July 26, 2016 – A 50-foot-tall high-power sport rocket carried payloads thousands of feet above Fort Carson Army Post on Sunday, July 24, at the Student Rocket Launch. Sponsored by United Launch Alliance, Ball Aerospace and the Space Foundation, the record-setting event marked the culmination of an experience designed to simulate a real-life launch campaign and inspire students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
The launch featured two high-power sport rockets built by interns at United Launch Alliance (ULA) – including the Future Heavy, the largest sport rocket to launch anywhere in the world. Ball Aerospace interns built the four largest payloads (onboard experiments/instruments), while K-12 students from Colorado created additional payloads. The Space Foundation also teamed up with Estes Rockets to offer area YMCA day campers a chance to launch their own rockets.
“It is an exciting time to be in the space industry, and United Launch Alliance continuously works to excite the next generation of rocket scientists, astronauts, space entrepreneurs and enthusiasts,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “The Student Rocket Launch offers students from kindergarten through graduate school a hands-on opportunity to design, test and ultimately launch their creations – a simulation of the multi-year missions ULA works with our customers.”
Working on their own time, the ULA and Ball interns designed, built and tested the rockets and the payloads with the guidance of mentors from both companies. Altogether, 68 interns and 22 mentors from ULA as well as 37 interns and 19 mentors from Ball participated this year.
This year’s event kicked off with the Space Foundation-sponsored launches, followed by the 10-foot-tall “Genesis” rocket and then the 50-foot tall Future Heavy. The Future Heavy carried all of the student payloads, weighing in at more than 1,200 pounds and generating 6,600 pounds of thrust off the launch pad.
Ball interns, collectively known as BIRST (Ball Intern Rocket Science Team), designed, built and tested the four largest payloads. This year’s concepts included: search and rescue missions via unmanned aerial vehicles, deploying an off-road vehicle and an LED light show.
BIRST provides a valuable learning experience: a full concept-to-launch spacecraft program in just eight short weeks. To get that done, Ball interns team up with college students spending the summer in a similar intern program sponsored by United Launch Alliance’s (ULA). ULA students build the rockets, and Ball students build the payloads launched from the rockets.
“This is the most realistic aerospace experience you can have as a student,” said Sarah LaFasto, a University of Colorado Boulder student and intern at Ball Aerospace. “The BIRST interns get to try out all areas of payload production, so if you’re good in one area and want to focus on that, you can, but if you want to try something new, you can also do that.”
Fifteen K-12 student teams from Colorado also designed and built payloads that launched on the Future Heavy rocket. The payloads include a kindergarten experiment in solar physics as well as an approximation of the Mars Curiosity rover’s entry, descent and landing when it landed on Mars.