Illinois Team of Freshmen Wins Midwest Rocket Launch


Team Leader David Degnhardt with the SSS rocket.
Team Leader David Degnhardt with the SSS rocket.
An Illinois team composed of all freshmen earned the highest score in the recent Regional Great Midwest High Altitude Rocket Competition.

Thirteen teams – four from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and others from Iowa, Ohio, Minnesota and Wisconsin – took part in the competition held in April in North Branch, Minnesota. Student teams competed to design a one-stage, high-powered rocket that would accurately achieve an apogee of 3,000 feet and be recovered safely and in flyable condition, to predict and characterize flight performance by more than one method. The competition included design analysis, oral presentation, and assessment of data results, scored by professional engineers from both academia and industry.

Emerging with an altitude of 3,107 feet was Student SpaceGrant Systems, composed of team leader David Degenhardt of Aerospace Engineering at Illinois, Courtney Reid and Florin Ghinet of AE, Mathew Halm of Computer Science, and Leigh Honzatko, an undeclared major in the Engineering College.

“What set our group apart was our development of a radio communications system that transmitted live altitude data to a ground station,” Degenhardt said. “Several other groups at the competition had attempted to create similar systems, but none of them were successful. We would have been in that group, too, if it weren't for an 11th-hour breakthrough on the part of our programmer, Mathew Halm.”

Student SpaceGrant Systems Team members
Student SpaceGrant Systems Team members
The team’s work was not all smooth sailing.

“What we had hoped would be a quick launch prep instead turned into a grinding, 6-hour ordeal after failing a series of ejection charge tests,” Degenhardt said. “In order to ensure that our parachutes would deploy successfully during flight, we had to make sure that we used the right amount of gunpowder to eject the parachutes from the rocket. Due to an unnoticed pressure leak in the nosecone, this testing took up most of our day.

“However, once we completed our testing, we were ready to fly. We had a picture-perfect launch, and our telemetry system performed beautifully.”

In all, the competition was a great experience. “I would like to say how proud I am of the team for pulling this off,” Degenhardt said. “If you can believe it, our entire team was composed of freshman. We put in a lot of hours and a few sleepless nights to get the rocket ready for competition.”

Other Illinois teams that participated were:
Team Celestial Chiefs

  • Kyle Pieper, AE
  • Shoham Das, AE
  • Dishanth Swaminath, AE
  • Jessica Gonzalez, AE

Team Phlight

  • Chris Bates, AE
  • Augustine Bageanis, Engineering Physics
  • Austin Ruf, AE
  • Clayton Summers, AE

Team Start One

  • Braven Leung, AE
  • Ting Lee, Computer Engineering
  • Osamu Miyawaki, AE
  • Andrew Colunga, AE