Now in its fourteenth year theTeam America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) has helped to build the next generation of engineers and technicians to join the aerospace industry. The Aerospace Industries Association's signature program and the only aerospace-specific national STEM competition, TARC has reached over 60,000 students and involved 4,000 students in 48 states during the 2015 season alone.
An extra-curricular hands-on project-based learning program, the TARC competition is modeled around the aerospace industry’s design, fabrication and testing processes. All students participate in a team of 3-10 students to design, build, and fly a rocket. Like aerospace companies work within specific design parameters, every year the challenge requires teams to achieve the same basic mission-oriented goals of hitting a precise altitude, landing within a specific flight time window, and returning raw eggs (”the astronaut”) without cracking. Each year a unique task is also included; this year we are challenging those students who win a spot at the National Finals to be able to fly their rockets to two separate altitudes. The target flight heights will differ between the first and second flight.
TARC gives students opportunities to apply their math and science skills to a real world project outside of the classroom. For many students, this experience yields their first significant personal realization of how what they are learning in school is relevant to endeavors that are fun, challenging, and represent potential future career pathways. Through TARC, students have discovered that they enjoy solving math and science problems in the context of resolving difficult and complex design issues. Often TARC is also their first exposure to the aerospace industry. They learn what aerospace engineers and skilled technical workers do and what it takes to become one of those professionals.
LAYTON -- The weather was perfect for rocket launching Monday morning.
At Ellison Park -- while an instructor eagerly set up the launch pad -- a dozen Layton High School aerospace engineers prepared rockets, first making sure the motor was in place, then packing wadding to prevent the parachute from catching on fire. The parachute was then folded inside, then connected to the rocket tip with its payload nestled inside -- a raw egg surrounded by foam casing.
The students spent two months building a pair of rockets for the Team American Rocket Challenge, a national contest. The rockets had to meet certain requirements, such as flying to a height of 800 feet, be in the air for 45 seconds and bring the raw egg back to earth without breaking.
On Monday morning, both rockets shot up and exceeded the 800 feet requirement, but then each experienced technical difficulties with their parachutes, causing the rocket to hurtle back to the park. Surprisingly, both eggs survived, albeit a little scrambled.
Senior Kyle Pate wasn’t disappointed though. “We are high school students, so when things blow up, it’s hilarious, but we’ve learned a lot about trial and error,” Pate said.
The students will be back at the park later this week after making some adjustments to the parachute before finalizing their video to send into the national contest judges.
The air still smelled like sulfur from the motor propellant, ammonium perchlorate, which helped lift the rocket into the air. But even with the parachute fail, their engineering instructor, Tim Feltner wasn’t disappointed.
“Since the chutes didn’t deploy, we didn’t keep them up in their air for the required 45 seconds, but they are still learning science and math,” Feltner said as he referred to the latest catchphrase in school these days of STEM.
The students are learning about the science of physics when it comes to flight and determining center of gravity for it to fly, which the students excelled at on Monday because both rockets shot straight up into the air. Had they mistaken the center of gravity, their rockets would have tumbled instead.
The students then use technology using the altimeter and computer software programs to determine the flight statistics. Engineering then plays a role when students build the rockets, and finally the math as they calculate the trigonometry angles to see how high the rocket goes, then compare their calculations to the computer’s statistics.
At first Pate was a little surprised when he found out they would be building rockets in class.
“We’ve done a lot of things, including flight simulation, so I was thinking we were doing prebuilt rocket kits. But then our teacher said we would be building them from scratch, which I thought was cool. We’ve learned a lot about trial and error in this process,” he said, referring to the time their rocket broke apart in mid-air during a test flight last week.
Once the students send in their videos and report to the national contest, the top 100 teams will be invited to compete again on the national level. Since it’s the school’s first year participating, it would surprise Feltner if they made it to that level so soon in the process.
“For me, this is giving students one more opportunity to do something very cool. It’s a lot of work and a lot of money, but we’ve begged and borrowed to make this happen,” Feltner said. “It cost approximately $1,200 to put both rockets together for the contest. They had to purchase motors for each rocket, which had to be special ordered and shipped as a hazmat because they are considered explosives.”
Utah Rocket Club Member Bob Morstadt was there to watch the process, recalling when he was in high school participating in activities like the Layton High students.
“The idea of this competition is to encourage kids to go into aerospace engineering, or some technical field like math or science. If you don’t start with people in high school going into college, we won’t have any scientists or engineers,” Morstadt said.