East Aurora High School's Rocket Club placed 21st in the nation by shooting a rocket with two eggs in the payload for the American Rocketry Challenge in the spring.
That performance earned the team an invitation to the NASA Student Launch Challenge in Huntsville, Ala., this April.
To get there, they have to design and build a high-powered rocket with a scientific payload. They're determined, and confident.
"Payloads are probably the hardest part. We’re good at the rocket design. We’ve worked hard and we’ve learned a lot and we got far," club president Thomas Reichert Jr. said. "Now we're just taking it up a notch with the rocket design."
The payload includes three GoPro cameras fitted with infrared lenses for 360-degree imaging. There will be altimeter, temperature, air pressure and humidity sensors. The rocket will be made with a 3D material with a fiberglass chassis.
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The NASA student program gives high school and college students an experience mirroring a NASA mission, and payloads designed by teams will help with research and development into NASA's deep space exploration.
Thomas' love of rockets started when he saw the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch with the Tesla in 2018.
"That just changed everything," said Thomas, who has a full scholarship to the University of Alabama for aerospace engineering.
Parker Madigan, student safety officer, said he's generally kind of a science geek who wants to go into computer science.
"I really love science, the whole aspect, especially space," he said.
Oliver Saczuk joined the club four years ago and stuck with it with his classmates through two years of limitations because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Oliver, who is the treasurer, wants to be a journalist, and he thinks the experience of helping to put together a proposal and design reports has helped his writing.
They're three of the six members of the team that is designing a high-powered rocket. The others are lead manufacturer William Breddy, Calvin Saczuk and Adam Moughrabi. The six are among about 30 students in the school's Rocket Club.
The team is one of the 25 top high school teams in the country that will join 44 college teams for the NASA launch, which gives students a tiny look at what goes into a NASA program.
They plan to blast a 20-pound rocket at about 350 mph, reaching an altitude of nearly 1 mile in Huntsville, Ala. The team has already put in more than 300 hours since September designing the rocket.
"These guys have been a cut above in regard to just their drive and how hard they work every day. It's insane," said Ryan Wall, technology teacher and club advisor. "They are here every night. They often stay here after I leave. It's great. That’s what its all about, them taking ownership of it."
NASA's Student Launch Challenge requires students to design, build and fly a high-powered rocket with a scientific payload between 4,000 and 6,000 feet high.
Students also write a detailed proposal and undergo detailed reviews and evaluations, which give them a look at the NASA engineering and design process. They must maintain social media platforms and conduct outreach programs. The team decided to host STEM fairs at the Middle and High schools as its outreach. Winners of the fairs will get their team name on the rocket.
"Every milestone we meet, every design we do, we have to make a presentation to a board at NASA, which is composed of educators and NASA employees," Thomas said.
"It's one of the best examples of a real life engineering problem," Wall said. "It's very like the real world."
Thomas said last year the team did about 4,000 simulations to get the perfect rocket.
The team received a grant from the East Aurora Educational Foundation to help pay for supplies and travel costs, which they estimate at $16,000. There also will be an extra cost for the STEM fairs, and they said they might hold another fundraiser.