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Durango rocketry team learns from last year’s mistakes ahead of this weekend’s competition

Students will use various nose cone sizes to adapt for low-altitude conditions
The Cloudbusters Model Rocket Club team is feeling confident about its rockets heading into this year’s American Rocketry Challenge in Virginia. Last year, the team was disqualified before the final launch because a parachute failed to deploy. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

The Cloudbusters Model Rocket Club will try to avenge last year’s early exit from the American Rocketry Challenge this weekend.

Last year, the team made up of students from Durango and Animas high schools, fell just short of making the cut for the competition’s final launch after a failed parachute deployment disqualified them.

This year, the team returns to The Plains, Virginia, on Saturday with motivation to fix their mistakes from the previous competition.

“I think (it’s) attention to detail,” said club president Scot Davis. “I think what we learned is that even with the best built rocket, and you see this with Elon Musk and SpaceX, one little thing can ruin your flight.”

In this case, he said last year’s rocket parachute line was not long enough to effectively deploy.

But this year the team is more dialed in than he’s seen during his time heading the program, Davis said.

Not much has changed regarding competition rules and regulations.

Each team is required to design, build and launch model rockets that safely carry one large hen egg to an altitude of 820 feet, stay airborne for 43 to 46 seconds, and return the rocket to the ground safely.

The rocket also must separate into two parts – one section of the rocket must contain the egg and altimeter, and the second the rocket motor – and both parts must land with their own parachutes.

But Cloudbusters has evolved its approach this year to include varying weights of nose cones and different shaped fins. Practicing rocketry in Durango for a competition in Virginia presents its own set of challenges. Because of the elevation difference, the students have to factor in air density.

The Cloudbusters Model Rocket Club team is feeling confident about its rockets heading into this year’s American Rocketry Challenge in Virginia. Last year, the team was disqualified before the final launch because a parachute failed to deploy. (Durango Herald file)

Launching in high altitude can result in higher specific impulse, lower dynamic pressure and lower atmospheric drag.

With varying weights, the students can cut or increase altitude based on the weight of the rocket and air density.

“That was kind of where all of the focus was as far as saying, ‘Hey, we need to cut this down 20 feet, let’s add 10 grams,’” Davis said.

The average margin of error for the students attempting to hit 820 feet is normally between 5% and 10%.

The students have also gone toward a teardrop-shaped fin rather than the standard delta-shaped fin. The teardrop fin produces the least amount of induced drag, which could benefit the team when launching at a lower elevation in Virginia.

The team was coming within 2 feet of the desired competition goal during its practice launches on Sunday.

“I’m super excited,” Davis said. “They’re spot on and there’s no reason why they can’t do really well this year.”

He said student are feeling confident, in part because they’ve had more opportunities to launch this year because of better weather.

For three of the four students it will be their final competition before heading off to college.

In addition to competing for the title of national champion and an all-expense paid trip to the International Rocketry Challenge in July at the Farnborough Air Show in England, teams will be competing for $100,000 in scholarship prizes. The top 25 teams will automatically receive invitations to NASA’s Student Launch workshop.

Last year, Hardin Valley Academy in Knoxville, Tennessee, took home first place in the competition, launching rockets 825 feet in 41 to 44 seconds and 875 feet in 43 to 46 seconds.

tbrown@durangoherald.com



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