Space Grant hosts annual First Nations Launch

Haskell Launching

Haskell launching at 2010 event

The Richard Bong State Recreation Area near Burlington, Wis., will be the site Saturday (May 7), weather permitting, of the second annual First Nations national rocket competition.

The competition is organized by the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium (WSGC) headquartered on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

The First Nations Launch is expected to have seven entries from a half dozen schools. Teams representing tribal colleges are the “FDLTCC” team from Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College in Cloquet, Minn.; “Space Eagles,” Haskell Indian Nations University, Lawrence, Kan.; “Cloud 9,” Navajo Technical College, Crownpoint, N.M.; and the “REZriders” team from Northwest Indian College, Bellingham, Wash.

Teams competing in the American Indian Science and Engineering Society division are student chapters including the “White Rabbit” team from Azuza Pacific University, suburban Los Angeles; “Northstar,” University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; and the “Ghostspears” from Haskell.

The tribal competition is taking place alongside Space Grant’s 2011 Collegiate Rocket Competition, which will involve twelve rocket teams from five Wisconsin colleges and universities: the Milwaukee School of Engineering, UW-Madison, Marquette University, Ripon College and UW-River Falls.

(Saturday’s dual competitions will takes place at Bong’s Parking Lot F, with a launch window of roughly 9:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. Spectators are welcome to attend; park admission is $7.  There is a launch hotline at (262) 677-2249 with a recorded message verifying that launch will occur, as wind and weather conditions allow. The rain date is Sunday, May 8. The site director, Dr. Bill Farrow, will be available for interviews at the launch. His cell phone number is (262) 993-3041.)

Teams will test their engineering and “rocket science” skills. To have a successful flight, the rocket must reach at least 2,000 feet and be recovered safely, in a flyable condition, as near as possible to a predetermined target. Rockets must carry a payload of some sort, and/or perform a mission. The flight itself is judged mainly by the degree of accuracy with which the college students predict their rockets’ altitude, trajectory and flight path, as measured by tiny flight-data recorders.

Sizes vary from a few feet in length to a dozen feet long or more. Most rocket bodies today are fiberglass or heavy cardboard tubes reinforced with plastic mesh and capped with enamel paint. The one area of standardization is in the motors. All are solid-fuel cylinders with ammonium perchlorate the primary propellant, not all that different in basic design from the boosters that powered NASA’s space shuttles. Only certified experts are allowed to purchase, handle and deploy the motors.

Competitions are judged by benchmarks at various stages along the way, preliminary planning and pre-flight procedures among them, with oral presentations to judges on the eve of the launch day at Bong.

The tribal competition originated last year and is supported by a grant from NASA. Evidence of the space program’s investment in the competition is the fact the chief onsite judge is scheduled to be James S. Wood of Cocoa Beach, Fla. He is chief engineer for the Launch Services Program at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. He provides technical insight and approval for all NASA missions, with recommendations for final “go/no go” launch decisions. Working with Wood as part of the First Nations Launch judging panel will be Mary Gustafson, an engineer with Orbital Technologies, of Madison, Wis., and Frank Noble, an officer for the Tripoli rocketry club of Wisconsin.

Likewise, the three-member judging panel for Wisconsin schools competing in Space Grant’s 2011 Collegiate Rocket Competition includes two NASA professionals from the Johnson Space Center in Houston. John Connelly is deputy project manager for the Altair Lunar Lander Project Office, and Todd Issacson is systems engineer for the MAGIK Robotic Analysis Team. The third judge is Todd Treichel, a senior systems engineer for Orbital Technologies, Madison.

Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium is a NASA-supported endeavor aimed at delivering education, research, and outreach programs to assist in training America’s next generation of aerospace professionals. Advocates for the First Nations component of the college rocketry program say it encourages young people, especially First Nations people, to pursue studies in the so-called S-T-E-M fields of science, technology, engineering and applied mathematics. They also say it counters pop-culture stereotypes that native people find comfort only in traditional ways, and shy away from space-age technology.

Final results from this weekend’s launches near Kenosha will not be available for several weeks, when participating teams are required to file their written, post-mission reports. Those results will be posted at the Wisconsin Space Grant Consortium website.