As a University of Minnesota sophomore, Chris Gosch vividly remembers his first official launch on the school’s rocket team — a fiery explosion 80 feet in the air.
Now graduated and in the final stretch in his presidency of the University of Minnesota Rocket Team, Gosch is prepared to compete in Wednesday’s Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition with higher hopes and expectations. The annual competition takes place in Green River, Utah, and is the largest collegiate rocket competition in the world.
Each year, the team designs its rockets in the fall, building them throughout the spring semester. This year, the team’s objective is to have its rockets reach 10,000 feet and be recoverable after the launch.
“It’s a really, really cool and captivating process. You get to see something go completely from something in your head to flying, literally, in front of you,” Gosch said.
A part of the team since the summer after his freshman year of college, Gosch has seen the team grow from nine to 60 members.
This past school year, the team created a separate group which focused on designing rockets and competing in the Space Grant Midwest High-Power Rocketry Competition, a smaller annual conference.
“It was a lot of basic learning experience our first year,” Gosch said. “After that year we said, ‘OK, we’ve gotten through this, but next year we’re gonna push ourselves a little more. Achieve more than we did the previous year.’”
Like other teammates, Gosch became involved with the rocket team after taking a freshman seminar on high-power rocketry.
David Barwin, who manages the construction of the rocket, discovered the team through the same seminar. He said he was active in sports in high school, and the Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition appeals to his competitive nature.
“I love to win, and flying and testing my rocket compared to 50 other universities’ rockets is a big draw to the competition,” he said.
The team’s vice president, Alexander Halaszyn, said his passion for rocketry rests in its “importance for humanity” and its capabilities in discovering outer space resources.
“Every little bit of me that can wants to contribute to that effort,” he said.
Michael Siirila, who focuses on the rocket’s engine, said rocketry has been a lifelong passion for him.
“Growing up, I was very interested in science in general, especially chemistry,” he said.
When Siirila was 12, his parents bought him toy rocket kits, and he would cut open the different parts to learn more about how they worked, he said.
“It started out like a toy and turned into a little bit of a hobby. Now its very much a passion of mine,” he said.
Matthew Ellengold, director of competitions for the IREC, said aerospace industry experts judge rocket teams based on three criteria: flight performance, whether the rocket functions as designed and the team’s ability to analyze the contraption’s performance.
“The students come out of this experience actually having an in-depth and intimate understanding of how the industry came to those solutions to begin with by replicating them themselves,”
Ellengold said. “And maybe, just maybe, in that process you’ll stumble across an answer no one else has.”
The University’s team has stood out to Ellengold as one that readily heeds to judges’ critiques and uses advice to refine their future projects.
“I look forward to seeing their project this year, with everything they learned last year incorporated into it,” he said.
This year, the team’s rocket will have an intenal rover that will assist the its landing with a parachute. Once the rover reaches the ground, it will drive on its own — but can also be controlled by the team via radio signal. The rover also has live-feed cameras, Gosch said.
“I think that experience of seeing something you put a lot of time and energy into literally leave the ground and go really high up in the air to the point you can’t even see it anymore, it’s just a spectacular one,” Gosch said.