Preparing for 2017

With our budget estimates for our upcoming year completed and the final touches being put on our sponsorship packet, Rocket Project at UCLA is in full swing for the upcoming school year.

Last year in competition, our rocket, Cerberus, did not fly exactly as planned. A short delay in ignition caused horizontal acceleration, quickly changing the intended course of our rocket. We didn’t reach the height we intended, and this horizontal acceleration caused our parachute cord to shear off part of the rocket. Despite these mishaps, we consider last year to be a very successful one. We put a lot of time into researching and developing a concept for a monopropellant rocket, as well as successfully implementing Take-Off Assisted Motors (TAMs) into Cerberus. For this unique design, we earned the Dr. Gil Moore Award for Innovation, an honor we are ecstatic to have received. We learned an immense amount from the hard work we put in last year, and we will carry those lessons into our upcoming competition.

Having said that, this year is shaping up to be an exciting one. First and foremost, we intend to repair Cerberus in order to relaunch it within six weeks. To complement this goal, we have a new member education program focusing on hands-on experience so that our new members can gain the confidence to become active and educated participants. Both new members and returning members who were unable to make it to the 2016 competition will have a chance to see what we worked on last year and learn from past mistakes in order to correct them.

Looking to the future, we have our eyes still set on the hybrid motor system we’ve been employing in the past. This year, we’re excited to have the possibility of reverse-engineering and recreating our own hybrid motor. We’re also excited to reestablish and rebuild ties with the Bruin Space Agency and ELFIN, who have expressed interest in working cooperatively to design payloads for our rockets. Our Ground Operations team is working on designing a far more efficient and effective data collection system, wireless launch system, and improving overall logistics. Finally, the new Systems Team is growing into its role and making efforts to improve communication, coordination, and club integration. An immense amount of work has been put into updating the Rocket Project’s website and organizing various materials throughout the year. This way, members can access all of the knowledge from previous years, learning from their mistakes and finding various strategies to improve in new and innovative ways.

That’s all for now! Be sure to check back as blog posts are updated with our goals, progress, and general news!


ucla-irec-2016Thank you to all of our advisors, alumni, and sponsors who have helped us reach further than we could have without you. You really do make a big difference, and the energy you give to our project shows in moments like these.

The following is part of an email sent by former president Hayden Johnson on June 19, 2016:

Hello everyone,

This past Thursday the 16th, we successfully launched at our competition in Utah! Cerberus, with a hybrid core and a cluster of three solid rocket motors, launched just after noon.

As many of you who have helped on the work with the take-of-assist motors know, the timing of ignition is crucial. Using a break-wire system to ensure that the solid rocket motors would not ignite before the hybrid motor lessened the risk of catastrophe from non-simultaneous ignition, but did not necessary eliminate the risk in how long one motor might take to ignite. During our launch, two of the boosters ignited simultaneously and the third ignited less than 250 milliseconds after the first two. Instead of having a vertical flight path, the rocket titled to about 60 degrees before correcting itself once the third motor built up thrust and flew to just over 6,300 ft.

The drogue parachute deployed as designed, but because the rocket was moving so quickly downrange at apogee, the shock cords cut through the airframe and tore out the main parachute early. We have recovered both the main and upper airframes, which descended on the main parachute, but were unable to find the glider payload because of the rough terrain that blocked our recovery beacons. We have high hopes that it will be found by the Bridgerland Amateur Radio Club, who assist the IREC with tracking and recovery.

But the exciting news is that the rocket was recovered with minimal damage to any critical parts, meaning that it can be easily repaired and flown again! We are hoping to use the repairs to the rocket as an educational experience for new members next fall, and be able to launch again in Southern California, where more people can come and watch. We also think that with new ignition methods for the solid motors and some testing, we can further improve on simultaneous ignition.

While we were aiming for 10,000 ft, we still managed to fully impress both the judges and other teams with our design and performance. Never before had they seen a team attempt to use parallel staging to reach 10,000 ft, let alone couple that arduous task with the complexity associated with filling and flying a hybrid motor. They were blown away by our new launch control system, the elegantly simple booster structure, and the level of testing and simulation that we had performed to ensure success. The judges awarded the Rocket Project at UCLA the Dr. Gil Moore Award for Innovation and a cash prize because we not only tried, but succeeded in our ambitious task to fly our rocket with boosters.

This is no small award, as it validates the effort we put into our work to experiment, to focus on trying new and difficult ideas because their payoffs are great. Words cannot express how proud I am of all of you who have put your collective heart and soul into your work this year on the rocket. Know that your work was not only recognized by the judges at IREC, but also the sponsors like Orbital ATK, SpaceX, Northrop Grumman, and the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake, who sent representatives and recruiters to this competition to seek out schools who perform well at this competition.

Thank you to all of our advisors, alumni, and sponsors who have helped us reach further than we could have without you. You really do make a big difference, and the energy you give to our project shows in moments like these.