NWIC’s rocket team starts the year strong

 Last year, Northwest Indian College’s rocket club took first place in the American Indian Society of Engineers and Scientists (AISES) portion of the First Nations Launch competition and took 12th out of 41 teams that took part in the 2012 NASA University Student Launch Initiative competition.

Now, the Space Center and its team, the RPGs, is at it again. They are gearing up to participate in this year’s competitions.

NWIC’s team was accepted into the 2013 NASA competition in late September. The five-month countdown to competition blast off has begun. During this time, the RPGs will continue to improve and test launch their rocket and begin testing and perfecting a technology new to this year’s rocket: a multi-rotor vehicle (MV), an idea that sprung from previous launches that would end with students walking long distances – sometimes miles – to retrieve rockets after they had landed.

As the rocket descends from its 5,280-foot peak altitude, the MV will deploy and use its autopilot to tow the rocket back to the launch area, said Gary Brandt, NWIC computer/technology instructor and Space Center advisor.

The team recently presented the idea for the MV to NASA’s competition overseers.

“In addition to our students doing a very good job presenting, NASA was impressed with our project and said that no one has ever tried anything like that in the past,” Brandt said. “So, hats off to our students, not only for their presentation, but for their imagination and engineering skills.”  

Several team members are learning to fly the MV just in case the autopilot fails, and if it does fail, they will be able to direct the MV and its tow back to the launch area, Brandt said.

So far, things are looking up. On Nov. 12, the team successfully launched its scale rocket with a miniature MV payload. The RPGs are on track for the launch portion of the NASA competition, which will take place in April, 2013 in Alabama.

A week after that launch, the First Nations Launch will be held in Wisconsin, where the NWIC Space Center has placed first in the two previous years’ competitions.

Winners of the NASA competition will be announced on May 27, 2013 and the First Nations Launch winners will be announced the first week of June, 2013.