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Industry, Academia, And Government Collaboration On Undergraduate Rocket Research

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Unique Lab Experiments

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.666.1 - 7.666.8



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Dianne DeTurris

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Document: 2002-2401

Industry, Academia and Government Collaboration on Undergraduate Rocket Research

Dianne J. DeTurris Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, CA

Undergraduate engineering students are interacting with government and industry to pursue applied research in reusable launch vehicles for cheaper access to space. Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, is flight testing subscale demonstrators of a reusable glideback booster. A highly productive collaboration has been established between NASA Langley Research Center, Cal Poly and Starcraft Boosters, Inc. to conduct research in reusable first stage booster rockets. The design for the vehicle originated from industry, and NASA supports the industry proposal by funding the university for small scale construction and flight testing. The students interact with both groups for direction and technical advice, which creates a tremendous amount of learning opportunities and motivation for the team. The project is organized as an extracurricular club activity that is purely voluntary and made up of students in several engineering disciplines. The students gain practical knowledge and real world research experience in a team-oriented systems engineering environment, all before completing their bachelors degree.

Introduction The Aerospace Engineering Department at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo, currently has an active high power rocket program that is studying rocket recovery concepts. The program is organized as an extracurricular engineering student club known as Cal Poly Space Systems. In recent years the club has focused on demonstrating rocket recovery concepts including parafoil recovery and a rocket design that incorporates a vertical launch pattern followed by a horizontal return flight and landing. These projects involve the design, building, testing and optimization of a high power rocket system, incorporating a complete project cycle and an enormous amount of hands on learning. The projects emphasize teamwork and the necessity for each person to take on a small subset of the overall task. Every team member makes a significant contribution to a specific aspect of a rocket that will ultimately only be successful if all the parts function together. The groups’ activities attracted the attention of industry and NASA who now follow and fund the project.

Projects of this sort have value on many levels, foremost being the educational opportunity. It is extremely beneficial for the students to take the fundamental concepts learned in class and apply them to real world problems. Experience in meaningful problem solving increases their self- confidence and makes them more independent at their first job after graduation. Employers’ value graduates who can be productive quickly after they are hired and who possess communication skills, enthusiasm, leadership and the ability to work on a team. The rocket project organizational structure acclimates students to the complex, systems engineering environment that they will encounter in industry. The undergraduates benefit from the research experience, while industry and government organizations are able to complete small research projects at a low cost, since no

Proceedings of the 2002 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2002, American Society for Engineering Education

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DeTurris, D. (2002, June), Industry, Academia, And Government Collaboration On Undergraduate Rocket Research Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10875

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