Syncope rocket competition photo
View more photos of the Spaceport America Cup.

This summer the Longhorn Rocketry Association (LRA) participated in their second Intercollegiate Rocket Engineering Competition (IREC) in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico as part of the Spaceport America Cup. Hosted by the Experimental Sounding Rocket Association (ESRA), student rocketry teams from across the U.S. and around the world are invited to compete in the world’s largest intercollegiate rocket engineering conference and competition.

LRA came home with some impressive numbers this year, receiving the 5th highest scoring among all U.S. teams and placing 8th in their category and 9th overall. Over 120 teams signed up to compete this year, with just less than 50 teams in the “10,000 ft. Commercial Off the Shelf”category in which LRA competed.

The LRA project manager, Ruairí O’Connor, says that the team’s biggest goal at competition this year was to improve the accuracy of their flight simulations and altitude predictions. At last year’s competition, LRA didn’t receive a flight score because they overshot their altitude by 3,000 feet.

This year, the team managed to send their rocket, Syncope, to 9,201 feet, which is far more accurate and what the team considers to be a big success. During the Spaceport America Cup Launch, Syncope carried the scientific payload, Headrush, which was designed to test the strain of high-G forces on the vena cava, a large vein carrying deoxygenated blood into the heart, and an electronics board designed and built by students.

“Seeing all the other teams from different universities and countries was really exciting and inspiring,” said O’Connor. “We learned a lot from them and they projects they produced. We hope to return to the competition next year with our own student-researched-and-designed (SRAD) engine and compete in a more advanced category.”

The team spent the last year constructing the rocket and preparing for the competition, but not without its challenges.

"The biggest challenge we faced as a team was actually constructing the rocket. During a test launch in May, we lost our rocket to a catastrophic engine failure,” said LRA flight systems lead, Akshat Shrivastava. “The failure left us with no rocket a month before the competition. It was awesome to see how we rallied as a team to finish the rocket before our competition. We faced a lot of challenges even after physically constructing the rocket, but I'm extremely proud of how the club came together and placed 9th overall." 

Eric Richter, the LRA secretary, said the competition was one of the most exciting events of his academic career at UT Austin.

"The Spaceport America Cup was perhaps the most exciting and inspirational event of my entire academic career. Not only did I get to watch my own team’s rocket fly, I also got to meet students from teams around the world,” said Richter. “We talked about shared experiences and exchanged advice on challenges we faced. I’m incredibly excited to return in 2019 as we face our biggest challenge yet, launching our first-ever hybrid rocket!"

The Longhorn Rocketry Association is a student-run organization at The University of Texas at Austin that designs, builds and tests high-power rockets. Through this, the group aims to provide hands-on experience with industry-standard design processes, fabrication techniques and testing and launch procedures. The team’s current long-term goal is to send a rocket to 100,000 ft. in altitude using only in-house designed components, including ground systems, the propulsion system, airframe, payload and all other electronics. Learn more about the LRA:

Our hands-on student projects rely on external funding. To learn how to support our student teams, contact Bliss Angerman at 512-232-7085 or