|UND-led team launches North Dakota's first educational rocket|
With a flashing blast worthy of a Hollywood special-effects crew, North Dakota’s first educational rocket roared more than a half mile into the quiet humid air over a rural Grand Forks farm field Tuesday, May 8.
The 12-foot rocket and its portable launch pad were designed, built, and controlled in the field by a team of students, faculty, and volunteers led by University of North Dakota astrophysicist Tim Young under a project funded, in part, by the North Dakota Space Grant Consortium.
With a picture-perfect liftoff from a grass strip between a field of plowed corn stubble and a newly planted field of grain, the 12-foot white rocket flew arrow-straight to a height of about 2,800 feet. The flight was cleared minutes before liftoff with a cell phone call by Young to the local office of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA had previously permitted the flight for a maximum altitude of 3,500 feet, Young noted.
The test rocket’s drogue and main parachutes deployed without a hitch, and the multistage rocket settled squarely into the soft dirt of the freshly planted field just a few yards from the launch site. The drogue chute is the first “out of the bag,” and, like the small chutes set off behind drag racing cars, helps to slow the rocket down after it completes its ascent. The main parachute is deployed after the drogue chute and slows the rocket’s three stages down to a safe landing speed. The chutes were perfectly deployed during this test flight by means of small explosive charges inside the rocket which were set off at predertmined altitudes.
“Can you believe this?” exclaimed Young, who actually called the countdown and pushed the button that ignited the rocket’s solid fuel motor (a miniature version of the system used to loft the Space Shuttle into space).
“This is absolutely a terrific moment for us,” said Young, who also is known for his globe-trotting solar eclipse observations. “We’ve been working on the launch pad and the rocket since last September. The great success of this test launch sets us up to go ahead and build the full-fledged project rocket, which will be about 20 feet tall and have five motors, compared with the test rocket’s single motor.” That rocket is expected to be cleared by the FAA for an altitude of 25,000 feet.
The educational rocket project -- part of the NASA-sponsored consortium’s multi-institution collaborative -- will allow students at several North Dakota colleges and universities to design and build science projects that could be loaded aboard the fully recoverable rocket for onboard tests, noted Pablo de Leon, a UND aerospace engineer who is known nationally and globally for leading the consortium’s Mars planetary exploration suit project. De Leon was a volunteer on the rocket project.
The consortium rocket team -- including members from across the state -- now will proceed to build the full rocket and prepare for launch later this year, Young said.
-- Jan Orvik, Writer/Editor, University Relations, email@example.com, 777-3621