Over the weekend the Friends of Amateur Rocketry (FAR) and the Mars Society held an exciting student rocket launch competition at the FAR launch site in California’s Mojave Desert. Announced last year, the rocket contest invited college engineering teams from around the world to compete for $100,000 in prizes, with the two $50,000 awards going to the student teams that get closest to an altitude of 45,000 feet, with any liquid fueled rocket (for $50,000) and with a methane/oxygen liquid fueled rocket (for another $50,000). The prize’s goal of “closest to 45,000 feet,” rather than maximum altitude, puts a premium on control instead of just thrust. A minimum altitude of 30,000 feet is required to qualify.
While many teams entered the contest, only UCLA's student group was able to meet the May 5th deadline for this year’s launches. The UCLA rocket successfully launched from the desert site using a 650 lbs thrust ethanol/LOx rocket, but it unfortunately broke up when it hit the sound barrier at an altitude of 4,000 feet. As a result, the $100,000 in prize money remains on the table, with many more student team competitors expected to participate again next year.
Commenting on Saturday’s event, Mars Society President Dr. Robert Zubrin said, “The UCLA launch was really impressive, all the more so as the team was able to put together such a complex system in so short a time. Spaceflight is really hard, and it’s rare for anyone to get everything right the first time. SpaceX failed three times with Falcon 1 before they succeeded, but look where they are now. It takes guts to play this game, and the young UCLA engineers have shown that they have it. I’m sure that we will see them trying again next year, with stiff competition from several of the other teams who are working hard to catch up. Ad Mars per ardua. Ad Astra per aspera.”