did that”, said team co-leader Ryan Wolbeck sophomore majoring in mathematics. Funding was secured by Ryan from the North Dakota Space Grant and NASA.

Our launch pad was another success, Arjay Eve a physics and astrophysics alumni and mentor to the team was pleased, “They are taking our pad out to number 42”, explained Eve as several teams were using our pad. The team had developed the pad during the STRIPE project (Student Rocket Involvement Project), a NASA ND space grant funded project just for North Dakota.

The members of the team that couldn’t make the trip to Huntsville were Kyle Hosaluk a junior in mechanical engineering, Darin G. and Matt Voigt, both graduate students in space studies.

Dr. Tim Young can be reached at 777-4709

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