Rocket Team: An Experience Out of this World

A typical rocket produces more than a million pounds of thrust that allows it to carry more than 6,000 pounds at speeds topping 22,000 miles per hour. This is equivalent to the power generated by 13 Hoover Dams, carrying the weight of eight horses, and traveling at speeds 15 times faster than a speeding bullet! (ULA)

While you may not create something quite as large as the above, you will still have the opportunity to build, design, and engineer unique rockets by joining the University of Minnesota Rocket Team.

 “Making rockets, building engineers.” – Rocket Team’s Vision

The team’s mission is to offer students hands-on engineering, design, and build experiences that extend beyond the University’s curriculum. They represent University of Minnesota students who are pursuing rocketry and provide them with relevant information and experiences that will build on both their technical and transferable skills, such as building, designing, leadership, and communication skills.


Committed and involved effectively describe the team’s activities. You can look forward to possibly traveling to various competitions and events as a member.

The three main competitions are ESRA’s Spaceport America Cup, the Bayer Alka-Rocket Challenge, and NASA’s Space Grant Midwest Rocket Competition. The UMN team has been the reigning champion for everyone single one of these competitions in recent years.

Spaceport America (SA) Cup is the team’s largest competition where over 1700 students and faculty from around the world gather in Southern New Mexico to launch their student designed and built rockets. As a design/build launch competition and academic conference, students can not only launch their rockets but also present and defend their designs.

The Midwest High Power Rocketry Competition is a smaller competition run by the NASA Space Grant Consortium that is held in North Branch, MN. Midwest presents a unique design challenge each year which allows for a totally different rocket to be designed and built every year.

The Alka project competes in the Bayer Alka-Rocket Challenge, which is an annual competition in which teams build a rocket powered only by alka-seltzer tablets to reach the maximum altitude possible.

Although not officially a competition, the High Altitude Rocket Project is an R&D project with the sole goal of reaching the highest altitude possible. High Altitude rockets have thrust—vectoring capabilities. In the words of a former project lead, think of it as a “Competition with the sky!”

Aside from competitions, Rocket Team stays busy with events and outreaches such as attending the Minnesota State Fair to educate fairgoers about rocketry, aerospace engineering, and current activities. Speakers and panelists also visit to present during general meetings; guests range from current students to alumni in the industry to astronauts. There are opportunities for outreach to Twin Cities and STEM communities as well as teaching local K-12 students about rocketry multiple times a year.

Of course, the team also makes sure stay social and have fun with Trivia Nights (in collaboration with AIAA), Bob Ross painting events, virtual board games, and more. Look forward to building lifelong connections with the team!


The team’s structure differs from other student teams as there are numerous pieces that make up the team. Under AEM Professor Joseph Nichols’ guidance, the group of undergraduate and graduate students are split into multiple project teams and subteams. Subteams/project teams meet once a week but can also work on projects outside of the scheduled time. The whole team meets together at general meetings about once a month which involves updates from all projects and subteams along with a speaker/panel.

Below is a list of descriptions for each section that you could be a part of.

Spaceport America (SA) Cup & High Altitude Rocket Project - SA cup’s rocket is the flagship rocket which is limited by competition parameters; however, the sky's the limit for the High Altitude Project project team. Subteams technically fall under these project teams but are not limited to them.

  • Avionics designs and integrates the rockets' various electrical systems, often including altimeters, accelerometers, cameras, pitot probes, and telemetry systems. The avionics subteam develops electronics for all of Rocket Team's projects.
  • Structures constructs the SA cup and High Altitude Project rocket, including building the airframe, constructing fins, and securing the motor.
  • Propulsion is responsible for developing our student researched and developed motors, which involves creating different formulations, testing them, and assembling the motors.
  • Recovery is responsible for the parachutes for our rockets and ensuring that they are deployed correctly at the correct altitudes. The recovery subteam designs and constructs the parachutes. 
  • Payload team is responsible for making a 4kg payload as cool as possible. SA cup requires each team to carry a payload of at least 4kg that has a separate mission from that of the rocket.
  • Simulation provides hands-on experience with industry level software. They work in parallel with many other subteams to model rockets and to test their capabilities to help improve designs. A wide range of simulations are performed, including fluid flow, stress, strain, and thermal analysis.
  • Guidance, Navigation and Controls (GNC) applies control theory to develop systems for a variety of Rocket Team projects. GNC also helps to build the mechanical systems that their system actuates. GNC is the youngest subteam, founded in Fall 2019, and will choose new and exciting projects each year.

GOPHER Project on Rocket Team allows students new to rocketry to learn the basics of building and launching their own rocket. It begins with a month-long mini series of hands-on activities to introduce team members to each aspect of our team and learn how to approach designing  rockets. After learning the basics, participants break into teams to design and build their rocket with a Rocket Team mentor to meet a specific design challenge.

The Midwest project team designs a unique rocket every year to meet a specific design challenge. These rockets are typically smaller than the main competition and high-altitude rockets but often have very cool and unique features.  


Next year, the team hopes to build a rocket with a larger diameter with fins of carbon fiber and a new solid propellant. Ideally, there will also be more opportunities for their outreach program and events with local schools and organizations. Their recruitment emphasizes limiting disparities in diversity that often affect college engineering teams; all are welcome! If you are interested in joining, growing as an engineer, and creating unforgettable memories, contact

Check out their social media! → Facebook--Instagram--LinkedIn--Website

Fun Facts about Rocket Team!

  1. Once, the team designed a six inch diameter, 14 foot tall high powered rocket that won first place at the largest collegiate rocket competition in the world!
  2. Their 2016 payload design was a ground rover that won us first place in the SDL payload challenge at Spaceport America Cup.
  3. They just finished designing and building a universal flight computer (UFC) that will be used repeatedly in multiple rockets in the future.