Yale Aerospace Returns Victorious

This weekend, twenty-three members of the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association traveled to Culpeper, Virginia to compete in the ‘Battle of the Rockets’ competition sponsored by AIAA and Praxis Inc. The team competed in two events: the Astro-Egg Lander and Target Altitude.

When the teams arrived on the competition site at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, they found themselves in an empty farm field along with eleven other teams. At 11:10 a.m. the Target Altitude team attempted its first test launch of the YSS Nathan Hale – the only hybrid rocket at the entire competition. Unfortunately the rocket had issues during the ignition process, and the rocket never left the launch pad

At noon, the Astro-Egg Lander team headed out to the launch site to set up for their first test launch of the YSS Eli Whitney. On the opposite side of the launch site, the Target Altitude team was setting up for a second test launch. They did one last connectivity test before leaving the launch site to watch from a safe distance. This time around, the YSS Nathan Hale was ignited, but only managed to launch a few feet into the air before crashing back to the ground. The rocket, to the team’s dismay, broke into several irreparable pieces.

The Astro-Egg Lander team experienced more success with their first launch. The rocket reached a peak altitude of 1628 feet and effectively deployed its parachute to float safely back to the ground. Unfortunately, the launch was not a complete success, because the nose cone detached without deploying the lander aircraft. Nonetheless, the team considered this a successful first launch with a new, more powerful J class motor.

At this point, the Target Altitude team finished examining what had happened during the YSS Nathan Hale’s second unsuccessful test flight, and concluded that the actual hybrid motor was working, but that there was a nitrous oxide leak somewhere within the rocket. The team began constructing an entirely new rocket to be launched later in the day.

While the Target Altitude team worked diligently to construct their rocket, the Astro-Egg Lander team had reassembled the YSS Eli Whitney, adding epoxy and stitching to the nose cone attachment to ensure it stayed put this time around. The team stood on the sideline, arms linked, waiting in anticipation as the moderator counted down for launch. The YSS Eli Whitney successfully launched from its pad, reached an altitude of 1599 feet, and deployed both its parachute and the lander– both of which reached the ground safely. Upon recovering the egg lander, the judges discovered that the egg was still intact. The YUAA Egg Lander team had just completed its first successful recovery in a competition event.

Although the Target Altitude team was still working to rebuild their original rocket, they began preparations to launch a second hybrid rocket they had brought along– the YSS Flying Bulldog. The team had never completed a test launch of the YSS Flying Bulldog prior to this competition. Not knowing what to expect, the entire team was ecstatic when the rocket launched and reached a staggering height of over 2400 feet. After a successful launch and a much needed morale boost, the team returned to constructing their substitute rocket. Using the same motor as the YSS Nathan Hale, their newly built creation, dubbed the YSS Frankenstein, was ready for its first launch. To everyone’s excitement, the rocket reached 197 feet and returned safely back to earth.

Although both teams had successful launches under their belts, both teams decided to try and better themselves by performing one final launch. The YSS Eli Whitney, reached an altitude of 1571 feet and once again safely recovered its egg. The YSS Frankenstein was also able to better its first flight, this time reaching an altitude of 229 feet. Both of YUAA’s teams, despite periodic tribulations, considered themselves to have had a successful first-time competition experience. These thoughts were confirmed when the Astro-Egg Lander team won first place in its competition. Not only did they win the competition, but are the first team in the competition’s history to have safely recovered an egg.

After a celebratory team dinner and restful night at the hotel, the YUAA members traveled eight hours back to the Yale Campus, still proud and elated by their successful weekend. After this experience, the members have already begun brainstorming new ideas and projects for next year. Not to be cliché, but considering the field – the sky really is the limit for the Yale Undergraduate Aerospace Association.

The YSS Eli Whitney launching to a record altitude of 1628 feet.
YUAA team members before they depart for Culpeper, Virginia for the ‘Battle of the Rockets’ competition.

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