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Marble Falls High School rocketeers make two successful launches, fall short of mile mark

WILLOW CITY — After several attempts to launch two rockets a mile high, a group of Marble Falls High School students came close to hitting the mark with successful blastoffs over the Hill Country.

“They were getting a little frustrated after so many attempts, but they never gave up,” said aeroscience teacher Randy Guffey. Though the two craft didn’t reach the target altitude of a full mile at the SystemsGo 2012 launch May 4, the efforts are still considered successes, the teacher said.

For several months the students had worked on the rockets to carry a 1-pound payload a mile high, or 5,280 feet. 

SystemsGo is a Fredericksburg-based nonprofit organization that created an educational rocket program now used in about 50 Texas high schools. The launches involving several schools and groups held May 3-6 were endorsed by NASA. 

About 4 p.m. May 4, with all the other rockets having launched or fired off, the second of the two Marble Falls classes headed back to the launch pad one more time. 

The mission was a go — everything worked just as planned, Guffey said.

“It turned out to be the best launch of the day,” the teacher said. “It went to about 4,800 feet, which is about a football field away from the mile mark. But it flew straight.”

Earlier the same day about 1 p.m., the other group also made a successful launch. Their rocket reached 4,400 feet, but flew straight, Guffey said.

It was all-or-nothing.

“It’s fairly simple to try and get a rocket to fly as high as it can,” Guffey said. “It’s much more challenging to design one to hit a certain height. There’s a lot of physics and other things that go into doing that.”

Guffey and teacher David Smith accompanied 55 students to the site. The teachers stepped back to let the students handle the launch and any problems.

Inspectors told students they needed to revamp a fuel vent. Later, as the students watched a SystemsGo crew fuel their rocket, the nose cone popped off. 

A manufacturer’s defect was to blame, but it took several stops and starts to determine the problem originated in the engine housing. 

“The staff there commented on how the students didn’t give up and despite being frustrated, didn’t let it show,” Guffey said. “I was extremely proud of them.”

The students also had to stage a successful recovery of both rockets after the parachutes deployed, Guffey said.

The idea was to make a close recovery, the teacher said.

“Brett Williams — the director of the project — commented to the kids on how proud he was of them for sticking with it and getting great recoveries as well,” Guffey said.

The students will review data from the launch during class.