May 28, 2021
(The twelve team members are: Anargyros Kriezis ’22, Aaron Huang ’24, Berwin Lan ’24, Brandon Zhang ’21, Carlo Umberto Colizzi ’24, Elvis Wolcott ‘24, Esme Abbot ‘24, Clement Hilty ‘24, Sander Miller ‘22, Sparsh Bansal ‘22, Sushmit Dutta ’24 and Kyle Emmi ’21).
Two launch attendees, founding members of the team Brandon Zhang ’21 and Kyle Emmi ’21, were just 24-hours away from graduating.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the team thought they might have to shelve their dream of reaching 10,000 feet. The sole collegiate rocketry competition, the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) had been cancelled for the year and many team members were living and studying remotely. Still, step by step the team continued to work towards their goal. Those studying remotely collaborated through Zoom with teammates living on campus- many of them first years- to build the rocket during the final month and a half of the 2021 Spring semester. “It was incredible how first year members of the team managed to build the rocket without any previous rocketry experience,” noted Anargyros Kriezis ’22.
The team had also been working with two mentors, including Olin alum Jake Felser ’11, and Curtis Heisey, the team’s level three (L3) mentor who helped to oversee the development of the rocket and sign off on the launch. Launching a rocket requires sign-off from an individual with a level of certification (L1 – L3) meaning they have built and tested a rocket with certain specifications. The large engine size used for this launch required someone with a L3 rocket certification (one notch above the L2 certification held by several current team members) to sign off on the launch.
The rocket was mainly assembled in the evenings outdoors under the Olin oval tent. The assembly process was a slow one as the glue used to attach different components of the rocket had a 24-hour drying time. Despite careful planning, the team encountered several last-minute roadblocks including the engine not fitting into the rocket the night before the launch and rushing to add weight to the rocket at the launch site to ensure that the rocket passed safety checks with the official on-site and would not overshoot a 10,000 ft altitude. The team was successfully able to fly two engines, the Aerotech L875 and the Aerotech M1350 on their launch date. Students also coordinated a launch day livestream so that family members in the States and overseas could tune in to the excitement.
In addition to difficulties the team faced while building the rocket and preparing it for launch day, the team also had to overcome logistical challenges surrounding getting team members, many of whom were meeting in person for the first time the weekend of the launch, to the Vermont launch spot safely. This involved making sure everyone followed COVID protocols for personal safety and so that launch attendees could return to Olin, catch flights home for summer break or graduate the following day.
Olin Rocketry is currently looking to launch at 10,000 ft again next year in competition, while also developing technologies that will eventually allow the team’s built-in-house rocket engines to fly at 30,000 ft.