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Education

It is rocket science: USF students build and launch 'em


Published:   |   Updated: December 21, 2013 at 11:52 PM

TAMPA — Shortly before 2 p.m. Saturday, a group of University of South Florida students hooted and cheered as the product of months of research soared about 8,000 feet into the air.

Members of USF's Society of Aeronautics and Rocketry launched the 12-foot-long, never-before-tested “BULL-istic” rocket — the first one the two-year-old science club has made.

“This was, to the tee, what we wanted to happen,” said Taylor Morris, one of SOAR's founding members. “Everything went perfectly.”

Nine club members spent about an hour assembling the rocket in the Plant City cow pasture that once a month is the launch site for Tampa rocket aficionados. Beneath the cover of a tent, the students pieced together the rocket's green fiberglass shell, checked electrical systems and packed in the two parachutes that ensured BULL-istic's safe return to the ground. When it was ready for take-off, four male students heaved the rocket onto their shoulders and carried it to the launching pad.

It was the first of many test launches the group plans in coming semesters, said Morris, a 24-year-old electrical engineering student. The success of this launch shows the club understands the “basic rocket science” behind this particular model, she said. Now, SOAR members can get a little more creative with their next rocket.

“We wanted to make sure we were on par with everything going on before we add our own personal touches,” Morris said.

At the next rocket launch, which is planned for the spring, the club hopes to get a rocket go even higher, said SOAR president Matthew Chrzanowski, 24. The ultimate goal, he said, is to reach 120 kilometers.

You can't beat what we just saw,” he said after the launch.

The club started researching the project in August, he said, and has spent several hours a week working on the rocket all semester. Members designed and created a virtual model before they built BULL-istic by hand. The rocket cost more than $1,000 to build, Chrzanowski said.

That's why he was relieved after the launch, as a group of club members drove off to retrieve the rocket that landed safely on the other side of the field. Afterward, the club had to review flight data that would provide specifics on the temperature, air pressure, velocity and height of the launch.

“That was a perfect launch,” said Manoug Manougian, SOAR's faculty adviser and director of the USF STEM Education Center. “I've launched dozens of rockets and this was absolutely perfect.”

Manougian founded the Haigazian College science club as a physics professor in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1960, while the United States and the Soviet Union still were battling for supremacy and guarding their secret technology during the Space Race. “The Lebanese Rocket Society,” a documentary about how Manougian and his students developed their own fuel and launch pads, aired at the Cambridge Film Festival last year.

“He's really the inspiration for us founding this club and building this from the ground up,” Morris said. “He did it before with nothing but an imagination.”

Fifty years ago, Manougian was forced to shut down the project at Haigazian College due to political pressure and he was unable to achieve his goal of launching a satellite into orbit. But now he has a new group of students capable of developing that technology, he said.

“I never got to do that,” Manougian said. “So I'm waiting for these kids to do it. And I'll help them any way I can.”

BULL-istic's successful launch on Saturday is only the first step toward what SOAR members hope to accomplish, Chrzanowski said.

“Now we can carry this into the future and build bigger and better rockets,” he said.

Ebehrman@Tampatrib.com

(813)259-7691

Twitter: @LizBehrmanTBO

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