CEDAR FALLS — A rocket club at Cedar Falls High School is flying high after qualifying for a national contest.
The five-member Science, Technology and Rocketry Students — or S.T.A.R.S. — club is preparing for the May 14 contest in Washington, D.C.
S.T.A.R.S., which started last school year, was one of 800 clubs across the country that attempted the Team America Rocketry Challenge. To qualify, it had to be among the top 100 competitors.
Teacher Zeb Nicholson, the club’s adviser, said, “I’m excited in year two with the experience that we have” the team qualified. “I think we surprised some people.”
All expenses for the 3,000-mile round trip are being covered by the club, including costs such as gas, hotel and food. While club members or their families will pay some of the cost, they are working to raise $2,500 through the Go Fund Me website. The club also is holding a bake sale and soliciting donations from businesses to raise funds.
The contest will be the second event club members have done this school year where they are facing other competitors. They attended a regional launch event in Illinois last fall. Since then, they’ve been testing and working to improve their rocket.
The club meets Tuesdays during school and sometimes gathers after classes to fly the rocket, which stands 34 inches tall and weighs just over 21 ounces. The minimum height requirement is 25.5 inches and the maximum weight allowed is 23 ounces.
The body tube is cardboard with plywood fins, said club member Ryan Ritter, a sophomore. “Then we have several 3-D printed parts.” One of those is the part holding the altimeter, the device equipped with a computer chip that records the height and speed reached by the rocket.
Students painted the rocket red and had decals made by Sandees in Waterloo that say “CFHS S.T.A.R.S.” in bold black letters. Decals with the high school’s “CF” logo are attached to the fins.
Also contained in the body of the rocket is the engine, a parachute and the cargo hold. The rocket has to carry two raw chicken eggs, so foam molds fit into the body to try and ensure their protection.
The contest mandates “one (egg) has to be horizontal, one has to be vertical,” said Ritter. In order to qualify for the national event, “the rocket had to go 850 feet in 44 to 46 seconds,” he explained.
Both of the eggs had to come down safely. “If there’s even a hairline fracture, you’re disqualified,” said Nicholson.
A certified observer was required for the qualifying launches. “You get three official launches, and then you take the best two,” said Ritter.
Teams want the lowest point total possible. If a team hits the height and time targets, it earns zero points. Each of the club’s qualifying flights were within 10 feet and a second of the targets.
“We’re coming into some pretty stiff competition,” said Nicholas. “This year’s top 100 scores were the lowest they’ve ever been in the 14 years of the competition.”
Top placing teams split more than $100,000 in cash and scholarships, and the overall winning team will travel to the United Kingdom to compete in the International Rocketry Challenge during July.
The Cedar Falls club — which also includes juniors Lucas Kolo and Trevor Dohlman and seniors Nic O’Loughlin and Aiden Anderson — has high hopes for the contest.
Anderson noted there will be an elimination round at the contest before the finals. “So, it’d be nice to get to the second round,” he said.
But even if they don’t reach that height, Ritter suggested they’ve already accomplished something significant just by qualifying for the contest.
“Being there is a goal in itself,” he said.