Space and astronomy news and information for the American Southwest. Coverage includes Vandenberg AFB rocket and missile launches.

Students Launch Rocket at White Sands

White Sands Missile Range News Release

2008 June 12

It was a learning experience for students and former students from Fredericksburg High School when they launched an experimental rocket out of West Center 50 at White Sands Missile Range May 31.

The rocket, which had been designed and built by the students, had been in development since 2000. The Rocket, called the Redbird 11, carried a scientific payload skyward before suffering a mechanical failure and falling back to Earth. “It was a powerful launch, you could hear it and feel it,” said Bret Williams, an instructor with the Aerospace Studies program. It’s suspected that the Redbird 11’s engine oxidizer system failed, causing the rocket to crash.

The rocket was one of two launches attempted May 31. Both rockets are liquid fueled rockets equipped with scientific payloads. A previous attempt to launch the Redbird 10 and 11 last August failed when both rockets had engine trouble and were not able to generate enough thrust to launch.

The Redbird 11 had a target altitude of 93,000 feet, where it was to deploy a small satellite. The satellite, designed by Stanford’s Space Systems and Development Laboratory, was equipped with a GPS system, cameras, and other data collection devices. The purpose of the satellite was to collect data as technical demonstration of Stanford’s capabilities. The satellite did not survive the crash. Some components, such as the engine exhaust nozzle and some parts of the tail section, were recovered.

Redbird 10, which the students also attempted to launch May 31, carried a payload designed by students at Purdue University. Redbird 10’s payload was to study fluid dynamic in micro gravity. The goal of the payload was to discover new ways of moving propellant from a storage tank to an engine. Data collected from the attempts made in August gave the students insight into what went wrong, which they used to redesign the rocket for the May 31 launch. “We had to totally regutt the rocket for this,” said Rebekah Sosland, a senior at Fredericksburg who worked on the nosecone and integration on the Redbird 11, and hopes to one day work for NASA.

Constructing rockets of this type can be a challenging process for professionals and students alike and designing and developing the rockets was not without its challenges. “(The Stanford team) being in California and us in Texas, it was hard to make sure that everything fit and all the measurements and calculations matched,” said Sosland. Though more challenging than the typical high school physics class, The Aerospace Studies program gives the students actual developmental experience, making them not only learn the science behind aerospace engineering, but also learn how to implement it. Robert Deaver, a former student who was in the very first year of the program in 1996 and 97, and is now working on his master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, said he feels the program better prepared him for his master’s work. “An undergraduate degree focuses on math and books, this focuses on application and problem solving, and that helps very much with research and experiments,” Deaver said.

This story was originally titled "Students Launch Experimental Rocket at WSMR".

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