DANIEL CLIFTON • EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — While the popular saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” may apply to a lot of things, Marble Falls High School students preparing to launch a rocket 100,000 feet over New Mexico definitely do sweat the little things.“If one thing goes wrong, even a little thing, it means the difference between success and failure,” said MFHS aeroscience teacher Randy Guffey. “After the the SpaceX rocket exploded (during a June 28 launch), they really understand that even if one thing goes wrong, it can spell disaster.”
Guffey was watching three of his students prepare a rocket they have been working on since August for a launch scheduled July 6 at the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range near Alamogordo, N.M. The students were putting the final touches on the over 16-foot and 450-pound (empty) rocket July 1 before loading it up and heading for the missile range July 4.
Four students will be making the trip to attempt the launch, and possibly break a world record for the highest student-built rocket flight. Currently, the records stands at 32,000 feet set a few years ago by Fredericksburg High School students.
“I’m a little nervous, but it’s exciting,” said Tyler Taber, one of the students making the trip. The other three students making the trip are Marshall Jett, Connor White and Eric Avalos.
The MFHS aeroscience students began working on the rocket last August soon after classes started.
“We started with drawings on a white board,” White said. “Then we went from there to drawings.”
The process, White explained, encompassed everything from developing an overall design to determining the amount of pressure the bolts on the craft needed to be able to withstand. At every step the students needed to be exact because one mistake could mean disaster on the launch pad.
“They don’t get to test it,” Guffey said. “They did run some simulations on the computer and things like that, but the first test is the launch.”
The MFHS team is scheduled to launch 8:30 a.m. MST on July 6 at the missile base. The Marble Falls team in only one of a handful of high schools that will attempt to launch. The ultimate goal of the students is to design and launch a rocket capable of reaching 100,000 feet. Due to the possibility of that scope, the project requires a site such as White Sands for the launch.
Even before the Marble Falls High School students could make the trip, engineers and scientists with NASA and the Army had to sign off on the rocket’s design.
“That’s quite an accomplishment right there,” Guffey added.
This is the second time a MFHS team has made the trip to White Sands. A previous attempt ended in failure, though those students did salvage the nose cone and a few other parts. Guffey, who is marking his third trip to White Sands, said this team was able to use those parts as part of its rocket, saving some of the design, engineering and manufacturing effort.
Guffey started the aeroscience program at the high school in 2008. The Systems Go course starts students out with basic rocket and aeroscience studies. They build a small “model” rocket from scratch to learn dynamics of design and flight. Eventually they design and build larger rockets including one capable of carrying a one-pound payload a mile into the sky.
The top echelon remains the 100,000-foot craft.
“Everything has to go right,” White said.
Guffey and the students will travel July 4 to White Sands. On July 5, they’ll undergo an orientation and other procedures preparing for the launch. With an 8:30 a.m. launch scheduled for July 6, the students and Guffey have to get to the range and site around 4:30 a.m. to get everything set up.
“It will be an early morning,” Guffey said. But, he added, if everything goes right it will be worth it.
And possibly one for the record books.