UCSD students will try to launch rocket 6 miles into atmosphere

A team of UC San Diego engineering students has built a liquid-fueled rocket that it will attempt to launch roughly six miles into the atmosphere during a collegiate competition in the Mojave Desert.

The 21-foot tall Vulcan II rocket is scheduled to lift off from a site near Edwards Air Force Base on March 2 as part of a contest sponsored by Friends of Amateur Rocketry and the Mars Society.

Several other Southern California schools, including San Diego State University and UCLA, also are expected to compete. FARS-MARS says it will grant “$50,000 to the team whose bi-propellant liquid-fueled rocket comes closest to reaching 45,000 feet.”

The University of California San Diego team has designed its slender aluminum rocket to soar about 32,000 feet — or about six miles — into the atmosphere. The rocket must travel at least 30,000 feet high to be included in the final tally.

Vulcan II is the successor to Vulcan I, a rocket built and launched in 2016. That vehicle reached an altitude of roughly 4,000 feet, powered by an engine created through 3-D printing.

The newer rocket also has a 3-D printed engine, which will burn liquid oxygen and kerosene RP-1 during the upcoming flight.

Developing the rocket hasn’t been easy, said Andrew Wang, a mechanical engineering student who is part of the Vulcan II team.

“They say the last 10 percent of the work takes 90 percent of the time,” said Wang. “About 89 percent of this rocket was built by the end of last year. We’re still finishing it.”

The setbacks included the need to redesign and re-manufacture Vulcan II’s engine due to a technical error.

“The contest isn’t our primary motivation for doing this,” said Jack Najarian, an electrical engineering student is also on the team.

“We want to make sure that people find a sense of fulfillment from taking this rocket from concept to reality. We want people to apply the skills we learn in class.”

Wang nodded in agreement, saying, “Winning the competition would just be the cherry on top.”

UCSD has a long history in aerospace, both among students and faculty. Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel in space, was a long-time faculty member. And the university has produced such NASA astronauts as Megan McArthur and Kathleen Rubins.

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