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St. Vincent-St. Mary, Immaculate Heart of Mary compete in national NASA Student Launch Challenge

News of the Diocese

April 11, 2024

St. Vincent-St. Mary, Immaculate Heart of Mary compete in national NASA Student Launch Challenge

Students from two schools in the Diocese of Cleveland are among 21 middle and high school teams and 50 collegiate teams competing nationwide this weekend in the NASA Student Launch Challenge. St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron and Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Cuyahoga Falls are in the challenge that takes place April 10-14. It is organized by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Bibiana Seislove, IHM principal, said the school had an assembly that included a blessing of its Rocket Team and a clap-out on April 9 before the students headed to Alabama the following day. Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Walters presented them with a proclamation from the city declaring April 9 as Immaculate Heart of Mary Rocket Launch Day.

Co-captain of the IHM team, eighth-grader Gabby, will compete against her older sister Izzy, a 202 IHM alumna and a member of the St. Vincent-St. Mary rocket team.

Seislove said the IHM rocket launch can be viewed live on the team’s Facebook page at 10:30 a.m. April 13. David Hall is moderator of the 12-member team.

STVM science teacher Bob Engels who doubles as the school’s rocket/robotic NASA SL Team adviser, said this year’s challenge was very technically demanding. “And on top of that, the team faced several other unforeseen events that challenged them in new ways. I am very proud of the team and how they came together to successfully complete the project. I know they learned a lot more than they signed up for,” he added.

St. Vincent-St. Mary, Immaculate Heart of Mary compete in national NASA Student Launch Challenge

Not only did the STVM students design and build an advanced rocket with functioning sensory equipment, they raised almost $10,000 to construct the rocket and to pay for their trip to Huntsville where they will fly the rocket for engineers at the space flight center. Engels said donations from partners in industry, individuals and companies helped defray the team’s expenses.

The Student Launch Challenge engages students in a research-based, experiential exploration activity. Teams participating in the challenge must design, build and launch a reusable rocket, with a scientific or engineering payload, capable of reaching an altitude of one mile.

Eligible teams pre-qualified by successfully completing the NASA Advanced Rocketry Workshop, and either the 2023 Student Launch Challenge, the American Rocketry Challenge, or 2023 Rockets for Schools competition.

During the design and testing process, the student designs must undergo in-depth technical reviews and follow actual flight safety guidelines, mentored throughout the process by NASA scientists, engineers and educators. These technical reviews mirror current criteria in NASA’s engineering design lifecycle and safety protocol, including preliminary design, critical design, flight readiness and analysis of vehicle systems.

Students from STVM proposed building a rocket using advanced manufacturing techniques that include additive manufacturing (3D printing) and carbon fiber composites while carrying a payload that consisted of a computerized radio transmitter that will initiate a radio signal upon landing. Students chose these manufacturing methods because they allowed the design and construction of very high strength to weight ratio components that could not be made using more traditional methods. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to construct parts that are much lighter by using less material while still maintaining the structural integrity demanded for their function. Parts are made lighter by putting material where it’s needed and leaving it out of areas where it isn’t. The void areas can then be infilled with lightweight lattice structures to maintain structural integrity.

St. Vincent-St. Mary, Immaculate Heart of Mary compete in national NASA Student Launch Challenge

Once they were satisfied that their design would meet NASA’s specifications, they constructed a half-scale model of the rocket. The fin section of the half-scale rocket was designed using commercial 3D modeling software and manufactured on a commercial 3D printer in the STVM engineering design lab. The fin section was mated to a cardboard body tube and the rocket was flight tested several times under varying conditions to ensure that its flight characteristics matched those of the computer simulation predictions.

A digital design of the full-scale booster and fin section was then sent to rp+m (Rapid Prototype and Manufacturing), an advanced manufacturing company in Avon Lake. Engineers from the firm collaborated with the students to finalize the design and construction material choice. They selected an advanced thermoplastic with very high tensile and compressive strength properties as well as high temperature resistance called ULTEM 9085.

The full-scale rocket’s body is made from carbon fiber composite materials. These materials also provide for very high material strength to weight ratios, which are very important to the aerospace industry. Lighter, stronger vehicles make it possible for larger payloads to be lifted without having to use greater amounts of fuel.

In addition to designing and constructing the rocket using advanced manufacturing techniques, the team also designed an engineering payload, a radio signal transmitter. It activates an autonomous drone that will take off to find the rocket using a program that measures the signal strength to locate the general landing area of the rocket. Once the drone enters the area where the rocket has landed, it will switch to a Visual Inertial Odometry system to find the exact location of the rocket. The drone will transmit a photograph of the rocket and its grid location back to the ground station without using GPS.

STVM is the only Catholic STEM (science, technology, engineering and math)-designated high school in Ohio.

Photos provided by St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and immaculate Heart of Mary School.

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