Tarleton Aeronautics Team places 2nd, wins $15K prize in NASA competition

The Tarleton State University Aeronautical Team recently competed in the NASA-sponsored Student Launch Centennial Challenge, held April 11, at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Hunstville, Ala. Tarleton's team of undergraduate and graduate students placed 2nd and received a $15,000 prize for being one of only two teams successfully completing the NASA mission.

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STEPHENVILLE (April 17, 2015) — Mission accomplished!

The Tarleton Aeronautics Team blasted past the competition to earn 2nd place in this year’s NASA-sponsored Student Launch Centennial Challenge held April 11, near the U.S. space agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Along with bragging rights, the rocket team was presented with a $15,000 prize for successful completion of this year’s design-build-launch competition that highlighted NASA’s Mars Ascent Vehicle (MAV)—the rocket affiliated with a proposed Mars Sample Return lander mission.

“The entire Tarleton community can be proud of the research these students did and how they represented the university,” said associate professor of mathematics Dr. Bowen Brawner, the team’s lead university advisor. “They are extremely dedicated and talented. I could not be more proud of them!”

This year’s NASA Student Launch requirements were more stringent in its 15th anniversary competition as the Tarleton Aeronautical Team successfully used a robotic system to autonomously and sequentially accomplish the retrieval of a sample; insert the payload into their single-stage solid-propelled rocket in horizontal position; then erected the rocket and launched to an altitude of 3,000 feet; and deployed a sample container with the cache internally sealed during descent; and landed the container in an effort to mimic a MAV mission.

“We were excited to see how teams approach the combined challenges of the launch and the autonomous tasks we have added,” said Centennial Challenge Program Manager Sam Ortega. “Our journey to other parts of our solar system will be greatly aided by this technology, helping us to collect and return samples for analysis before we send humans.”

After a competitive proposal selection process, the team participated in a series of design reviews that were submitted to NASA via a team-developed website. The review mirrored the NASA engineering design lifecycle, providing an experience that prepares students for the Human Exploration and Operations workforce.

Tarleton’s Aeronautics Team was then required to complete a Preliminary Design Review, Critical Design Review, Flight Readiness Review and Launch Readiness Review that included a safety briefing. The team then analyzed payload and flight data during a Post Launch Assessment Review. In addition, the team’s members were required to successfully complete an initial and a final Launch Readiness Review that included a safety inspection prior to launch.

The Tarleton Aeronautics Team, comprised of 16 undergraduate and graduate students from various academic disciplines, spent eight months designing and perfecting their launch system and rocket ahead of NASA’s Centennial Challenge—the agency’s prize program for citizen inventors that allows competitors to generate revolutionary solutions to problems of interest to NASA and the nation.

“When NASA eventually returns samples from Mars, there will be a requirement for a special rocket system—the Mars Ascent Vehicle—to launch the samples from Mars’ surface into orbit for rendezvous with a spacecraft that will return them to Earth,” Brawner explained. “The MAV challenge required highly reliable and autonomous sample insertion into the rocket, launch from the surface, and deployment of the sample container.”

Tarleton earned 2nd place, just behind North Carolina State University, which received the $25,000 top prize. Teams were eligible for prize monies only after successful completion of all the required tasks. A 3rd place, $10,000 prize, was not awarded as the remaining field of competitors was unsuccessful in completing the NASA mission.

Others competing in the NASA Centennial Challenge included teams from Alabama A&M, Arizona State, Auburn, California State Polytechnic, Citrus College, Cornell, Florida International, Harper College, Georgia Institute of Technology, Iowa State, Northeastern University, Penn State, St. Louis University, U.S. Naval Academy, as well as the universities of Florida, Illinois, Louisville, North Carolina, North Dakota, Notre Dame, Puerto Rico, Alaska-Anchorage, Arkansas, Central Florida, Colorado-Boulder, Massachusetts and Vanderbilt.

