Big rockets like the SpaceX Grasshopper and the Orbital Antares have been in the news lately, but those are a little out of reach for the average student. That's why the Aerospace Industries Association's Team America Rocketry Challenge exists. It fans the maker flames by challenging kids to design, build, and launch model rockets.
The rocket challenge finals took place over the weekend. It was a record year for the competition's turnout, with 725 teams battling through the initial rounds. The top 100 teams participated in the final fly-off in Virginia, representing 29 states with teams from schools, 4-H clubs, and even a team made up of Civil Air Patrol volunteers.
The competition was open to students in grades 7 through 12. All the teams had one goal: build the best model rocket. The challenge was to fly an egg to 750 feet up in the air, and then parachute it back to the ground with no damage. That's even harder than it sounds.
There were plenty of rules in place to govern the contest. Rockets could be any size, but they couldn't weigh more than 23 ounces. They all had to use a commercially available model rocket motors. The parachute had to be 15 inches in diameter.
The payload rule really added to the challenge: "Rockets must contain and completely enclose one raw hen's egg of 57 to 63 grams weight and a length of 60 millimeters or less, and must return this from the flight without any cracks or other external damage."
This year's contest winner was the Georgetown 4-H team from Georgetown, Texas. "TARC was a great experience. It really does help drive people towards STEM education," said team member Daniel Kelton. His three-student team won scholarships and will have the opportunity to compete in an international fly-off competition in Paris.
The Georgetown 4-H team attributes the win more to strategy than materials or design. They paid attention to the wind and waited to launch until conditions were the most favorable for their rocket.
When it comes to getting kids interested in science, rocketry, aerodynamics, and maker skills, a rocket competition is a good way to go about it. You've got flying objects, motors, smoke, and poultry products. That's a winning combination.