UMN Rocket Team wins 2021 Virtual Spaceport America Cup

CSE students nab first place in rocket design competition

In a normal June, the University of Minnesota Rocket Team would have traveled down to New Mexico to launch a vessel 30,000 feet in the air for the annual Spaceport America Cup. This year, the College of Science and Engineering students settled for a virtual competition—and they won, beating out 74 other teams from 16 countries and six continents.

Instead of launching a physical rocket, students were tasked with designing a rocket capable of carrying a 4-kilogram payload to an altitude of 30,000 feet. During the three-day online event, each team submitted a technical report and video documenting their rocket design and participated in a 15-minute Q&A session with judges. The U of M team was selected to present on its rocket’s computer system, a design feature the students were particularly proud of. 

Rocket Team members preparing their rocket for launch
Members of the UMN Rocket Team prepare their rocket for launch at a test site in North Branch, Minn. Photo credit: Patrick Collins

On top of navigating presentations virtually, the students also faced the challenge of designing a rocket during a pandemic.

“COVID-19 obviously made developing a rocket difficult,” said Patrick Collins, a 2021 aerospace engineering and mechanics graduate, and the team lead for the competition. “That said, we were able to schedule a system for sub-teams to meet in groups of four in the lab by implementing robust COVID-19 precautions.”

Although it wasn’t required for the competition, the CSE students ended up building the rocket they designed—which was 12 feet tall and weighed 123 pounds—once University lab restrictions on the Twin Cities campus eased in the spring. They launched it on June 12 at a test site in North Branch, Minn.

According to Collins, the recipient of two CSE donor-supported scholarships—the 3M/Coleman Family Foundation Scholarship and The Eric W. Harslem Scholarship for Aerospace Engineering—this flight was one of the most successful the UMN Rocket Team has had in club history.

During the rest of summer, the students are planning on designing and building another aircraft—their High Altitude rocket—which they hope to fly at a competition in September in Nevada.

Story by Olivia Hultgren

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