It's Friday morning and the mechanical engineering workshop is a hive of activity. The high, square workbenches are filled with students intently focused on their tasks.
There's good reason for their excitement: they're hand-building two high powered rockets which reach heights of 10,600 feet which will deploy custom-designed glider technology.
The Rocketry Club workshop is packed with tools: ovens for baking carbon fiber and fiberglass molds, and the magic KitchenAid where they mix rocket fuel. Next door is a fully stocked machine shop. A band saw winds up and for a second drowns out the other noises.
All this productivity is strangely comforting, kind of like Santa’s workshop, if Santa were delivering payloads to the International Space Station.
In a corner sits Eagle One, the group’s sleek red and white rocket. Their pride for it is obvious as Spencer Scott enthusiastically details the many challenges of hand-building the carbon fiber body, birch fins coated in fiber glass and tipped with carbon. The cone houses the communication electronics and is made from fiberglass. While carbon is much stronger – “as strong as steel” – it blocks radio signals.
All their ingenuity and hard work was put to the test last June when two dozen students from EWU and Riverpoint Academy (whose STEM students designed and built the deployable glider) traveled to Green River, Utah, to launch the rocket in the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC). They competed against 50 teams from around the world. The on-the-ground challenges were many, including electronics overheating due to the 110 degree Utah heat.
When other groups had to drop out, they perspired and persevered.
Though 2015 was their very first time at IREC, they placed third overall, trailing teams from MIT and Brazil, proving both the talent and tenacity of the students EWU is proud to have.
Not to be outdone, for the 2016 IREC they are designing not one, but two rockets; one for the basic category and one for advanced. Never one to take the easy route of buying pre-made motors, the club is once again building everything from scratch, including the motor, which other clubs often buy ready-made, even the big schools like MIT. This level of control allows them to experiment with catalysts like cobalt and aluminum and use software like BurnSim to find the ideal mixture for their custom rocket.
Unsurprisingly, this kind of custom manufacturing on top of academic studies is a time consuming labor of love.
Mechanical engineering major Isaiah Irish is laboriously hand cutting squares of tough yellow Kevlar from a sheet that looks like a sail.
“This stuff is hard to cut,” he mutters as he leans into the fabric and squeezes his shears with an iron fist. The Kevlar is wrapped around the parachute and keeps it from melting during launch. He confesses he hadn’t planned on doing club this year, his senior year, and added that he spent many weekends in the workshop over the past four years. But here he is, back at it again.
Rocketry Club welcomes all students, no matter your major.