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After Mars, Student Engineers Have Eyes on Spaceflight

Engineering students from Washington State University Everett are building a rocket, aspiring to win NASA’s student rocket competition after NASA announced selected teams last month. Winning the trophy would mean another historic national award for the WSU Everett Engineering Club since its Mars rover’s national and international triumph in 2016.

This is the first time students from WSU have been selected to compete in the NASA Student Launch, in which teams from middle and high schools and colleges across the nation design, build and fly an amateur rocket.

“We have come a long way,” said Brendon Rosenkranz, leader of the rocket team. The team was initiated last fall when no one on the team had had any prior rocketry experience.

This accomplishment is a highly personal milestone for the team from WSU’s Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture, as the school is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the engineering program in North Puget Sound. The success of preceding students from the last decade, particularly the second-place global award of the Mars rover team, has invigorated members of the rocket team, who are now aiming to bring another historic win for WSU Everett, Rosenkranz explained.

“This could be history in the making,” Rosenkranz said. “But whether or not we win the competition, to have a small, four-story school constantly compete nationally, it tells future students that you can go here and make a difference.”

Rocket team leader Brendon Rosenkranz, 31, works on the rocket that hopefully will bring another national accomplishment for WSU Everett. (Oct. 19, 2022) He also serves as the president of the Engineering Club.

To win, 51 teams from the college and university division must design a payload capable of autonomously receiving commands via radio frequency and fulfilling specific tasks with an onboard camera. The payload requirements are changed every year to mirror the technological needs of NASA’s existing missions, according to NASA’s news release.

WSU Everett and Central Washington University are the only selected schools in Washington state.

In addition to rocket designing and building, students must declare a targeted altitude for their rocket on final launch day, maintain social media presence and conduct community outreach to inform local communities about spaceflight technology. The WSU Everett team is planning to engage with 250 students from Everett High School and Arlington High School through on-site educational fairs.

The team will fly to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama the week of April 15, 2023 to participate in the final launch event. The team is mounting efforts to raise funds to cover the expenses of traveling and equipment shipping. However, the efforts have been faltering as inflation impacts the country, Rosenkranz said.

“After putting in hundreds of cumulative hours toward each project, it would be a shame for only a select few team members to be able to go to the competition,” WSU Everett Engineering Club said in a statement posted on CougStarter, a crowdfunding site for WSU students.

Rosenkranz, bottom center, poses with his teammates in the engineering lab at WSU Everett, Oct. 19, 2022. The team is raising funds to cover expenses for NASA Student Launch participation.

As transfer students, most of whom are in their late 20s, married or have children, members of the rocket team have sacrificed much of their personal lives for this year-long project, not only as the next step in education but also as a commitment to what they are inspired to become. And now they are looking for help, big or small, to fulfill that goal.

By Linh Tran