UMN Students Win 2021 Virtual Spaceport America Cup

MINNEAPOLIS/ST. PAUL (07/8/21) -Spaceport America and the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA) have announced that the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, has been selected as the winner of the 2021 Virtual Spaceport America Cup.  The team won not only in their category, 30,000ft Solid SRAD Motor, but took first place in the overall competition.

Seventy-five teams from 16 different countries competed during the three-day, online event that occurred from June 18-20. The virtual competition allowed university student teams to submit rocket designs for evaluation and included technical presentations and forums, keynote addresses from aerospace industry leaders and rocket safety training. Competitors also had the opportunity to meet with sponsors and exhibitors to learn more about aerospace career pathways and recruitment.

For the 30,000ft solid SRAD motor category, the team designed a rocket system capable of carrying a payload of a mass of at least 4kg to an altitude of 30,000ft above ground level using a Student Research and Developed Solid Propellant Motor. The team had to also ensure that the rocket had robust recovery and tracking systems and also submitted a nearly 100-page technical report and 15 minute video documenting the rocket system, which included an extended abstract and slide deck covering a chosen part of the rocket. They chose to submit the abstract and slide deck covering their Universal Flight Computer, which is a modular, custom avionics bay designed to fit in the nose cone. The team was selected from 20 teams to present (which was on the Universal Flight Computer) and participated in a 15 minute Q&A session. Launching a rocket was not required for the competition and did not factor into scoring, but the UMN group did so anyway in order to get team members launch experience and to see how their design fared in flight conditions.

“Congratulations to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities and all the other teams that competed in the 2021 Virtual Spaceport America Cup,” said Spaceport America Executive Director, Scott McLaughlin. “The event turnout has been incredible, and the caliber of the design and innovation has really impressed us. We look forward to welcoming the teams back to New Mexico in 2022.”

Despite the difficulties of COVID-19, the team has been able to work on designing and building though in limited capacity. The rocket designed for competition and the rocket flown for the test launch differed slightly due to FAA regulations limiting maximum altitude to 20,000ft at the North Branch, MN launch site. The test launch rocket was slightly more than 12 ft. tall, 6 inches in diameter, weighed 123 lb., had a solid propellant motor configured to hit an altitude of about 18,000 ft., had an aluminum fin can with 4 fins, and contained a payload, a triple redundant deployment avionics system for a dual-deploy parachute system, and custom Universal Flight Computer. 

“Overall, this was one of the most successful flights the team has had, and built upon the success we had at the 2019 Spaceport America Cup Competition.” Said Rocket Team Lead, Patrick Collins.

In the summer, the team plans to continue designing and building their High Altitude rocket with the hopes of competing at a different event in Nevada in September with a smaller group. At the same time, the group also hopes to improve on a few aspects as a team.

The team is looking into building a rocket with a larger diameter next year, making fins from carbon fiber, and designing a new solid propellant. Technically, they would like to improve the robustness of recovery and payload systems and the reliability their telemetry systems. As a team, they also hope to build their outreach program and conduct more events with local schools and organizations. Rocket Team always welcomes new members and are recruiting with special emphasis on continuing to limit disparities in diversity that often affect college engineering teams.

Anyone interested in joining rocket team can visit the team’s website.