Watch livestreamed vertically landed rocket competition, Sat. morning, Nov.12


Debra Levey Larson

SpaceX Falcon landing vertically
Boosters from SpaceX Falcon Heavy landing vertically at Cape Canaveral. Image credit: SpaceX

On February 6, 2018, Space X Falcon Heavy launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Rocket launches are always exiting. But what happened eight minutes later brought sustained cheering, yelling, clapping, and shouts of “Go, go, go” like an Olympic athlete about to set a record for weightlifting.

A few miles away, the same two Falcon 9 side boosters that went up, came down again on separate pads—not crashing, but straight and tall the two boosters landed. synchronized as if set to music.

This accomplishment made Falcon 9 the world’s first orbital class reusable rocket.

rocket dropped from a drone illustrationThis weekend, students will compete with their own model rockets as they attempt to land their own models vertically. Rather than launching, then landing, the model rockets, which resemble the SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage. It is carried aloft by a drone, released at a designated altitude, and after firing a small model rocket model, lands upright on the ground.

It’s part of the Department of Defense STEM education and outreach program for students in k-12 and college-level students. It is designed to generate interest in careers in space and increase the number of students pursuing degrees in aerospace engineering. This activity is just one of an array of educational resources to be employed in K-12 classrooms, increasing the awareness of STEM careers for individuals at a young age.

kit parts“Teams involved in this specific outreach project use a provided kit to construct a vertically landing rocket, carefully putting together subassemblies involving the flight computer, gimbal, and landing legs,”
 said David Gable, a graduate student in the Dept. of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Additionally, teams will use provided software analysis tools to calibrate the system, and design flight parameters which will lead to the best chance of successfully landing the rocket.”

The competition on Saturday, November 12 will begin at 8:30 a.m. at the Rantoul, Illinois Center for Transportation near the Rantoul airport.

 The event will be livestreamed from the launch site.

An audience viewing area is also available for anyone who wishes to observe the competition first-hand. 

Rocket teams from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Illinois State University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign will compete. Aerospace graduate students Christopher Young, David Gable, and Qi Lim will participate in the competition. AE undergraduate students competitors are: James Helmich,  Konstantinos Goros, Nate Madell, and Ethan Pereira.

Michael Harrigan, BS ’21 in Systems Engineering and Design and currently an AE graduate student is also on a UIUC team.

Students from other disciplines participating are: Will Briolat, a natural resources undergrad in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences; Aaryaman Patel, a MechSE undergrad; Juan David Campolargo, an undergrad in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences;  Divyam Dhanuka, a computer science undergrad; Hyoungju Lim, an undergrad in physics; Joshua Anderson, an undergrad in MechSE; Shivam Pankaj Kumar, a, computer science grad student; and Ziyi Wang

Michael Lembeck is the faculty sponsor; Heather Arnett is the STEM coordinator.