NASA/STVM Student Launch Initiative

The NASA Student Launch challenge engages students in a research-based, experiential exploration activity. Teams participating in the challenge must design, build and launch a reusable rocket, with a scientific or engineering payload, capable of reaching an altitude of one mile. Eligible schools are pre-qualified by having one or more student teams successfully competing in The America Rocketry Challenge and finishing in the top 25 of over 800 teams from across the country. To qualify for the NASA challenge, eligible schools’ students must write a proposal based on NASA's Statement of Work and Request for Proposal and be selected as with any other competitive bidding process.

During the design and testing process, the student designs have to undergo in-depth technical reviews and follow actual flight safety guidelines, mentored throughout the process by NASA scientists, engineers and educators. These technical reviews mirror current criteria in NASA's engineering design life-cycle and safety protocol, including preliminary design, critical design, flight readiness and analysis of vehicle systems.

Not only do the students design and build an advanced rocket with functioning sensory equipment, the team also must raise approximately $15,000 to construct the rocket and payload, and travel to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight center in Huntsville, Alabama. The project is funded by generous donations from partners in industry, and donations from individuals and companies. With the help of these sponsors, teams of our students are able to reach new heights in getting hands-on engineering experience and learning about cutting edge technology.

Last year, students from St. Vincent-St. Mary proposed building a rocket using advanced manufacturing techniques that include additive manufacturing (3D printing) and carbon fiber composites while carrying a payload that consisted of a computerized magnetically levitated object. Students chose these advanced manufacturing methods because they allowed the design and construction of very high strength to weight ratio components that could not be made using more traditional methods. Additive manufacturing made it possible to construct parts that are much lighter by using less material while still maintaining the structural integrity demanded by their function. Parts are made lighter by putting material where it's needed and leaving it out of areas where it isn't. The void areas can then be infilled with light weight lattice structures to maintain structural integrity.

The students began by designing a rocket using commercial rocket design software. The software allowed them to test fly the rocket using computer simulations to ensure it would perform as intended. Once they were satisfied that their design would meet NASA's specifications, they constructed a half scale model of the rocket. The fin section of the half scale rocket was designed using commercial 3D modeling software and manufactured on one of the 3D printers in school's engineering design lab. The 3D printers use a technology called Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) which extrudes thermoplastics. The fin section was mated to a cardboard body tube and the rocket was flight tested several times under varying conditions to ensure that its flight characteristics matched those of the computer simulation predictions.

A digital design of the full-scale booster and fin section was then sent to rp+m (Rapid Prototype and Manufacturing), an advanced manufacturing company located in Avon Lake, Ohio. Engineers from rp+m collaborated with the students to finalize the design and construction material choice. An advanced thermoplastic with very high tensile and compressive strength properties as well as high temperature resistance called ULTEM 9085 was selected as the part material.

In addition to designing and constructing the rocket using advanced manufacturing techniques, last year’s team also designed and built an engineering payload. The payload was a 3-dimensional computer controlled magnetically levitated object that react to the rapidly changing g forces during ascent. The technology they developed was so original and innovative that NASA engineers encouraged the team to patent their design.

If you are interested in getting involved in or supporting STVM's engineering programs, please contact Bob Engels at rengels@stvm.com.


Advisor: Mr. Bob Engels