“These students would work late into the night perfecting the launch system and rocket,” said Brawner. “The mission was so difficult this year that NASA had an internal bet going whether any university could complete it.

“When we began, we thought it might be impossible too, but we have some really bright students, or should I say ‘rocket scientists’—and they did it with an all-rookie team. Tarleton went toe-to-toe with the best schools in America and came out on top,” he added.

The 2014-2015 Tarleton Aeronautics Team members are:
Michael Daigrepont – Team Lead – Junior, Computer Information Systems
Jordan Doornek – Propulsion Engineer – Freshman, Engineering
Grant Gregory – Propulsion Engineer – Freshman, Mechanical Engineering
Grayson Gregory – Recovery Engineer – Junior, Ag Education
• Matthew North – Safety Officer – Graduate Student, Mathematics
• Mark Mosbey – Autonomous Ground Support Equipment (AGSE) – Junior, Computer Science
• Cody Bedwell – Propulsion Engineer – Freshman, Mechanical Engineering
• Cody Edwards – AGSE – Freshman, Ag Services & Development
• Rodrigo Rangel – Lead Recovery Engineer – Graduate Student, Mathematics
• Suleima Rangel – Recovery Engineer – Freshman, Mathematics
• Kolton Marbach – Recovery Engineer – Freshman, Engineering
• Andrew Olbrich – Educational Outreach Coordinator – Freshman, Mechanical Engineering
• Joseph Lawson – AGSE – Junior, Computer Science
• Kenny Meissner – Recovery Engineer – Freshman, Engineering Physics
• Farouk Abouseada – Media Coordinator – Senior, Business
• Luis De La Torre – Web Developer – Senior, Computer Information Systems
Dr. Bowen Brawner – Lead Advisor – Associate Professor, Head – Dept. of Mathematics
Dr. Bryant Wyatt – Faculty Advisor / Mentor – Associate Professor of Mathematics
Pat Gordzelick – Mentor, National Association of Rocketry

About Tarleton Aeronautical Team:
The Tarleton Aeronautical Team was founded in the fall of 2011 for the purpose of competing in the NASA CANSAT International Competition. Since then, the team has participated in a NASA-based competition every year. NASA SL Projects is a university-based competition where students spend roughly eight months designing and building a high-power rocket that will carry a scientific or engineering payload to a specified altitude. Along with engineering a rocket, the students also have to design a website, create a budget, write design reviews and perform educational engagement.

About NASA’s University Student Launch Initiative (USLI):
The NASA Student Launch is a research-based, competitive and experiential exploration project that provides relevant and cost-effective research and development to support the Space Launch System (SLS). The project involves reaching a broad audience of colleges and universities across the nation in an eight-month commitment to design, build and fly payloads or vehicle components that support SLS.

Based on research needs, these payloads and components fly on high-power rockets to an altitude determined by the range safety officer and the team. Supported by the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate and U.S. aerospace industry, NASA Student Launch is a NASA-conducted engineering design challenge to provide resources and experiences for students and faculty. The project is built around a NASA mission, not textbook knowledge.

Research and investigation topics are conceived by the SLS Program Office in collaboration with SLS industry partners. Payloads developed by teams address research needs of different subsystems on the SLS. The teams share the research results, which will be used in future design and development of SLS and other projects.

Though bragging rights and prizes are on the line, everyone wins at this real-world challenge. Students apply their day-to-day classroom content into authentic projects and results. Their successes today will parlay into impressive resume highlights as they pursue their goals of working in engineering and aerospace industries.

Student Launch is managed by Marshall’s Academic Affairs Office with funding, leadership and management provided by NASA’s Office of Education, NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, and Orbital ATK. The Centennial Challenges program is managed at Marshall Space Flight Center and is supported by the Space Technology Mission Directorate.

To learn more about the Tarleton Aeronautics Team, visit www.tsuaeronautics.org. For more information about NASA’s Student Launch, see www.nasa.gov.education/studentlaunch.

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