WIA takes second in rocketry competition


Susan Mumm, Media Specialist


WIA team
WIA team
WIA team

In their first attempt at a tech project, the Women in Aerospace (WIA) team from the University of Illinois took second place in NASA’s 2015-2016 Space Grant Midwest High-Power Rocketry competition.


The goal of the contest, held this spring near Minneapolis, was to design an active drag system to decrease a rocket’s apogee by 25 percent. “The WIA team did this with two fins placed on either side of the rocket, which turned from vertical to horizontal at a set altitude, then went back to their original position before apogee,” according to team leader Alexandra Bacula.

The team flew its rocket three times. The first two flights were without active drag deployed, and the third was with active drag successfully deployed. When the active drag was deployed, the WIA rocket reached 77.7% of the apogee without active drag, giving the team the second best flight score.

Team members learned a number of lessons in achieving their success.

  • Allow ample time for all tasks, including relatively simple ones. “We didn’t get to test fly with our active drag system because we didn’t have a working code for the fins by the time of the test flight. So when it came to the competition, we had tested our code to make sure it worked, but the timing of the fins was really just a lot of estimation,” Bacula said. “We used our simulations and the data we had to make a good estimation for how long the fins should be out, but it would have been nice to have flown with them out before the competition.”
  • Double-check everything. “The second flight was supposed to be with active drag, but the SD (memory) card had fallen out and the active drag fins did not activate,” Bacula said. “We didn't open up the coupler to check the electronics, even though we had time because nothing obvious was wrong with it and all the electronics were on, but it became obvious after the second flight that the SD card had fallen out.”
  • The WIA rocket landed in water after the second flight.
    The WIA rocket landed in water after the second flight.
    The WIA rocket landed in water after the second flight.
    Be resourceful and prepare for the unexpected. “After the second flight the coupler with all the electronics landed in the water,” the team leader said. “We had to quickly take out all the electronics and dry them before they got damaged beyond repair. We ended up sitting in a car with the heat turned all the way up and set the electronics in front of the vent. Luckily we had replacements for most of the electronics, but we only had to replace the Stratologger and 9V battery.”

In addition to Bacula, WIA team members were:

  • Katie Carroll
  • Melanie Ciancio
  • Ian Charter
  • Sara Kochanski
  • Sara Legg
  • Chris Lorenz
  • Lui Suzuki