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STVM rocketry teams strive for new heights

2/21/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

St. Vincent-St. Mary High School students preparing for the Team America Rocketry Challenge are shown above as they assemble for a launch recently.
Photo courtesy of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Nearly 50 students at St. Vincent-St. Mary (STVM) High School are spending the next few weeks aiming for success as they prepare for national rocketry competitions.

The school’s Rocket Club program is in its 11th year, according to physics teacher Bob Engels.

“Two years ago, we sent three teams to the national finals,” Engels said. “Last year, we sent two, but one finished in the top 20 of the nation. That was really cool and allowed us to get into the NASA Student Launch Program.”

Engels is in his sixth year as the adviser. He said when he started, there were just 13 students involved.

“Now we generally start the year with 50 students, making all five teams full,” he said.

Just a few students tend to drop out as the season progresses, he added, noting he makes sure a quarter of the spots each year are reserved for new freshmen.

The five teams are currently working to address this year’s Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC), a national competition for which middle and high school students in 725 teams across 44 states, the District of Columbia and the Virgin Islands are preparing, according to TARC officials.

To participate, teams must devise and launch a rocket that can carry one raw egg to an altitude of 750 feet and back within 48-50 seconds — without cracking the egg. All teams are judged on an initial launch between now and the end of March, with the top 100 teams convening just outside of Washington, D.C., on May 11 for the national finals, TARC officials said.

“We get scored for every foot in altitude off, and we are deducted a point for being off in time,” said Engels, who added that this year’s assignment is a big challenge.

His students spend several days a week per month, many of them on weekends, designing and testing their rockets. The students use a computer program called RockSim to design their projects.

“Once they are satisfied with their simulation, they print the design and construct their rocket from that design, and they do a flight test,” Engels said.

The teams meet at a field on Wilbur Road in Granger Township to test their rockets, he added.

One of the challenges this year has been the weather, Engels said. The teams get three tries for a good score, and one of those tries had to be done before Feb. 18.

“Most of the weekends have been bad,” he said, noting that high winds are the main problem. “The idea is to get the altitude you want, you want the rocket to go perfectly straight.”

Students enjoy the club’s activities, and Engels said he has seen many students — including his own daughter — consider careers in engineering because of their experience.

“The whole idea is to get students interested in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] and fool them into doing it because flying rockets is fun,” he said. “The aerospace industry funds this program, and they are saying that they are retiring engineers faster that they are getting them.”

Engels said National Machine Group, a Stow company involved in the aerospace industry, sponsors the club.

TARC is sponsored nationally by the Aerospace Industries Association, the National Association of Rocketry and more than 25 industry partners, according to organization officials.

Teams are competing for more than $60,000 in scholarships and prizes, as well as an opportunity to participate in the NASA Student Launch Initiative. Lockheed Martin Corp. donates additional funding to support future TARC teams from the top 10 placing programs. Raytheon Co. will provide funding for the winning team to compete in an international fly-off held at the International Paris Air Show in July against teams from the United Kingdom and France.

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