By Nicole Capozziello
Published October 4, 2021
The lag of COVID-19 didn’t stop UB students from again participating in the International Rocket Engineering Competition’s Spaceport America Cup, held virtually from June 18-20, 2021.
The University at Buffalo team was one of 75 teams from 16 different countries that participated in this year's 15th anniversary competition. The team placed first out of the seven teams that entered in the 10K Solid Rocket-Student Researched and Developed components category (SRAD).
UB Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UB SEDS) have participated in the annual competition since 2017, designing, building, testing, and ultimately launching their rocket (though not in this year’s virtual competition). The resulting rocket is the culmination of countless hours of hard work and collaboration by the club’s over 30 active members.
The UB team’s winning score was based on their project updates, technical report, poster session video, and our overall design.
“I'm so proud of the SEDS team–they are a shining example of the amazing students we have at UB and their dedication to our clubs,” says Paul Desjardin, the club’s faculty advisor and mechanical and aerospace engineering professor. He is also the director of the Center for Hybrid Rocket Exascale Simulation Technology (CHREST). “Their accomplishment is especially significant with the COVID19-related organizational challenges they faced last year. The SEDS team overcame these challenges, and not only competed, but came out on top!”
Nick McNally, a senior double majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering student and minoring in mathematics, is the team’s structures lead and chief engineer for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years. He says, “Every year we try to improve our design, but the thing that we do every year that we like to think sets us apart from most other entries in the competition is that we make a point of not only designing but also manufacturing as much of our project as we can.”
Drawing on the diverse skills and talents of their team members, the team creates their own fiberglass sheets, mixes their own propellant, machines their own parts, and creates their own custom electronics and software.
Unfortunately, this year was particularly challenging because of the timeline of the pandemic, which precluded the hands-on work needed to test and manufacture their rocket. “The timing of it was such that in the 2020 spring semester when lockdowns started we had finished most of the design work and were entering the manufacturing phase of the project, but none of that was possible,” says McNally. Still, the team kept up their typical dedication and enthusiasm until the competition date in June.
Next year, the team is looking forward to traveling to the Spaceport America Cup conference and competition, which takes place in Las Cruces, New Mexico and the surrounding desert. The event is the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and competition, generally drawing over 1,500 students and faculty and growing each year.
McNally says, “I am proud of the team for sticking through it, and I have seen lots of enthusiasm from every aspect of the club at the start of this year. We’re all excited to work on a new rocket for the next competition.”