This year, the CPP NASA Student Launch team anticipates its rocket to reach an altitude between 3,500 to 5,500 feet. IMAGES COURTESY OF ALEXANDER SCOTT

NASA Student Launch Team prepares for lift off

On Oct. 3, NASA announced the list of teams that were chosen to participate in the 2019-2020 NASA Student Launch Competition. 

Cal Poly Pomona’s NASA Student Launch Team was one of the 64 teams selected to compete. According to NASA’s Student Launch website, CPP has been selected to compete as far back as 2012 and each year since. 

Alexander Scott, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student, is the project lead of the CPP NASA Student Launch Team this year, which is made up of 25 students.

This year, the CPP NASA Student Launch team anticipates its rocket to reach an altitude between 3,500 to 5,500 feet.
(Courtesy of Alexander Scott)

NASA’s Oct. 3 press release detailed the specifics of the competition: “The eight-month program requires the student teams to design, build, test and fly a payload and high-powered amateur rocket between 4,000 and 5,500 feet in altitude. All teams must meet multiple documentation and presentation milestones with NASA rocketry experts as they develop their rocket.” 

(Courtesy of Alexander Scott)

Each team is expected to predict its rocket’s altitude. The CPP team’s target altitude is between 3,500 and 5,500 feet. 

“We pick that altitude that we want to hit very early in our planning stages. And it is up to our accurate analysis to, come competition day, hit that altitude that we set,” Scott said.

According to Scott, after the main shoot deploys from the rocket and “once everything has made it to the ground safely, we signal the rocket to deploy our rover portion of this mission …. We have chosen a ground vehicle for reliability reasons.”

“Then we need to drive it to a sample location. Once it reaches the sample location, it needs to take that sample and drive at least 10 feet away from that sample location and that is the completion of our mission.”

Launch day will take place in Huntsville, Alabama, in April 2020. 

With the competition almost six months away, the NASA Launch Team still has a lot of work to do in preparation, including fundraising. 

The team is aiming to raise $20,000 for the project; the majority of which will go toward the group’s transportation to Alabama. 

Scott estimates the rocket itself will cost around $6,000 to make. Team members plan to raise the money through crowdfunding, grants and donations from companies in the industry and fundraising on campus. 

The team’s preliminary design reviews are due to NASA by Nov. 1. 

“We aren’t allowed to build anything before then,” Scott said. “As soon as our design is nailed down, we start testing some of our subsections and we start to build a subscale rocket. The point of the small rocket is to prove at a system level that everything functions and works together.”

(Courtesy of Alexander Scott)

According to NASA’s press release, teams are “evaluated and given points and awards in (several) categories including safety, vehicle design, social media presence and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) engagement.”

Third-year aerospace engineering student James McPherson is looking forward to being part of CPP’s team this year. 

“I saw how hard (last year’s team) worked and that’s actually what really piqued my interest in the project,” McPherson said. “(It looked) really fun. The work that they were doing inspired me.”

Aside from a trophy and recognition, there is no money prize for winning the NASA Student Launch Competition. That being said, participants still come out of the competition with a great deal of experience. 

“One of the things that makes this project stand out from other projects is the simulation of the industry environment,” McPherson said. 

“It’s conditioning us to be prepared for what happens in (the) industry. So I’m looking forward to the culmination of that and feeling the culmination of ‘I’ve put so much in; I can’t wait to see what I get out,’ and I have really high hopes for it.” 

To donate to the CPP NASA Student Launch team, visit 

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