Currently, at SOAR, students are hard at work prepping the Atlantis II rocket to compete at the Intercollegiate Rocket Competition (IREC) this upcoming June. The competition takes place each summer as the flagship event of the Spaceport America Cup, hosted by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association. In order to qualify, teams must design a rocket featuring a payload of at least 8.8 pounds and aim to reach a target altitude of either 10,000 or 30,000 ft.

For the past three years, SOAR has qualified to take part in the competition. In 2017, students at SOAR developed and manufactured a hybrid engine from the ground up for the first time ever. Since then, the team has gained significant insight into what it takes to design and build hybrid rockets. SOAR is lucky to reside at the University of Calgary, which offers the only engine test facility in Canada that students have access to. It is through this facility that SOAR is able to do static testing for thrust data. The data obtained during testing allows for SOAR to better predict the rocket engine’s thrust curve and flight apogee.   

For IREC, competition teams build rockets that are based on either solid, liquid, or hybrid propellants. The SOAR team has chosen to use a hybrid rocket for the benefits these engines offer in simplicity, safety, and cost-effectiveness. The relative safety of a hybrid engine is thanks to the different states of its fuel and oxidizer. The student-developed engines at SOAR use paraffin wax for fuel and nitrous oxide as the oxidizer. In the event that the two unexpectedly interact, it is unlikely that spontaneous ignition will take place. Safety, quality of design, and student involvement in rocket development are just a few of the criteria by which each IREC entry is judged.

The opportunity to compete at IREC offers students the chance to not only be directly involved in rocket development but to see their hard work in action. For many students, the excitement of the launch is the most enticing element of rocket development. Leading up to the launch, months of development give students the opportunity to build skills in teamwork, critical thinking, design, and manufacturing. Through the challenges students encounter in aerospace design, they acquire skills that will be invaluable to them in their future careers.

Over the next few months, students at SOAR will be busy bringing projects to completion to ready Atlantis II for liftoff. Given the dedication SOAR’s members have shown this past year, it is looking like 2019 will be the organization’s most successful competition yet.