Open Innovation Challenge Gives Student Rocketry Teams a Boost
More than 100 student teams send their rockets soaring into the skies above the desert of New Mexico.
Spaceport America, United States
Spaceport America in New Mexico is the world's first purpose-built commercial spaceport, a launch site for sending tourists into space. The futuristic transport hub is also the location of the Spaceport America Cup, an annual open innovation competition for student rocketry teams all over the world. It is an opportunity for students from diverse backgrounds and disciplines to work together on pushing the boundaries of technology and their knowledge and for new relationships to form between industry and academia.
The second edition of the competition was held in 2018 and involved 102 teams and more than 1,500 students. The focal point of the contest was the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition that included commercial and student groups building and launch-testing solid, liquid, and hybrid rockets of their own design to altitudes of 10,000 and 30,000 feet.
Participants could compete in any of the competition's six categories that covered design, payload and performance objectives. The winner of each section then competed for the overall prize, the Spaceport America Cup
The overall winner was a team from McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, for two flawless flights of rockets named Blanche and Stella II.
On the first day of the competition, Blanche soared up to 10,000 feet while Stella reached 30,000 feet the next day. Both flights were nominal, which is space industry jargon for 'without incident' and 'according to specification.'
The performance was a marked improvement as in previous years their rockets had encountered a clutch of problems, including the incorrect deployment of the parachute recovery system and malfunctioning avionics. But they worked through these challenges and ironed out the bugs through better design and intensive testing.
Both rockets used COTS (Consumer-Off-The-Shelf) propulsion systems. However, all major components were designed and constructed from scratch except for the engine and back-up avionics systems.
The McGill team wasn't the only Canadian side to enjoy success in the competition. Teams from Concordia University and the University of Waterloo also picked up prizes.
"The results at Spaceport America Cup is more than a win for McGill, this is a win for Canada," said team captain Sandro Papais. "I think people forget that Canada has a significant history in the space sector; we were the third nation in space after Russia and America with the Alouette."
The Future Beckons
The world's largest intercollegiate rocket competition allowed participants to develop their knowledge and showcase their skills and talents to prospective employers. It also highlighted the increasing role that students, private industry and citizen scientists are playing in the exploration of space.
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